This week I’m excited to feature a friend and fellow writer who I’ve had the pleasure of seeing move toward the mess of racial reconciliation in our nation. It is a tricky subject to write about for a white woman, but it has been an honor to witness her sharing grace and hope in the hard places.
Moving Toward the Mess of Racial Reconciliation
by: Kathie B. Harris
The murder of Trayvon Martin was the beginning of my journey into the mess of racial reconciliation.
When I think of what made me go from comfortable ignorance to outright activism, it was hearing about a boy who could have been mine, gunned down in his own neighborhood. Simply because he was black and wore a hoodie. That was all it took for his life to become meaningless to someone else.
And yet Treyvon was someone’s son. Just like he could have been mine, had God answered my prayers for a little brown boy to adopt. He could have been the son of any one of my friends.
And that’s when I realized I couldn’t just shake my head with sadness and move on like it wasn’t my problem. How long before it WAS a sweet boy I knew, whose only crime was being black in America?
As a Christian, I already knew racism was a sin. I knew our country had a terrible history that is embedded in our present. But I was busy being a mother and wife and there were so many excuses to look away and do nothing.
My Own Messy Biases
I come from a proud Southern family that owned slaves, and lived through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. I can tell you we spoke openly about the sin of racism and slavery in my family. Our deep Christian faith told us we were all equal and to treat everyone with respect. Though our biases were strong, we didn’t consider ourselves racist.
But the mindset that allows racism to flourish is much harder to solve. It’s sewn into our nation’s culture, heritage and government systems. It’s part of the roots of our segregated communities and broken families. And its legacy is within me.
It’s why, up until I chose to move toward the mess, I had very few friends who didn’t look like me. It’s why my church was mostly white, and definitely had all white leadership. It’s why the only way my children saw different cultures or skin tones was through the books and dolls I pushed into our home.
I was comfortable, even preferred, my colorblind view of the world. And I was failing God’s people through my neglect.
Our churches are a good example of where we get stuck on the mess of racial reconciliation. We consider ourselves diverse as soon as we have one token minority member or family in our ranks. In reality, many people of color do not feel comfortable in white churches because we give them subtle hints that they’re not welcome. Maybe we pigeon hole them as worship leaders. Maybe we shut them down as soon as they begin to lament about the latest death-by-cop incident. Maybe we come up with some Bible verse that proves they can’t be a deacon because of some perceived sin in their life.
White Christian culture is the accepted norm, and too many churches don’t even realize how unlike Heaven this is. It’s an elevating of one culture over another, which is the definition of racism.
What I’m seeing now as I research the black community’s experience in white evangelical churches is the grief they feel. They’re not allowed to be themselves, to be heard by their own brothers and sisters in Christ, and they’re leaving. I, personally, don’t want to be the reason ANYONE walks away from God.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed.”
Proverbs 31:8 (NLT)
Moving Toward the Mess
There is hope, if we are willing to move toward the mess.
Acknowledge your privilege. If you are a white American, you have culture privilege in this country. The fact that I lived most of my life not giving a hoot about policy brutality against the black community shows my privilege. I can walk into any store and find whatever hair care product I need and not be followed by a store employee. It’s not something to feel bad about, I just need to know it’s there for me, and not for others. This acknowledgement will help me show sympathy during the next step.
Acknowledge your ignorance. Recognize your bias (political, socio-economic, cultural) and put it aside so you can truly listen voices of color. It’s easy to dismiss uncomfortable truths when we don’t experience them ourselves. Listening with an open mind as people share their stories allows us to see new realities.
Acknowledge racism. See the discrimination that exists and be prepared to speak against it. Notice when there aren’t any staff members of color in your church. Be aware that the children of color in your child’s school may be receiving harsher punishment than others. Ask why there aren’t more books by authors of color in your local library.
The Good News
The good news is there is hope in Christ. He can heal our sins, He teaches us how to show grace, and He encourages us to unite with each other, as it will be in Heaven. We are called to be one in Him, and as painful as it is, it’s time to move toward the mess. His church can be a light unto the world, to show them how justice on earth is done. Until He returns to make it right, let’s do His work with both hands and feet!
Kathie Harris is a wife, mother, Jesus-lover and freelance writer over at kathiebharris.com. She writes about sharing God’s grace with others in order to foster change in the world, especially in the areas of adoption and racial reconciliation. She loves historical fiction, hugs from her kids and large pots of coffee.