I’ve been under a lot of conviction. I’ve had brothers and sisters around me who have been hurting for a long time and I’ve remained silent to their pain. I brushed their pain under the rug, waiting for the storm of news and social media posts to pass and then go on like nothing ever happened. Let’s just say the case of Ahmaud Arbery has removed the proverbial rug and my junk has been laid bare.
I recently held a meeting and asked two of my friends who are black to lead the meeting to talk about their response to this tragedy and their experiences with other ministry leaders. What I heard cut to the core.
These men weren’t angry. They weren’t vengeful. They were gracious, humble, and direct. They modeled Christ. They were exactly what our group needed. They were exactly what I needed.
More people need to hear their stories and their encouragement. So I synthesized their response into three points and I’d like to share my takeaways with you, from one white brother to another.
You’ll never fully understand your black brothers and sisters but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek understanding.
As a white man I will never fully experience the narratives of my black brothers and sisters. I want to know as much as I can in order to have understanding and empathy, but I’ll never fully grasp their life and narrative. I have two sisters, both who married black men. The majority of my family now looks much different from me–I love it, but I still cannot fully understand the things they go through.
Last year my niece was in line waiting to order at a Chick-fil-A. The man behind her made the comment, “I’m just waiting for this n***** to get out of the way so I can order my food.”
I recently had a black friend tell me a story where he went out to his car to get something from his trunk and he was approached by a man with a gun by his side who asked him what he was doing. He had heard of some robberies in the neighborhood and thought my friend might have been the suspect.
I heard from another black man who pulled out of his garage and got a few houses down and realized he forgot to close his garage door. He got out of his vehicle and ran down to his house real quick to shut the garage door. By the time he got back to his truck, the cops had already arrived and perceived he was was up to no good.
I talked to another black friend who has a son who is a high school athlete. He doesn’t allow him to run in his neighborhood as it gets close to dawn for fear someone might negatively mistake him.
These stories are not isolated and they go back for centuries.
There is a lie I have believed. The lie is that when issues like this happen my black brothers and sisters are probably mad at me or resentful towards me because I’m white. My own insecurities then keep me from connecting. In my experience, they actually want to embrace me. They want to talk to me. They want to share what they are feeling and what they are going through.
This lie has kept me separated from talking to my black brothers and sisters and it has kept false narratives afloat. These false narratives have kept my black brothers and sisters feeling like I do not care because I’ve been silent and passive on issues of race. I had one black friend tell me, “In the midst of all of this we’re still talking pipelines and programs while ministries who include people of color are hurting and need to be ministered to.”
I may never understand my black brothers and sisters, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t step in and care for them.
Silence seems safe but you might as well say, “I don’t care.”
When I hear of things like Ahmaud Arbery’s death I typically stay silent. It’s not because it doesn’t impact me. It hurts and I hate it, but I stay silent. Some of that is because I’m introspective and wait a while before I speak, but it’s also to avoid any drama that might come with speaking out on such a heated topic. When these things happen I always think and ask myself:
I don’t know the whole story, and I never will, so it’s best to say nothing at all.
What if my black family and friends don’t think I treated the topic justly?
What if my white friends think I’m liberal?
What if I say something totally stupid and expose myself in a shameful way?
I feel icky writing those thoughts, but it’s the truth. I won’t even bring it up in personal conversation with my black family and friends. When I’m not sure what to do, I stay silent. I’ve had to confront myself in this season and ask, “Why am I being silent?” The problem with this line of thinking is it is terribly self-centered. It is entirely built on my image and how I appear, while the image of my black brothers and sisters is being distorted and maligned. This is the very issue of racism: not valuing the image of God in every person.
My black brothers and sisters are wondering, “Do I care enough to speak?”
With my silence I might as well post on my social media, “Black family and friends, I don’t care.”
An easy way to love your black brothers and sisters: Speak!
To speak out against racism is not just leveraging your keyboard. It’s personal and it’s still a path I’m figuring out. Have you tried to make friends with a black brother or sister? When is the last time you approached them to see how they process these happenings and to ask them about their own experience?
I’ve got a warning. Before you leverage your keyboard to be an ambassador for the image of God in every person, you need to become a person who deep within your bones values the life of every man, woman, and child, no matter the color of their skin.
Before you leverage your keyboard to be an ambassador for the image of God in every person, you need to become a person who deep within your bones values the life of every man, woman, and child, no matter the color of their skin.Tweet
You need to become someone who is outraged when the image of God is maligned. You need to become someone who has enough compassion to step in with your brothers and sisters and step out to speak. Do you really believe this? The last thing our black brothers and sisters need or want is a quick dog and pony show that fades away.
If you are that person, here are a few things you can do:
- Use whatever platform you have to speak against racial injustices
- Reach out to a black friend and ask them what they are experiencing
- Speak up for your black brothers and sisters when they are not in the room
- Don’t settle for stereotypes
- If you’re a leader, don’t only give a black person a platform on issues of race. They are competent on an array of topics like anyone else
Would that God raise up a generation of young leaders who value the image of God in every person. Would that God raise up a generation of leaders who stand side by side, becoming their brothers’ keeper.