If you spend any time on the news – or even on Facebook – you’re already sick of hearing about Charleston. Unless, of course, you’re black, in which case it’s too close to home for you to be “sick” of it. In that case, it’s not an item on the news, another tragedy, another shooting. No, it’s another signal that a significant portion of the country sees you as less than human, and some of them will act on it. White people (I speak as one), this is not just another news story. If you think you’re tired, how tired is the community that has to bury the bodies?
They are tired, and they are angry, and they need us to listen. Our black brothers and sisters in Christ were gunned down in a church, and the least we can do is listen and educated ourselves. If you think that our country is over racism, listen again. Listen until it clicks, until you say “What can I do?” as a genuine question, not as a defense mechanism.
As with so many things, what an individual can do depends, in part, on your vocation. Since I know that some of my readers are mothers, I’ll start with parents. Y’all are on the front lines. You are shaping the next generation. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to say that Jesus loves everyone regardless of skin color. You have to model it.
I grew up in a racist household. Probably many of you did as well. Maybe your father didn’t say racial slurs, but did you get the impression that black people were unsafe? That “black” or “African American” means poor, illiterate, criminal? It’s very, very hard to overcome that, to recognize the implicit racism in your subconscious. Even those of us who consider ourselves unprejudiced have hidden biases that say otherwise. Part of teaching your children is teaching yourself, knowing that you probably have racial prejudice.
But how do you teach kids about racism? Isn’t it best to just not mention color at all? That seems to be many parents’ philosophy, but I think it’s flawed, if well-intended. Think of it like sexual ethics. It’s common knowledge that our culture teaches all kinds of harmful messages about sex. As parents, you know this better than anyone, and it’s in the forefront of your mind as you monitor potential movies or have serious discussions with your kids. You would never just let your kids pick up their cues about sex from the culture without your own input. Racism is the same way. It might be politically incorrect to be racist, but that doesn’t mean that the wider culture in America isn’t heavily prejudiced against black people. Even if you homeschool, your kids will bump up against it sooner or later. Don’t let it surprise you; be proactive. Seek ways for your kids to interact with people outside of their own race. Get them used to being with people who are different from them, to see them as real people with their own likes and dislikes and passions. If you see something racist in a movie, don’t just let it pass. Talk to your kids about it, in the same way that you might a commercial that borders on porn.
Those who teach have an important role as well, from classroom teachers to religious teachers to homeschooling parents. Here’s my suggestion: start at the local level. Unfortunately, most American communities have a history that was marred by racism in one way or another; fortunately, there are often stories of bravery and progress. Was your town part of the Underground Railroad? Were there sit-ins during the 60s? Were slaves sold in your town? (Even in the Northeast, this is a strong possibility). Make it real for your students, not just something that happened “over there.” Be frank about what’s changed and what hasn’t changed (spoiler: a lot hasn’t changed). Be honest about the fact that racial discrimination is still a problem in our country, and what needs to change.
Pastors and priests, I’m going to be real with you (if by any chance you happen to see this). You need to stop being afraid of offending your white congregations. As frightening as it may be – my husband preaches sermons, I get it – it’s your job. We need your help to be the most loving, truth-serving Christians we can be, and sometimes that’s going to mean some tough love. If you didn’t address it this Sunday, do so the next. You might offend the big donors, but I have a feeling that Jesus did plenty of that in His day.
I have been in church my whole life, usually twice on Sunday. I have only once heard a sermon on racism, and it was from a black preacher.
And those of us who aren’t teaching anyone? Haha just kidding, we all do. At some point, you or I will be in a room when someone complains about “Canadians” (that’s how people say nigger in public now, FYI). Maybe you’ll witness racial profiling in a store (this has happened to me, and I’m ashamed to admit I kept my head down and did nothing). Maybe you’ll be in a presence of children when that happens. I pray that we will have the cajones to speak up. Like most Southern ladies I was taught to respect my elders and go along quietly with whatever they say or do, even if it’s horribly racist. This is false kindness. Even since reading this article I’ve been chewing on how to live differently. I hope you will too.
This journalist explains the media bias about how black and white criminals are described.
Or just go to the library and pull out Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs and A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas. Learning about what slavery was really like was a huge turning point for me.