5 Things I've Learned From My Racial Reconciliation Group

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Hi, I'm Christina. I'm white. I've learned I'm still learning how to recognize and repent of my own racial prejudices and privileges. It all started when Trayvon Martin was murdered in 2012, and in many ways, I feel as though I'm still just getting started.

I've been quiet (at least on this blog) these past few months because I haven't wanted to distract from the beautiful, prophetic voices that are in the front-lines leading this movement. In my quietness I have lamented and mourned and seethed with righteous anger.

But now I'm ready to speak up again.

This post is indebted to the grace I've received from the beloved, diverse women in my racial reconciliation group: Tami, Tomeka, Angela H., Connie, Angela C., and Sonia.

Ever since the beginning of 2020, we've been regularly meeting together to imagine, critique, question, listen, confess, repent, and reconcile. We've built bridges between racial and social barriers using the Be the Bridge curriculum. We've discussed things like white fragility, lament, the difference between prejudice and racism, national racism, local racism in our own community, shame/guilt, equality vs. equity, and reparations. It has been one of the most rewarding groups I've ever been a part of.

I can't speak for the other women in the group and the things that they've discovered, but I wanted to share 5 big ideas I've learned over the last few months. This is mostly a record for myself, a reminder of what I've learned and am convicted to continually fight for, but if it helps other white people, then thanks be to God.

1. Race is easier to talk about than you probably realize.
Race isn't something that I talk about on a daily basis with my white friends. If I'm honest, it's not something that I even feel a need to think about every day, because unfortunately being white is the default in our American culture. Throw together Black, white, and biracial women who barely know each other into a group, and you'd think that it would awkward as all get out.

To our collective surprise, it wasn't awkward. It was a relief. It was empowerment.

Finally, we could talk about important ideas and emotions that had been weighing on our hearts and on our minds for days, months, years. Finally, we could ask each other hard questions and say things that we wouldn't normally say to those of our own race. Finally, we could lament and critique and flat-out expose our rage in a safe space.

You see, it wasn't talking about race that was hard. Everyone and their landlord have plenty of things to say about race, both solicited and unsolicited. It's all anyone's talking about these days, even those who deny that racism exists. 

The hard part isn't talking about race; the hard part is talking with humility.

In my group, I had to learn how to humble myself when others called me out, and when I found myself disagreeing with others in the group. 

If you want to talk about race with others, or any difficult issue for that matter, the only way it can be accomplished is by having the same mindset as Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5-11).

2. We can't rush the reconciliation process.
Listening and learning takes time. It's easy for us (me) to convince ourselves that we can read a few articles and we've "arrived." Racism is such a pervasive undercurrent in our culture, so much that it takes a very long time to understand our context historically, sociologically, and spiritually, let alone personally. 

I thought I understood my context by reading a few books.
I thought I understood my context after attending a Black church for a year.
I thought I understood my context after being a part of a Black small group.
I thought I understood my context after having conversations with Black and brown friends.

Now, because of this group, I know that I still have so much to learn and so much to understand.

The temptation will be to listen to a few voices, jump onto the bandwagon, speak a few general words against racism, and then move on. 

It's what many faith leaders are doing. But true reconciliation in our country is going to take much longer than that. We need to continue to do some deep listening and learning, otherwise we will either do more harm than good, or eject from the process well before it's complete.

We need to commit and see this through until the end.

3. It's not enough to decry the racist behavior in others; we must be willing to recognize it in ourselves.
It's easy to distance ourselves from "those racist white people," as if systemic prejudice is only evident in a select group of people instead of prevalent throughout the very fabric of our American society. Even though I love Jesus and believe in his dream for the Church to be a reconciling community, I still have to recognize and repent of my own racial prejudices and privileges.

Racism is not a "Black problem" with which to empathize. Racism is a white problem to dismantle in ourselves.

White friends - we need to be willing to see ourselves in the villains. We need to be willing to confront the ugliness that exists within every single one of us. My Black sisters and brothers see themselves, their family members, and their friends in George Floyd; why don't we similarly see ourselves in his murderers? In the woman in Central Park? In the men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery?

Our knees are on their backs and they can't breathe.

4. None of us really know how to eradicate systemic racism, and that's okay.
In my group, we all had very different ideas on what reparations should look like. We disagreed on what the government should or should not do, and how we as citizens of the Kingdom and of the United States should have a role in this renewal.

And that's ok. Eradicating systemic racism is hard - if it were easy, it would have been accomplished in the last 60+ years. 

We ended our time together as a group unsure of what our next steps should be, or how we should individually exercise our civic duties in ways that are faithful to the calling that God has placed on our lives. But the important thing is that we are in it together. We are willing to keep discussing and working on solutions, trying and failing and maybe even sometimes succeeding.

Because, contrary to how this movement feels right now, this race isn't a sprint, it's a marathon.

And if we really want to eradicate racism, we must be willing to innovate and persevere together.

5. Reconciliation is costly.
Making things right always requires sacrifice. I think that many of my white friends who are now speaking up for the first time are seeing just how difficult racial reconciliation is.

We are told that we are being divisive, when we should be focusing on unity.
We are told that we should mention good cops and not make everything about race.
We are told that we are being too political when we should be only proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ (as if the gospel and justice are mutually exclusive).
We are told to rethink our position with prepositions like "but" thrown into every sentence.
We are told we are wrong with the naming of outliers.
We are told to shut up with questions that aren't actually questions.

But these cheap shots are not the costs reconciliation demands of us. Push-back on social media is not the extent of the sacrifices we will have to make. Renaming signs and dismantling statues are not the real stakes - they are only symbolic gestures. No, reconciliation is more costly still.

Reconciliation will require a willingness to relinquish some of our power.
Reconciliation will require tough conversations with family members, co-workers, and friends, some of which may challenge and/or strain relationships.
Reconciliation will require making the table longer and setting out more seats so that people of color don't have to keep bringing their own chairs.
Reconciliation will require passing the microphone, deferring important decisions, and sharing spaces of authority.
Reconciliation will require confession and owning up to the ways that we have all fallen short of the glory of God.
Reconciliation will require continuing to speak the truth, even when it hurts.

Reconciliation doesn't happen by all of us just "getting along." There needs to be a reckoning that happens both in our hearts and in our institutions.

So keep listening.
Keep showing up.
Keep speaking truth.

It's even more costly to back down now.

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