Ah, the race issue – seems we just can’t stop talking about it. Why can’t we move on from this, America? I mean, is systemic racism even a thing? It’s just being used by the liberals as a political ploy to push their social agenda. Black Lives Matter is a godless movement without morals, anyway. And what about all intra-racial tension and reverse racism? Police and prison statistics don’t lie. There are so many bigger issues that we should be worrying about right now! Stop bringing race up – it’s just causing more division in our country.
As a writer, the most important thing is determining your audience—the people to whom you are writing. For the most part, I write to Christians—or at least people who are open to hearing from a Christian perspective. That’s because my faith is what drives my motive (and my means) of inspiring change in the world. My goal is to somehow inch people one step closer to understanding the wholeness and goodness they were created for by God. Last time, I wrote about MLK’s legacy, but this post is different.
Today, I want to speak directly to white people. Odds are that if you’ve read this far, you’re at least curious to know what more could possibly be said on the topic of race that you haven’t already heard. A non-curious white person wouldn’t have clicked on this. They have no desire to read “another post about race” because it’s not really relevant to their daily lives—which means that they’re not encountering a need to engage in racial discussions.
And this either means that either 1) They are actually racist and avoiding black people, or 2) They don’t have (close) black friends who are comfortable talking about these issues. The first group would require some major mental/emotional/spiritual rewiring. But those in the second category are quite simple to address. To be specific, this post is for white people who aren’t “racist”—but who wouldn’t necessarily know that because they’re not being placed into situations that make them aware of their racial bias, or lack thereof.
I recently came across this hilarious article about a writer who grew up in a diverse neighborhood (with a black childhood friend to boot) but who realized that his environment was growing more and more homogenous. One day at a cocktail party he was startled to notice—looking around at the demographics of his current friend group—the overwhelming whiteness of his adult existence. He goes on to say how this is simply a microcosm of our nation as a whole:
“Amicable racial estrangement is also the story of America at large, circa right now. Demographically, studies show that the country has been quietly resegregating—and this time, self-segregating. It’s the era of racism without the actual racists… Contemporary life can be arranged as a series of homogeneous zones that white folks can glide between with only the most glancing, waiterly contact with all but the least foreign-seeming black people, or really with anyone different from you at all.”
So he decides to do something about it. He posted a Craiglist ad looking for a black friend—and then wrote about the experience. He takes the reader on his awkward yet honest journey of trying to make new black friends and rediscovering the value of diversity in his life. It’s a long piece, but you won’t be able to stop reading it once you start. Interestingly enough, it was written almost ten years ago. This was right after Obama had been elected president, a hopeful sign of positive change for the black community.
Did you know that two different studies from 2014 and 2016 revealed that 75% of white people have entirely white social networks? (Helpful articles here and here). So if you are white and you have a close non-white friend, you are in the minority. Now, there are many reasons for this, and so the fact itself does not signify anything. But it IS important to recognize that this inevitably results in a different—and more limited—perspective when it comes to matters of minority races.
If you don’t have black friends, you will not understand the heated reactions they have to racially-charged events on the news or in the media. Duh, right? Sure, you might have a couple white friends who will challenge you with an opposing viewpoint, but you’re not engaging with a living embodiment of the black experience. It’s no wonder that “white people look at black people with a fundamental lack of perception.” And while there are research studies explaining the overall lack of empathy among whites in regards to black pain, the fundamental reality is that until “they” becomes “we” and “theirs” becomes “ours”, it just won’t register.
Here’s a great recent example from my own life. My husband and I lead a house church of about 20-25 people, and the group is quite diverse. Thus, there have been several open discussions (and countless more in private) surrounding race issues, particularly when the whole Blue/All Lives Matter was first blowing up on social media. But last Tuesday, after house church, one of our members, Nehemiah, came up to me at the end of the night and asked me to pray for him and I could see something was weighing on him.
Sure enough, he brought up the most recent racial tragedy, in which a 15-year-old boy was shot in the head for “backing up aggressively” in a car towards a police officer. When the official police report came back, however, it declared the officer’s instinctive assessment of danger in the situation to be faulty. Thankfully, I’ve made it a point to keep up with things like this—and so when he asked, “Did you hear about…” I was able to pick up where he left off. “His name was Jordan, right?” I asked solemnly, and he nodded.
Nehemiah shared how “this one” was really getting to him—he kept asking how this could happen to a good kid who didn’t cause any trouble. With tears welling up in his eyes and asked how long these things would continue. “I try not to give in to fear,” he says, “but my mom and my aunts keep calling me all the time asking if I’m safe.” The thing is, Nehemiah doesn’t have a car—he walks everywhere or rides MARTA (Atlanta’s public transportation). And as I have come to find out, white people are inherently suspicious of a black man walking. After he was done sharing, he hung his head down and I put my hand on his upper back to pray.
Let me tell you a little something about Nehemiah. Every time this guy raises his hand during testimony time, we know he’s got something amazing to share. Nehemiah carries and spreads the joy of the Lord like an infectious disease—which is ironic because he works at Emory hospital, delivering and restocking medical supplies. When I see Nehemiah, I see my friend. But the problem is that when anybody else sees him on the streets of Atlanta, they can so often and so easily assume a host of other things.
And you know what’s messed up? There are some very well-meaning white people who won’t feel true empathy for him unless I described him like that. That’s the problem with the news—they’re just names on a screen until you put a face to the name and a body to the pain. That’s why every article about police shootings describes the victim—because they have to defend his innocence to open up the door to compassion in our hearts. It’s not enough for us to know that a human life was taken unfairly.
That’s why white people who have black friends are more invested in discussions about race. That’s why we get red in the face whenever someone dismisses the valid struggles and experiences of the black community. It’s why I will personally not stop talking about race, nor encouraging others to talk about it—and why I’ll continue to play whatever part I can to facilitate complete racial reconciliation, particularly within the body of Christ.
It’s also why I wrote this article: to convince you that you need black friends, too. There are a lot of other issues going on in our country and tragedies in the world that deserve our attention, but that doesn’t negate the importance of this one. No, it won’t break the cycles of systemic racism that have been perpetuated in our nation throughout history. But it’s a start.
I love what the author says at the end of his article, which I want to echo for my readers here:
“[This is] an argument for American white people, specifically, to be friends with American black people, specifically. It’s a statement that there’s nothing wrong with counting your black friends. It’s that familiar affirmative-action argument: If it were happening naturally, we wouldn’t need something artificial to create change. And I would say that the white man who doesn’t know the black man doesn’t know America. It’s also an argument that says: Blackness and whiteness still matter.”
I could let the mic drop there, but I want to share a couple words before you take this and run with it. So here are all the disclaimers:
1) Not all black people want to be your friend (Does every white person?). 2) Not all black experiences are the same, so don’t make any assumptions (Come with a blank slate and a listening posture.) 3) This isn’t about finding a black friend for learning purposes (It’s about the desire to develop an actual friendship.) 4) Remember that “race” is not just a topic or issue for black people (It’s their real life.) And 5) Manage your own emotions about what they share—don’t put the burden on them to process it for you. (They are not your black confessor!).
Oh, and most importantly, actually believe black people when they share their thoughts and experiences, instead of inwardly invalidating everything they say with things you’ve read online. That’s what’s great about relationship—it humanizes objective information into experiential reality. And lastly, remember that the goal is not to “absolve” ourselves from racial bias (“Look, I have a black friend, I’m not prejudiced!”), but to fully engage in the process of recognizing and resolving it in our own hearts.