My heart has been deeply saddened by the racial tension that has surfaced in recent months. Like many white Americans I rationalized that I was not a part of the problem. Three friends have been helping me to see another side.
My eyes began to be opened by my friend Kevin Butcher. Kevin is a white pastor to a predominately black congregation at Hope Community Church in Detroit. He told me that Black Christians want their White brothers and sisters to listen to their hearts and not offer excuses or rationales. They simply want to be heard. So I decided to do just that by seeking to hear the hearts of two Black brothers in Christ.
I know Duke Barnett well. He is an amazingly talented educator, administrator and leader. He is a great husband, dad and friend. The other man I asked to share his heart is a pastor in Nashville, Tennessee. I became friend with Montagne McDonald through my books and blogs. I was impressed with his teaching and heart for his flock. These are men that love Jesus. They love their Black community and they also love the White community.
I asked these two African-American brothers to share their frustration and feelings about how White Christians respond to them.
My assignment was simple. Ask questions. Shut up. Listen. Don’t get defensive. That is a slightly edgier but accurate paraphrase of James 1:19.
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. (NLT)
Perhaps that would be a good strategy for all of us when we are trying to understand another brother’s story. Here is what my brothers shared with me. I pray that you will open your hearts to hear them as well.
“I feel I am becoming depressed talking to my friends who are Caucasian who have automatically judged me because I try to explain where the anger in many black communities are coming from. I try to discuss how a group like Black Lives Matter is not monolithic. They are made up of individuals who are angry, scared, and/or fed up.”
“It seems the word “empathy” would be most important in your circle of friends right now. They must see you from your perspective and not theirs in order for the conversations to take any form of positive movement. Once again, that’s a sign of the presence of White privilege. They are telling you by their responses and action that they don’t have to see it from your perspective but you are expected to see it from theirs.
The fear is from a real place. There was a time we wished for cameras to catch police in the act. Now we have them, but nothing has changed. No one is being punished. As a young man, I have had a gun to my head by a police officer just because I reached for my license too fast. He said he would blow my head off. I was 18. Can you imagine what that does to a young boy’s mind? I have had my car searched, was patted down simply because the officer thought a friend of mine who was riding with me mouthed “F-you.” He was actually trying to get the cops attention because we had just left a friend who was in a car accident two blocks away. He was fine but he was waiting two hours for the police to show. I was nineteen then.
In this world, there are people with good intentions and there are people with bad intentions. Black Lives Matter has both, All Lives Matter has both, Blue Lives Matter has both and I can go on and on. However, it’s important that we look past the symptoms of hurting people and focus on the cause. When some say that Black lives matter, they are saying this to bring value to the Black community. There is systematic racism in this country that affects Blacks, Asians, Indigenous people, and many other ethnicities. However, the public battle has always been Black and White. From schooling to jobs to neighborhoods to church, systematic racism is alive and well.
I spent my childhood in the poor areas of Dallas, so I understand how “some” law enforcement (Black and White) view/treat people (especially, Black males) in those poor areas. Fortunately for me, I was able to get out of the projects, have different opportunities, and hear a different message. Now, the racism is still evident, I just have the capacity to respond differently. Unfortunately, many of our Black brothers don’t have that option. So, they have lived their whole lives in survival mode, some working 2-3 jobs and some using crime as a tool.
So, when people combat Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter, they’re in essence reducing their value…again and again and again.
I live in a predominantly White neighborhood, go to a predominantly White church, and I work in a predominantly White school district. Why? Not because I want to be “White”, but because I want to be a source that helps White people reconnect with their culture. See, many of them deny their culture because they don’t believe they had a part in this history. But the continued existence of White privilege proves that ideology wrong. You see, when I can help my White friends reconnect with their culture, it helps them to see clearer the dominance that so impales me. It also helps them understand they are a part of this humanity circle of WE, not us and them. WE have to ensure that all of society is entrenched in each other’s cultural makeup. This is known as authentic engagement! This is when social justice really starts to take shape!
When we talk about White privilege, it is not an indictment on all White people. It is just there is a social system that favors Europeans over other races. I does not mean I am blaming them or hate them. Also, I don’t believe in the whole “color blind” philosophy. Many people I know who live by that code, have a harder time identifying inequalities concerning race.
Being African American, I also feel as though I have to prove myself to Whites. To prove I am not a thug, or a deadbeat. To prove I am smart, or respectable. Even with that, when we see images on TV or in movies, either we are not prominent in the story, or we are depicted in stereotypical ways. I am finally learning I should not have, and will not keep trying to prove myself to others. I am smart because I love to learn, I am respectable because that is how I was raised. I cannot get caught up in the “race” race like that anymore. Color does not prove a person is predisposed to violence, ignorance, morality, or respectability.
I love my White brothers and sisters. I just want some who do not get it to, for a moment, understand how I feel. Empathy is so important. To be understood is a precious gift. That is the best way to love us. Attempt to understand. Thank you again. This means so much to me.
Thank you my brothers in Christ. I love both of you as friends and as fellow followers of Jesus. I have been guilty of “defending” myself from my culture. Forgive me for trying to rationalize or justify that I did not directly contribute to your pain. I compare my previous responses to an apology followed by a “but” that explains the behavior. There is no “I am sorry but” in this situation. I am deeply sorry for the hurt the black community has suffered and continues to suffer far too often. Period.
I hope and pray that my White friends will ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts and not get defensive. Just hear the pain and the frustration of my brothers. But do not miss their heart. Their love for Jesus and their deep, deep hope for change. I share that hope. And we all share that hope in the One that can actually change the hearts of all races. The church must lead the way on racial issues.
I may be a very small part of the solution but I can be a part. Helen Keller said it beautifully.
“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”
Will you join me in this quest to listen, love and pray for our Black brothers and sisters? Will you join the three of us in praying for Jesus to be the unifying factor in real reconciliation?
Remember the words to the Galatian church…
There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
In the body of Christ we are one. No Black or White. No rich or poor. No male or Female. Lord, give us the grace and love to be agents of change and to be one in Your love.
Dave Burchett is the Author of Stay: Lessons My Dogs Taught Me about Life, Loss, and Grace. A portion of every sale goes to train service dogs for wounded veterans through Patriot Paws.