On the occasion of George Floyd’s burial today.
I have wanted to write something to help uncover our racial narrative for my Christian white friends who are asking,
“How am I a part of the racial dichotomy of America (world)? Do I have a part to play and what is it?”
These are deep questions that hold great potential, and stymies many. I have found that often the way forward is illumined when we spend some time with God in our personal past. We all have unconscious structures of felt belief that guide our choices. We must uncover our racial narrative for it is a prime place for such hidden drivers.
We are, as a nation, at a point of magnified recollection and reflection. God is shining light in dark places to do a deep work of transformation. Every one of us is a part of it, no matter how distanced we feel or think we are from the racial issues in our society. It is imperative that we non-racist whites, specifically, do some deep reflecting, allowing God’s spirit to move us into better awareness and action. It is brave and difficult work, largely unseen by the world, but its ramifications will certainly change the shape of our lives and those of our society as we remain faithful to it. Ours is to walk with God into our memories, our unconscious structures, and have our eyes opened by his healing Spirit.
Many, including maybe you, agree racism is wrong and don’t want to be a part of it, yet are unaware of how it’s been present in our lives. We are grappling with saying “This is mine.” We have not made slurs, avoided blacks or browns, preferred whites, done violence, or withheld care. Have we? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Often we aren’t aware of times we’ve participated in a racial slant toward white and away from anyone else.
I deeply believe that God is working in us always to make us whole, and to bring wholeness in our divided culture. This is necessary work. We have a special invitation at this time in our collective history to dive into our personal histories with him and partner with the Holy Spirit in bringing wholeness into fruition. Let us not give up in doing good, deep work with him, spurring one another on towards good deeds to love kindness, act justly and walk humbly with our God. I hope and pray that you will join me and the Holy Spirit in this reflection activity to uncover your racial narrative. I pray for the Spirit to bring his liberation to your being, revealing the beautiful truth he has placed in you with the eyes to see the beautiful truths of others.
A Reflection Practice for Uncovering Our Racial Narrative
Begin by reading Psalm 139 meditatively. Allow the words that stand out to you to linger between you and God. Consider why they resonate. Ask God for his light, recognize his steady “for you” presence, thank him for desiring your wholeness and the wholeness of the world, and ask to see your life with his eyes. Then ask yourself these questions about your relationship with the black experience in America:
Where do I hurt?
We might feel more pain and defensiveness at being accused of being racist simply because of our whiteness. We may feel more moved by the stories of suffering and injustice coming from blacks and browns. Perhaps the pain of guilt rises to the forefront. Acknowledge the hurt and talk to God about it. He wants to move from where you are towards healing.
Ask “Lord, why? Why do I feel this way?”
Then pursue deeper and ask again, regarding those answers, Why? Why do I feel this way? Show me, Lord, my hidden agendas, my sympathies, my protections and my hopes. See if there is any offensive way in me.
Have I witnessed a preference for white over black or brown, and remained silent?
It could have been a silent snub on the playground (read my friend Jen’s poignant recollection here of just such an instance), a white co-worker always given the better tasks, a joke using the n- word, the possibilities are multitude. Allow the Spirit to lead your body into the recollection, how did you physically feel then? What emotions were stirring? How do you feel physically and emotionally in this moment? Allow it to pour out to God.
How do I respond to others’ experiences that are different from my own?
Jesus came into our experience, to suffer alongside and know intimately the struggles we have with sin. Allow him to come into your experience of others’ experiences. When someone is telling you about theirs, what do you do internally? There is a spectrum of possible response. Consider with Jesus whether you tend towards rendering blacks and browns accounts unbelievable because it’s not your own, or if you counter and minimize theirs with your own, or if you leave their experience uncontested and you untouched, or if you try to stand in their shoes feeling and seeing what they say. Do I include and expand my views to welcome them or discount and dismiss? Talk with God about it.
What justifications or excuses have I given for believing I need not be involved in fighting racism?
Though yours will be your own, these were my primary ones:
- “I am not a racist, therefore it’s not my problem.”
- For the first fifteen years living in America my excuse was that I am Canadian, it’s not my story. It’s not my history, I have nothing to do with it. I conveniently disregarded my American citizenship and my residence.
Spend some time in the discomfort of examination, allowing the Spirit to reveal what needs to be revealed.
Where do I feel resistant regarding my racial narrative?
Resistance can often feel like boredom, avoiding, depression, minimizing, frustration, not wanting to engage with someone or something. Stay with that feeling, holding it, not judging it. Ask yourself gently, “I wonder why I’m resistant.” Listen for God’s guidance and invitation.
As you end your time of reflection, write down what you’ve learned, ask God to reveal one way to keep saying yes to his invitation toward wholeness. Commit to ongoing reflection and learning with him. I had to literally write in my rule of life, and in my monthly goals, to continue to listen to black voices mainly by reading, but also in relationships. I know it’s too easy for me to step out of the fray and back into a white bubble.
Become better acquainted with history told from a black point of view, rather than from the dominant white narrative. Watch movies like, Harriet, Selma, Just Mercy, Remember the Titans, etc.; read the books and speeches by Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Martin Luther King Jr, Howard Thurman, Maya Angelou, and many others. Upon this foundation then one can better hear the voices of today. The racism of the past is different from our experience today and we need to connect the dots for the “nice whites” who agree in our heads but have trouble connecting our hearts to know how our “niceness” is contributing to the problem. Leslie Verner has extensive resources for white people to start, or continue, their journey into oneness with the blacks of America. Take a look here.
Hopefully this reflective practice we just engaged in has helped examine our personal past for non-catalyzed moments: times we witnessed racism but didn’t do anything, a time we felt something was off but couldn’t quite name it, a time we thought “that’s just the way it is”, a time we pulled away because it stirred conflict or tension.
As you do your hard work, know that the Spirit is leading us together deeply and into unity and reconciliation. Lean in and take His invitation to whatever your next step is. Grace and peace to you my friends as you faithfully pursue wholeness, right-relatedness, and faithfulness in such a time as this.