I’ve really wrestled with how to respond, what to say, or should I say anything at all. In light of the fresh wave of racial tensions that has swept our nation over the last couple of years, I’ve told myself that my friends know where I stand. My friends know I’m not a racist. But it finally occurred to me yesterday that the same logic would never fly with my family. If I applied the same logic to how often I say I love you to my wife and kids, that would be ridiculous. Apart from some Facebook interaction, I haven’t seen many of you for over twenty years. How can you know I care unless I do say something? I know that some of the things I’m about to say will ignite the ire of some of my friends. So be it. I’m done being silent. Silence is the same as complicity.
I am with you as best as a white guy can be with you. As a soon-to-be forty-year-old white man who grew up with many black friends, my heart is hurt for you. I cannot imagine the emotions that run through your mind every morning when you get up to get ready for the day, especially during this racially charged moment in our history. I haven’t had to live with that because I’m white. Don’t get me wrong, I try to put myself in your shoes, but as the saying goes, until you actually walk a mile in a man’s shoes, you can’t completely understand his life. My understanding only takes me so far.
I do acknowledge that the color of my skin has afforded me unspoken and unwritten privileges. I don’t carry the kind of anxiety that you do. There are things my kids won’t have to worry about and I’ll never have to teach them because they are white. Because I’m white the assumptions people make about my character based on my appearance are inherently safer (which is ridiculous). Because I’m white, I don’t have any fears of injustice when I’m pulled over by the police. These are just a few privileges that I have simply by virtue of my skin color. I acknowledge white privilege. I also acknowledge your pain over all of this. I want to empathize but I know my ability to do that is limited. Please know that. I am deeply sorrowed that the color of a person’s skin continues to gain them both privileged and unjust treatment.
I think (I hope) I’m sharing the same feelings of many white people. The frustration that I’ve borne in all of this is knowing what to do. I can tell you that none of my feelings are coming from guilt. I don’t feel guilty for being white. Why should anyone feel guilty for being the color that they are? But I do feel frustrated. I want to be a person who fosters healing and reconciliation, and I truly believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope we have for healing and reconciliation. At the same time when I hear Black Lives Matter cofounder, Marissa Johnson, say that white folks are going to have to give up something, I’m at a loss for how I can personally respond to that. If she’s talking about large scale issues then I can for sure vote for people who will work to undo racial inequality, but how does that help me in the trenches of everyday life be a man who helps reconcile this divide that exists between whites and blacks? I’m just asking all of us the same questions I’m asking myself.
Here’s where I’m at for the moment, for better or worse. First of all, you won’t see me posting things on social media that are racially insensitive to anyone, white or black or any other color. Social media has perhaps become one of the worst instigators of racial tension I’ve seen. White folks and black folks post a whole bunch of thoughtless words out of anger and frustration. Good things seldom come from quick, harshly spoken words. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
Secondly, I’ve abandoned the idea of being a colorblind person because I think it’s insensitive. The colorblind person makes no judgments based on skin color, which seems right. But in refusing to see skin color, the colorblind person frequently (and I’d add unintentionally) may turn a blind eye to injustice. If the system is broken along racial lines, justice will often be lopsided which means you cannot look at justice through a colorblind lens. If justice were equal, colorblindness would be fair, but that’s simply not reality.
Thirdly, I am grateful. I’m grateful for how my black friends have influenced my life. You have helped make me uniquely who I am today. I’m also grateful that you received me as well. I might have been the goofy white boy that you couldn’t seem to get rid of at times, but I found acceptance from many of you, and that meant the world to me growing up.
Finally, I know that in some of this, I’m just plain ignorant. It’s entirely possible that I’ve already said something where you are going, see, that’s a prejudiced, white way of thinking about this. All I can say is I’m sorry, but I am genuinely trying to understand and be a better neighbor. In some ways I feel like a fish trying to understand what it means to be wet. All the fish has ever known is wet, so he doesn’t have a category in his mind for being not wet.
That’s all for now. I hope I’ve been clear, or at least clear enough. To my white friends who read this, I know some of you will disagree with me on some of these points, and that’s ok. I’m an adult, and I can have disagreements with friends and still be friends. Don’t mistake my empathy for my black friends as taking sides against the police or against white people or whomever else. I love the police, I love white folks, but sometimes a person needs to take a moment, speak up, and make clear those things that might be misunderstood by remaining silent.
I will close by leaving you all with Ephesians 2:14 which speaks directly to how Jesus Christ can heal the hostility between racial groups. Grace and peace to you all.
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both (Jews and Gentiles) one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility. Ephesians 2:14