I’ve been listening in on a forum for about a year now, where people of color articulate their experience and perspective and white individuals like myself listen, learn, and inquire for understanding. Current events have given me insight and helped me to see things that are easily missed and dismissed.
In the shootings of last summer, we saw the officers involved exonerated and the black community left in tears and mourning. I have officer friends who explain the complexities and white friends who say, “Listen to the officers and walk away.” All of this aggravates and stirs the dialogue, missing the heart. What I’ve learned is that I don’t understand, but I can grieve and mourn with those who grieve and mourn. I can agree that the loss of life is tragic—especially if it is unnecessary and avoidable.
At the recent Southern Baptist Convention, a simple resolution to condemn the racism of the Alt-Right was at first tabled. Then, when it went to the floor, it was not voted in. Then, after quite a stir, it was finally accepted. When I look deeply at the issue I don’t believe the SBC was against the resolution. But, the language that was offensive to white people was removed and the incriminating history was softened with recent progress to show a more appealing narrative.
What I’ve learned after a year of listening is that this softening is offensive. Letting me tell your story in my voice can at times diminish both your voice and your story. I’ve learned that in order to have true dialogue, I need to be offended—especially if I am blind to some of the things I do that create the problem. I’ve learned that it is not enough to identify with people of color. What they want in relationship is to see us taking action on behalf of justice.
Let’s face it. It shouldn’t be hard to condemn racism or the alt-right. What is hard is standing with and speaking out, or—like the Mayor of New Orleans—dismantling monuments representing oppression. Some of these “monuments” are committees incapable of representing all the people they represent. Some are leadership teams that are exclusively or predominantly incapable of voicing or seeing the worldview of the people they serve.
Some ideas travel slowly. Ironically, it was “Juneteenth” when, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks in Texas finally heard they were free. The proclamation of white privilege (the ability to be blind to all of these subtleties because of majority culture) will move far more slowly. But, if we listen, assume we can learn, lower our defenses, mourn with those who mourn, speak up for justice, and be willing to be offended—then slowly we can rebuild the relational trust necessary to live in unity.