“C’mon son, why you always ruin the mood/ Race talks happen every time you enter the room/ ‘Cause there’s too much ignorance in the masses/ Too many people think racism is past-tense” –Sho Baraka
Today is the last day of Black History Month, 2018. Hopefully you’ve taken the time to memorialize and learn about Black trailblazers, what it means to be Black in America, and celebrated the anticipated Black Panther movie.
But the learning, celebration, and uplifting shouldn’t stop because February is over. February 28th should catapult us into the rest of the year to explore resources, artists, authors, and the ongoing issues that involve race in America.
But why? Isn’t a month enough?
No, and specifically because Black history is American history, and America is critically mis- and under-educated about these matters. Attempts to quickly skim or neatly section off parts of Black history and racial issues is a problematic fantasy of capitalistic self-justification. The more we discover about the challenges, heritage, perseverance, and victories of African Americans, the better we will understand America.
And when the Church better understands America, our call to live missionally will become clearer and more defined (2 Corinthians 5:20). We will begin to see our money, time, location, gifts, talents, and possessions as tools to glorify God by doing good to others (Acts 2:44–45).
Why Keep Talking About Race?
But why does everything always have to be about race, though? Why can’t we just be one body and be in unity? Why must we keep talking about this stuff? Doesn’t it seem counterproductive to keep looking at history when we’re trying to move forward? We’ve come a long way and are much better than before, right? I mean, I know America isn’t perfect, but it’s much better than other places around the world.
I’ve observed, been asked, and listened to questions and sentiments like these more since I’ve been writing and commenting on life from an explicitly African American perspective. If not questioned directly, the sentiments are often implied.
I don’t like being asked these questions and I do not enjoy the confrontation that often follows. But, I also realize that confronting the disparities of equality that correlate with race are the means by which we achieve unity and Christian freedom.
I’ve also learned that the race “issue” isn’t a problem people of color created nor perpetuated. It is an ugly legacy prostrated by centuries of false doctrine, unjust laws, and terroristic methodologies to economically and physically subjugate generations of people. But when attention is drawn to the associated problems, the burden for fixing them is often placed on Black shoulders, or the blame is castigated upon them.
Manufactured statistics of “Black-on-Black” crime, critical comments of cultural differences – like dress, speech, or personality – and bigoted talk, masked under “dog whistle” comments, communicate that there is still much work to do with race in America. It is indeed a matter of our Christian freedom to belabor these problems.
Let Us Talk
The desire, willingness, and ability to self-express is a side-effect of freedom. It’s okay if people of color talk about their cultural and social discomforts, like the almost unobservable pressures to dress, behave, and communicate in Anglo-mannered ways. In a “diverse” place like America, and specifically in her churches, people of color should feel safe to speak about these things. But far too often, many do not.
Therefore, to prohibit, ignore, or mock those who’ve been generationally disparaged from expressing their emotions about these issues, is another systematic attempt to enslave the mind.
This is certainly anti-Christian and should be considered anti-American.
No New Problems
But why does it still happen? Why are we continually talking about and dealing with these racial differences?
Our American institutions historically promulgated these differences with problematic systems and laws (some of which are still in place) and now we are left to deal with the residual effects. Sin has always worked this way (Genesis 3:8–19).
Therefore, Christians must push back darkness by labeling these institutional and social issues as sin, then preach a gospel of repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and reparation, to make right the wrongs of our forefathers.
Rather than attempting to remove ourselves from cultural and racially complex situations, or believing and preaching a colorless gospel, we should take up the better method of Christian service, seeking where to help and how to better understand the controversies. Loftily and pithily talking like the concerns are illegitimate, or aren’t as big a matter of Christian mercy is hurtful, and perpetuates a furtherance of disjointing brotherly and sisterly unification.
Ignoring Our Ignorance
But, most Christians – and Americans in general – continue behaving, ignoring, and talking as if these issues are fabricated, because we fail to recognize and accept that, “Racialization is embedded within the normal everyday operation of institutions.” This is what Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith found in their survey of race and religious relations of America in their book, Divided By Faith. They also discovered that Americans,
“…tend to understand race, racism, and the form of racialization as constants, rather than as variables…Racism, for instance, is often captured best in people’s minds by the ideologies and actions of the Ku Klux Klan, an overt doctrine of racial superiority, usually labeled prejudice, that leads to discrimination. Based on this unchanging standard, racism is viewed as an irrational psychological phenomenon that is the product of individuals…”
But Emerson and Smith also learned that most people don’t realize or understand how racialization can – and continues to – occur in the larger scope of institutions. “Institutions…reproduce racialization without any need for individuals to be prejudiced, as defined by the Jim Crow era.”
Many individuals believe that because they are not thinking nor talking like a racist, American racialization is waning, or is no longer a real problem.
Though the racist words may be masked or absent, the racist systems are still in place. Don’t believe me? Consider these facts recently reported by the Washington Post:
- 7.5 percent of African Americans were unemployed in 2017, compared with 6.7 percent in 1968 — still roughly twice the white unemployment rate.
- The rate of homeownership, one of the most important ways for working- and middle-class families to build wealth, has remained virtually unchanged for African Americans in the past 50 years. Black homeownership remains just over 40 percent, trailing 30 points behind the rate for whites, who have seen modest gains during that time.
- The share of incarcerated African Americans has nearly tripled between 1968 and 2016 — one of the largest and most depressing developments in the past 50 years, especially for black men, researchers said. African Americans are 6.4 times as likely than whites to be jailed or imprisoned, compared with 5.4 times as likely in 1968.
So I continue talking about race, beyond Black History Month, because I am not too naive nor proud to act as if it isn’t an ongoing American experience. It’s our experience. It’s my experience. There’s much I don’t understand about myself in this experience, but I’m pressing forward with hope of Yeshua as my guard, for true racial diversity, harmony, and reconciliation.
Ultimately, I continue talking about race because Christ’s love compels me. And he died for all so that we might be reconciled to him and to each other (2 Corinthians 5:14, 18–19). For us to love each other wholly is holy. But we neglect fully knowing each other when we fail to embrace the whole of each other’s experiences.
So let’s keep talking.
Musical Reflection: Mr. Intentional (Live) – Lauryn Hill