Monday, November 21, 2016

How Make Friends with, and change a racist . . .

Yes, racism exists in America.  It needs to be defeated completely - there is no room for racism in any just and prosperous society.  Yes, it has been a horrible cancer on our nation's history and yes, white people have a great burden in this area.

But it seems like those who talk about it the most are missing an opportunity.  

For example, a friend of mine posted about his faith and used imagery about "light casting out the darkness."  A friend of his, who works for racial justice and equality, warned him to be careful - that a white person using light and dark imagery is 'very serious.'

Poor guy.

All he was doing was talking about his faith.  He wasn't talking about skin color, he was talking about light.  It seems like a stretch to imply these are racist code words.  In fact, it seems . . . racist.  Sometimes when you focus on something so much it becomes all you can see.  In fact there will undoubtedly be people who will cite my white privilege in denying me the right to speak into this.

Just last week I had a conversation with someone told me that racism only comes from white people.  He quoted a professor in Canada who wrote an article equating racism with 'whiteness.'   According to this professor,  white people can't truly understand or talk about racism because it comes from the social construction of being white.

Hmmm . . .  wait a second . . .

Tell that to my Arabic friend who often told me how lazy Puerto Ricans are.

Tell that to the guy I sat next to at a Moroccan Cafe who snidely referred to Africans in the middle of the Continent as uneducated.

Tell that to the South Korean friend of mine in grad school who said Vietnamese people are easy to pick out because they look like criminals.

Tell that to the Vietnamese guy who said that all Japanese people are full of themselves.

Tell that to the little girl who lived in the apartment below me when I was first married - the one who described all South Americans as snobby and mean.

No, racism is not a 'whites only' affair.  Whites assume a huge part of the burden in America, but racism is a worldwide phenomenon - we see it played out in headlines about the Hutus and the Tutsis and the Kurds and Jews and Arabs.  

We hear it in the comments of Presidential candidates and the humor of Chris Rock.  Like a cancer it has invaded even those who think that they are helping.  The ones who see racism in everything and warn us about our 'whiteness.'

The problem is we think we can wall it off and 'de-friend' all the racists.

In fact, the opposite is true.  When the racists only have themselves to interact with it becomes stronger and we have two Americas.  There is no mixing of good and fresh thinking.  It becomes an 'us' versus 'them.'  We wall off a whole subculture and then we get surprised when they exhibit undesirable traits together.  The solution is more radical than condemnation.

We have to make friends with them.  It's more subversive, more penetrating and more healing.

This was Jesus' lead.  The Jews of His day had nothing to do with Samaritans because they were horrible people.  Historically they were traitors to the Jewish faith.  You were unclean to venture into their county.  So He purposefully went there.  And took people with Him.  And he mixed with people.  And stayed awhile.  And told stories about Good Samaritans.  You see what He did there?  He crossed the divide.  He mixed the cultures.

We just need to do this in reverse.

And this is the perfect time to start.  We have racial problems here in America.  White people bear a good amount of that burden, but we all have work to do.

Here are some simple steps:

1.  When you come across people who are racist, resist the urge to smack them in the face.  Count to ten.  Breathe.  And if you are able . . . engage.  "Tell me more about why you think Vietnamese people look like criminals?"

2.  Seek more than one conversation.  Look to develop a relationship.  Start viewing this as a mission from God (because it kind of is).  Within whatever power you have, develop a relationship with someone who has these racist tendencies.

3.  Seek creative ways to introduce them to the truth.  Invite them to a party at your house and nonchalantly introduce them to your Vietnamese Accountant (You know, the one who helped you get a great refund last year).  Not a crook.  Got it.  The more that you get them to see that their assumptions are unfounded the more that you may get to help them overcome their prejudice.

4.  Sincerely listen.  Racism and prejudice often comes from real hurt.  I'll never forget a friend of mine who had a series of really bad incidents with some black kids in his neighborhood. He was roughed up a bunch and then someone stole his bike.  That kind of stuff sticks with you and you begin to get bitter.  Acknowledging that pain while challenging them to rise above it is a step in the direction of healing.  But it won't begin without sincere listening . . . or even a relationship.

So yes, I know that these are just baby steps.  You and I both have a ton of work to do in healing our nation, but it does start in following Jesus' lead.

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