I grew up cloistered in a pretty specific bubble in suburbia. The kind of bubble where you might have the cops called on you if you left junk in the front lawn, or let the grass get higher than two inches.
I saw the police up-close-and-personal only once a year, for National Night Out. One policeman would hand out badge stickers, and another would be dressed in the dog mascot costume.
I remember a coloring worksheet with the silhouette of a policemen and the caption that if ever I was in trouble, the police were my friends.
All the people in my neighborhood looked like me.
I didn’t go to public school, so I never had friends from other backgrounds. Just me and all my evangelical, white brothers, and our evangelical, white friends from church. By my late teens, I had a black friend, but because of the strong white influence, all his friends called him an “Oreo”: black on the outside, white on the inside.
I didn’t encounter black culture until my early twenties, when I moved to a predominately black neighborhood in Minneapolis.
And I didn’t encounter my own ingrained white privilege until the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.
I was the person, in response to the news of violence against blacks coming from other states, that wanted to be bipartisan–a “peacekeeper.” I wanted to have all the facts. Generally, I assume the good in all people, both those who fall victim and those who perpetrate, and when Ahmaud Arbery was shot in Georgia while jogging (Feb. 23), I tried to withhold judgment until I had all the facts.
Now I see that “having all the facts” is a form of hiding, hiding from the kind of injustice that my spirit knows I am inadvertently apart of, and demands the entirety of my heart to set right.
The truth is, I didn’t go on to find all the facts–nor the truth–but got sidetracked by my birthday the following day, and my own comfortability. The happenings of the racist south were far from my little bubble in (unbeknownst to me, racist) Northern Minnesota. I had to go look up the spelling of Arbery’s name and the details of the story in order to write this.
I suppose ignorance like mine is why the powerful motto emerged in the wake of George Floyd’s passing: “Say his name.”
Say it, Grace, so that his life becomes real to you, so that you don’t forget he was in the middle of his story when another man, one who might’ve handed out sticker badges to white kids, ripped out the pages in the second half of his book.
Say his name, like the mighty pushing of a snowball down a hill, that justice may be given the chance to write an epitaph for all the names you didn’t know–Eric Garner (2014), Michael Brown (2014), Laquan McDonald (2014), Tamir Rice (2014), Walter Scott (2015), Freddie Gray (2015), Jamar Clark (2015), Alton Sterling (2016), Philando Castile (2016), Stephon Clark (2018), Botham Jean (2018), Breonna Taylor (2020), and that justice may be given the chance to pen a revolutionary second half for the millions of stories of people of color in this world.
Waiting to “have all the facts” is the epitome of white privilege, that my bubble is so set up to shield me from the blatant racial profiling and prejudice of my neighbors and fellow man.
Waiting to “have all the facts” is part of why the black community has been waiting so long for social equality and justice. The longer I wait to engage the truth of my white circumstances, the longer my black neighbors wait out their own deaths in the streets, or in their beds.
The longer they wait to feel safe.
I can’t imagine the sensation of not feeling safe in my own home. The truth of my white circumstances is that I rarely feel unsafe. The truth of my white happenstance is that the world around me is created to pander to my pleasure, ego, and privilege. Why are the “nude” cosmetics at Target always in shades of beige? As beauty guru Christine says, “Nude is a concept, not a color.” For the black girl who also watches YouTube makeup tutorials, her “nude” is not beige, but a deeper tone that is rarely included in cosmetic marketing.
And why are the nude depictions of Adam and Eve always white-skinned? Or Santa Claus? White-haired, blue-eyed, rosy cheeked…. Did you know St. Nicholas was actually born in Turkey? It must’ve been a shock to his system to move from such a hot climate to the tundra of the North Pole, but all the Scandinavian children had to have their Christmas presents. It’s a tradition to honor their white Jesus getting gold, frankincense, and myrrh, you know.
Recently I watched a news clip from CNN where the anchor interviews NFL player Benjamin Watson in a follow up on his essay about Michael Brown being shot by a police officer. In both the essay and the clip, Watson says that “ultimately, it’s not a skin problem but a sin problem,” and goes on to express his beliefs that the solution to social inequality and injustice is not education but the gospel of Jesus Christ. Unsurprisingly, CNN cuts him off before he can finish.
I agree with Watson. Education goes a long way, especially in bringing awareness to the ignorant (put your hand up with me). But only grace transforms a bad heart. Only love heals what is broken. Only the blood of a perfect man breaks the bonds of captivity to one’s own selfish reality. We are all guilty of assuming our experience is everybody else’s experience. It’s the nature of ego, of the inner narrative. A child, regardless of their skin color, thinks their reality is the only one. As expressed by a little boy to a little girl in an argument, “You’re not real, I’m real!” Interestingly, they are arguing about a difference of opinion bestowed by their mothers, showing that the truth of their reality is heavily influenced by what is instilled in them by educators. When they grow up, their language will shift from “real vs. not real” to “right vs. wrong.” But the heart-cry is still the same–validate my real-ness.
Like the CNN anchor, much of the West doesn’t want a “religious” solution. They put racial inequality/injustice on the shoulders of the government to fix, policy-making and reform, and there is a place for that–an enormous place. But it’s also on the shoulders of white, evangelical, 26-year-old girls like me, who don’t vote because they wanted to be bipartisan, and didn’t realize that their vote really does have power to effect change. Every day, I can vote against the tide of white supremacy trying to buoy me up, both in government and in my inner narrative. I can look for other realnesses beyond my own, and for fault lines in my reality.
One “realness” is that of spiritual powers. Our battle is not with flesh and blood; like Watson said, the battle is not over skin color. White supremacy is a spirit with its claws in the belief systems of people. It is the same spirit of evil that generated slavery and the dominance of the Aryan race during Hitler’s regime. It can be as overt as the KKK or as subtle as a white Santa Claus. Every human heart is susceptible to it, but it begins as a power external to you, and it takes the discernment of the Holy Spirit to know what is the truth of your heart-thoughts and what are the thoughts of this pervading principality.
When I first moved to Minneapolis and walked Penn Avenue to and from work, I would hear voices telling me to walk on the other side of the street. “Cross over from that black man–he might hurt you.”
Never in my life had any person told me such a thing. Never in my life had I questioned the value of a person with a different skin color–red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight–or doubted my love for them.
I had to fight those voices, stay the course, look the person in the eye, smile, say hello.
You and I are not the enemy here.
You can see how such a thought, hard to distinguish as not your own, would begin to build a culture of racial profiling. We begin to associate “burglar,” “rapist,” “thug” thoughts with people of color, those who wear hoodies, or who are loitering/walking in a certain locale, and generalize the entire population that way. Racial profiling is what happened in every case of police-person of color death listed above. As soon as I agree and say in my heart, “Yes, I should walk on the other side of the street in case he intends to rape me,” that thought of an evil spirit becomes belief, and belief is what my actions are built on; then what strengthens and spreads throughout a society. If a person has bad thinking, they will have bad actions. If a society has bad group-think, it will have bad actions.
These thoughts would become my own–flourish in the fertile soil of the unredeemed heart–if I did not believe Jesus is my claim to righteousness, or have the Holy Spirit regenerating me.
Just as every heart is susceptible to evil spirits, they are also susceptible to the Holy Spirit. Any love in my heart for the black community originates in Jesus, and because of him, I know these are true: I am not a white supremacist, and I am still susceptible to white supremacist thoughts/beliefs and must deconstruct the instilling of any such education.
I also know that I have never before questioned my love for people of color, but suddenly find myself doing so. If you identify with what I’m preaching, I want to give you a word of reminder and encouragement.
There is another spirit, equally manipulative and gross, working in tandem with the white supremacist spirit–the religious spirit. The religious spirit had me questioning my Holy Spirit-dwelling heart if I love black people.
Maybe I don’t, I thought in a panic. I don’t even have black friends right now, and I always want all the facts! I’m not racist, but maybe I’m not anti-racist either! Quick, post an anti-racist blurb on social media so they know I’m not racist, I’m ANTI-RACIST.
As soon as I start agreeing that I’m neutral, I give power to neutrality.
As soon as I agree that I can never understand the black experience, I will never understand the black experience. (Who am I to limit what wisdom the Holy Spirit will give? It is in understanding that reconciliation begins to grow. It is my spirit-privilege to be privy to things impossible to the flesh.)
Rather, I should start agreeing that I’m anti-racist, because that agreement gives power to justice, and engages my heart in the black cause. The gap of their waiting narrows or widens with every agreement we make.
I say the burden of proof has always been on the one who asserts. If the spirit of white supremacy is accusing your heart of racism, let that spirit prove it. It has no power except that which you give, and if you are giving it power on the basis of mere accusation, you have need of some deep soul validation from your divine Creator (oh, look, something understandable to every other human experience on the planet!)
Similarly, if the spirit of religion asserts that you will never measure up to your part in reconciling people groups–to do better–you tell it that Jesus Christ finished the work of reconciliation on the cross, and you carry his ministry by the Holy Spirit. It is your destiny to reconcile heart-cries to their answers, whether through relationship, reform, or rearing the next generation that seeks to experience and celebrate the realities of others.
To myself, and my fellow Jesus-lovers: prove your assertions with a pure love.
It’s not enough to love people of color with reforms and policy-making, social media tirades or protesting. The basic needs of a human soul are not the right to vote or the right to own land, or the right to free speech or a fair trial–those are obvious “duh”s, and simply what makes a society flourish. The accomplishment of those things isn’t going to afford the black experience the dignity, safety, and honor that their human nature inherently deserves. Policy doesn’t validate human nature. Laws for equal treatment don’t validate a heart longing for intimacy and home.
Rather, human nature can validate human nature.
And in the deepest places, where a soul knows its existence is sacred and fears that it is not seen–there only divine nature validates human nature.
The God in you wants to validate the heart-cry in others.
To my friends with the white experience:
COVID-19 is giving a chance to go slower. Take the opportunity to find your heart and do the work of looking for the truth. Don’t be afraid of what you might find–you are loved; you are valid; you must grow. If you believe, you are covered in the blood of Jesus, and no one can condemn you.
Go slower, and go lower.
Go lower into humility. Beware the religious-spirit which serves the black community with a prideful heart. Pride/judgment is sibling to the supremacist.
Go lower until you find the bottom, where Jesus dwells.
To my neighbors with the colored experience:
To repent means to change your thinking. And when your thoughts change, your beliefs change, and when your beliefs change, your actions change.
I am repenting. Because I love the Lord, I am repenting. Because the Lord loves you, I am repenting.
Forgive me for living in my white-privilege bubble for so long. I’m trading it for my Jesus-privilege of sharing grace. I ask for your grace in this process of heart change, and patience for the fruit it will produce.
COVID-19 is a chance for your voices to be heard and amplified. We are responding to your call. Where our city is closed because of disease and rioting, my heart is opening to your suffering. You are loved; you are valid; you are growing. If you believe, you are covered in the blood of Jesus, and no one can condemn you, not even corrupt government. I desire to understand your suffering, to share in it as I share in Christ’s, and to see you get your full reward.
Now is your time.