It can be really challenging to talk about racism for many reasons. In today’s world, everything is supposed to be politically correct, well calculated, beautiful. It can be difficult to find the right words to express your feelings in a way that doesn’t offend anyone. That’s a big reason why speaking up about injustice can be hard. You don’t want to mess it up. It’s a reason I’ve been silent for a long time. But there was more than just that. I read from a respected friend that when you decide you are ready to confront racism head-on, you should spend the first few months just listening and learning. I’ve been doing that for quite some time now. I think that was excellent advice, but it seems that now, we cannot afford to continue in quiet listening and learning. The time is up, and I still wanted to have the right words, the perfect thing to say, but I don’t think that will ever come. Now it seems as just saying something is better than being silent, even if you don’t have the perfect speech or everything figured out. So, I’m writing this blog today to share the story with you of my own “work” in seeing my privilege, confronting it, and the process to change the narrative in my own life. Because, I think if you are going to join in the fight against racism, it’s more than a Facebook post. You have to be willing to put in the work. And that means confronting your own prejudice and bias, recognizing your own covert racism (because very few of us engage in overt racism), and recognizing systematic oppression. To start really listening and believing what people of color are trying to get white folks to understand. And beg the Lord to reveal the wickedness of your own heart and to change it to be more like Christ every day.I remember the first time I heard the term “white privilege” was in my senior English class in high school. We read a poem about it, and I wish I could remember what it was. But I remember thinking I’ve never heard of this, how could it be true. I remember thinking I don’t have some kind of privilege other people don’t have. That class really opened my eyes to so many things. We read literature from the Middle East, India, and Africa. I read about experiences different than my own for really the first time. Later that year I started college at the University of Tennessee. This was the same year that the elections campaigns were going on. That spring semester it seemed like every day was a new protest. People laying on the sidewalk, people yelling outside of my dorm, people walking out of class. The tension was so high, and sometimes I was scared. But this was one of the first times in my life I got to hear conversations in classes and in organizations on campus about racism in our world today. Not only the overt racism of frat boys in trucks yelling vulgar phrases as they drive by, but systems set in place in our country that covertly oppress people of color. I saw for the first time my privilege, and how I did not have to worry about things my classmates were worried about.
The next year, I studied abroad in Sydney, Australia. I landed in January, just days after Trump was inaugurated. All anyone who knew I was American wanted to talk about was him. Immigration, racism, feminism, gun control, police violence, kneeling, building a wall, mass shootings. More often than not, people didn’t really care what I had to say, but they wanted me to hear their opinions, so I listened. And I learned so much. I saw the other side of many arguments. I was not accustomed to conversations with people who had different beliefs than me. I also took an Australian history course and saw “American History” from a completely different standpoint. I listened as native Australians gave their view on our history and their own, and it truly opened my eyes. I saw how events in our country are interpreted by others, and it was shocking. Though not all the stereotypes and opinions were true of course, it was still strange to see people talk about America like it wasn’t the best country in the world. I’m not saying they were right, I’m just saying all the sudden that being the minority opinion in the classroom is shocking.
When I got home that summer, I read the book Just Mercy. It was recommended by a friend, and it truly was perfect timing. My mind was finally in a place to understand the facts and set aside my own bias to see the truth. I watched 13th and did my own research about prison populations and privatized prisons. I read books by Maya Angelou and other African American authors. And slowly I watched my opinions change. I watched myself become aware of my privilege. I had several great African American professors at UT engage in the race dialogue with me. They asked hard questions. They told hard stories to hear. I started to understand.
I would like to add it’s not just African Americans, but other races too, but right now it’s their story. I became friends with many international students and saw how racism affected their studies and lives here. Getting yelled names at, made fun of for their clothes, getting kicked out of bars. Anyway, each of them changed my perspective.I am sharing today to encourage you to do the work too. It won’t be enough to share a quote on your Facebook, to use a hashtag, to call your senator, to stand in a protest, if you are not willing to look into your own heart, and do the work. There are plenty of resources going around on podcasts, books, documentaries, and people to follow to learn from.Jesus was always on the side of the oppressed. Jesus was always calling out injustice. His house will be a house of prayer for all nations, all races. I want to be on Jesus’ side.I’m here to say that I know I probably am not doing enough. That I don’t know what it looks like for everyone. That I am so so sorry that it took me so long to believe what people of color were saying. That I am so sorry we live in a world where skin color can be a death sentence. And that I will do my part. I will speak up. I will be actively anti-racist. I will help amplify the voices of color that can attest to experiences I can’t on my own. That I won’t diminish their voice trying to be the savior. That I am praying every day for Jesus to change our hearts to love our neighbors. Starting with my own.