For us white folks, the wave of protests and conversations that have swept the country over the last month started with George Floyd. We learned about Breonna Taylor. We added Ahmaud Arbery. Then, we saw a movement.
For our black friends, the wave of protests and conversations that swept the country go back years. At least for a decade. For them, the above list of three expands rather quickly to include names like Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and on, and on, and on.
Our (white people’s) willingness to engage in conversations about police brutality, systemic racism, and white supremacy now has many of even the most optimistic of our black friends wondering, “Why now?” For us, the last month has represented a watershed moment. For them, it’s another horrible reminder of the day-to-day realities of systemic racism.
This experiential divide is exacerbated by many white Christians’ lack of black friends. While evangelical churches have grown in diversity in recent years, many are still not representative of their communities or their communities are racially homogenous. The practical result is a very small pool of black Christians who are regularly engaging with a large number of white Christians, probably for the first time, on racial issues.
I’ve made it a practice to educate myself on such issues over the last month. Last weekend I hit critical mass. The amount of information I had taken in was overwhelming. The shame that I felt was palpable. The horror I experienced shook me. I had to take a break.
That was from a month of intentional learning. These realities face our black friends every single day.
And somewhat skeptical. While George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery represent a tipping point for many white people, they are, sadly, drops in a long-overflowing bucket to most black people. Are we paying attention now because something has changed or because we’re bored? If something has changed, why has it taken so long? The George Floyd video, as horrible as it was, in many ways resembled the video we saw of Eric Garner in 2014.
And that’s just on the subject of police brutality! We have yet to even bring up the school to prison pipeline. The war on drugs. Housing inequality. Income disparity. Predatory lending practices. Microaggressions.
And if reading the list makes you somewhat roll your eyes or sigh as a white person, imagine your entire existence being wrapped up in and colored by those realities every single second of every single day. Imagine not being able to, as I did, just take a break from thinking about it. Imagine being asked ad nauseam about your opinion/experience as a representative of everyone who looks like you.
White Christians, your black friends are tired.
It’s not their job to teach you about racial issues, police brutality, systemic racism, housing inequality, police brutality, income disparity, or any other issue colored by racism.
Read a book. Listen to a podcast. Reflect on your experiences in light of what you learn.
“let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”-James 1:19-20
In a day and age in which we have so much access to so much that can aid in our education and edification, may we heed James’ admonition now more than ever.