5 Reasons white people should care about Black History Month
It’s just a hunch, but I think some white people are scared to talk about Black history, in February or any other month, even though they actually care about it.
Why don’t white people talk about race more? Why don’t they advocate more, as they should? Why do some white people say things like:
- I’m not a racist
- I love all kinds of people
- I had nothing to do with slavery
- I’m not prejudiced
- I haven’t participated in any kind of discrimination
- I have Black friends
- I don’t see color
These statements are likely authentic to the people who say them. But there’s a rub in here. A prickling that takes place in the African-American psyche, and rightly so. From my obviously-white perspective, I can only guess—but I’m thinking the rub is that while defending my innocence and unattachment to racism in America, I insult the people most affected by it.
Here’s an analogy to help us understand the rub. For example, it’s insulting to me when someone says they understand my grief of losing my mother because their great-aunt or their favorite dog has also died. (True stories.) I appreciate their desire to empathize, but it’s not the same, and I’m offended that they think it is. It makes me want to never have another conversation with them because I’m not sure what future insensitive comment will escape their lips. I don’t want to be angry at them, but I am.
5 reasons white people (or any other color people) should care about Black History Month:
REASON 1: We all need constantly reconsider another point of view. No white person truly understands the cultural implications of growing up Black in America, even if they aren’t racists and don’t have slave-owning ancestors. We just can’t understand.
REASON 2: We need to stop being afraid to talk about something so important (racial reconciliation) because we’re worried that what we say will be taken the wrong way by Black people. I’m worried right now, writing about this. I don’t want to offend anyone. I merely want to inspire us all to address important issues with kindness and courage. Participation in justice is always risky. But the process of learning to communicate on hard topics with everyone is just making mistakes and learning from them. I expect to get critiques on this article. (Thank you. That’s how I grow.)
REASON 3: We must stop attacking one another and just solve the problem. The obvious deterrent for many white people—especially those of us who live in the firing line on a number of spiritual and social issues—is that every time we engage in discussion about our responsibility for racial reconciliation, we are censured by other white people with the argument that the racial tension in our country is not our fault and why are we always making everyone feel guilty about it? (Good question—keep reading.)
Some people even resort to the granddaddy of all reprehensible Christian white people excuses: Slavery is in the Bible.
So is incest and rape. Be careful how you interpret Scripture. Actually, the Bible does not command or encourage enslaving people or discrimination against race. It only speaks about discriminating against idolatrous cultures. Even Jesus’ personal mission statement includes freedom for captives, just as Old Testament laws contained many rules about how to offer people redemption through freedom. Freedom, both physical and spiritual, has always been God’s will.Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:18
REASON 4: Treating one another with prejudice (no matter what their color or economic status) is plain wrong. Chalking discrimination up to history, culture, or personality is a cowardly attempt to avoid responsibility and change. We know better. We all know better. Cite the Golden Rule, John 3:16, or another other code for ethical conduct. Every color people has been both aggressor and victim. None of us have a rosy background.
REASON 5: Our history as a nation is a history of many cultures. African, Mexican, Irish, Chinese, Native American, English, German, French, Japanese, Indian, Middle Eastern–these and many more have created our diverse culture and have been at one time or another, hated by the dominate American people groups of the time. Let’s not stop learning from our heritage. Diversity makes us stronger. Hate makes us weaker.
It’s just so easy to make assumptions about other people. As Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You never understand a person until … you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” Well, that doesn’t seem possible, so how do we, as white people, address tricky issues of race and privilege today? How do we care about Black History Month regardless of our skin?
We should care about this month because we should care about racial divides. Although most of us have not personally caused or participated in abortion, sexual confusion, drug addiction, the vaping epidemic, euthanasia, mass incarceration, immigration problems, and a host of other social and spiritual issues, compassion requires our involvement as human beings and children of God.
There is a significant difference between fault (guilt) and responsibility. A social injustice might not be directly my fault (cause), but it most certainly is my responsibility (concern). Justice demands open-mindedness and involvement. My actions will prove the level of my interest.
Justice is not a secular word. Justice, whether spiritual, emotional, and physical, is the reason Jesus came to earth—to rectify the schism taking place in everyone’s heart, soul, mind, and body after the Fall. All the social issues of any time period are merely reflections of humanity’s sin and selfishness at work in culture. Ambition, guilt, greed, lust, hate, and fear always create social classes, disparity, and inequity. In every time period and every culture. America is not exempt from this, not by a long shot.
Jesus came into the world to bring peace. He offers salvation equally to everyone. (Why would we think that he advocates disparity in economics, class, gender, or race, when he wants all people to be saved?)
Our responsibility as reflectors of God’s image is to narrow the gap of disparity. To restore equity. To generate hope. To love.
This is justice. And justice happens through intentionality, on a personal level, as well as a corporate and civic level.
5 wisdom principles for white people, written by a white person (so judge me accordingly):
- Consider your perspective. You may have grown up with an us v. them mentality without realizing it. Racial divides are rooted in our culture intentionally and unintentionally. Broaden your reading and listening to learn about the topic. You are not defacing your European (or whatever) heritage by investigating race and privilege—that’s growing yourself. Whenever you read or study, you have nothing to lose except a narrower perspective.
- Cherish diversity. Be proactive about seeking out diversity in your workplace, friendships, influences, and church. Yes, diversity can generate awkwardness and tension. Lean into the tension because tension propels you to wrestle with issues and perspectives you’ll never address otherwise. You will be better for it.
- Understand that tension is not the same thing as combativeness. Wrestling through topics on varying perspectives of gender, race, faith, economics, education, and class create cultures where everyone can be equally-valued and fulfilled. However, avoiding these discussions or igniting arguments protects stereotypes and nourishes cultural divides.
- Follow the leadership of non-white individuals, especially regarding diversity, inclusion, and race. They know what they’re talking about when it comes to race. We don’t have the same perspective, no matter how much we try to understand.
- Distinguish the difference between community and charity. At times, many of us serve, rescue, or support underprivileged people through mission and service. These are noble and necessary contributions. However, charity can also skew our perspective on race and poverty. We must not confuses compassion with charity or race with poverty. People with privilege can easily confuse or over-simplify these issues, which require further study.
Let’s work together to support movements toward a more-unified society and a more-diverse church. If there’s one thing the world will sit up and notice—it’s the body of Christ who is willing to admit, address, and re-connect racial divides.