I fear talking past my white brothers and sisters.
I fear that because most of us, especially here in the south suburbs of Chicago, do not know that we are a group. We insist on individual identity so strongly that there is not room for the collective next to out-sized ego. Can such trees recognize our place as actually in a forest?
Only at the most easily-accessible and shallowest level is racism in America and the world a matter of individuals’ behaviors. Slurs can be recorded, bad pranks posted online, and participants in white supremacy rallies identified. But even if we were to change people who do such things, racism would remain because it is part of groups, institutions, and systems in which those of every culture are entangled and of which we are all victims.
And here is where some of my white brothers and sisters check out. We (whites) may experience any discussion about race as a personal attack. We fear getting one more finger-wagging lecture and being left only with a sense of unresolvable guilt and deeper shame. We feel overwhelmed by the complexity and weight of an evil that resists the easy fixes of our can-do culture, which is used to being able to accomplish whatever is desired and promotes self as savior. Responses to race talk will include: “Just love people for who they are.” “Everybody is different, like a snowflake.” “All I can do is be kind to others and treat everybody the same, like Jesus said.” “Why do we have to keep talking about race when it’s so divisive?”
Because it’s not about you, dear white evangelical individualist.
It is about your neighbor, the one you are to love as yourself, and not simply because it is commanded, but because you would love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And your neighbors are almost all less individualistic than you are. Biblical morality itself is less individualistic than you are. You’re the outlier. You value family, but they are more likely to define their identity by parentage and siblings. You can take for granted that there are no barriers to you feeling welcome at the school meeting, but they are wondering if the institution has included them, that is, their group, in the strategy for success. You know your vote is your voice, but it can take generations for women, minorities, and immigrants to overcome exclusion from public participation.
Moreover, the evil of racism is not contained within human groups, institutions, and systems, it is bigger than any human thing. It is among the “powers and principalities” (Ephesians 6:12, KJV) that are waging the great war against God and God’s good creation. That is why it must be named, studied as an enemy, confronted, and overthrown.
Though I fear I have lost some of you dear readers, I believe God will continue to try to locate you so that you may be found and saved. Yes, saved. Because white, sometimes evangelical, individualism has been a main breeding partner to generate the potent national false god called “Self,” which has now set itself up in American hearts of every culture. And individualists cannot save themselves from Self any more than an acquisitive person can buy their way out of greed.
And to those of you readers who are people of color. I, as a member of one of the most privileged groups in history (white, male, middle & upper class citizens of the United States), have no standing to ask you for much. But I, as a student of God’s Word, do ask if you will recognize and act on the pitiable need for the redemption of my people. Without Christ working through you to teach us what it means to be a group, we will fall short in becoming, together with you, God’s one new people (Ephesians 2:14-16, Hebrews 11:40).