|Pastor Renita Lamkin who was shot at |
and struck by a police rubber bullet while
praying and mediating in Ferguson, MO
I've heard from many of my white friends and readers who say they aren't sure how to respond to the anger and grief they are watching on TV or hearing from their black friends.
They want to be part of the solution but don’t know where start. They may even feel a little defensive when they hear people talking about white privilege or inaction on the part of white Christian leaders.
I’m in the process of learning too, but as I've listened to people of color whose opinions I trust, I've heard them issue several calls to action we can all heed:
1. Lament. In the wake of the events in Ferguson, those of us with racial privilege should avoid trying to regulate the emotional responses of our black brothers and sisters and instead listen and learn so that we better understand those responses, and ultimately, share in them. Anger can be startling, certainly, and it might even make us uncomfortable. But anger is not a sin. Anger is the right and just response to inequity and inaction.
When people of color express anger or frustration regarding the racism they have experienced, the worst thing white people can do in response is shrug off those stories as insignificant in an attempt to return to our emotional comfort zone.
The healing process cannot begin until the severity of these wrongs have been fully acknowledged, until the injustice of it makes us weep. Practical ways to express solidarity in this regard include joining a peaceful protest, introducing prayers of confession and lament regarding racism into your church worship service, and listening with empathy to the stories of black friends, artists, writers, and leaders without defensiveness or judgment.
2. Listen and learn. If you were bewildered by the response to Michael Brown’s death, it might be worth asking yourself why. How might your experiences as a white person limit your ability to put this shooting into context? And how might you expand your educational and relational horizons to better understand the struggles of your brothers and sisters of color?
[It’s important to note that when white people are reminded of their racial privilege, it is not a personal insult, nor does it deny the reality of other potential disadvantages white people may experience in their lives. It simply acknowledges that the broken, sin-riddled systems at work in our society tend to favor white people over people of other ethnicities, so even a white person who may be disadvantaged in other ways — socioeconomically, physically, etc. — will still know less about racially based oppression than a black person.]
3. Loose the chains of injustice. Finally, while prayer and fasting are fitting responses to what’s happening in Ferguson and around the country, we cannot forget the Word of God through Isaiah: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”
No single person can “solve” racial inequity in this country, but we can each do our part to loose the chains of injustice in our own neighborhoods. Of course, the true test will be how faithfully we engage all these issues in the months and years to come, when Ferguson is no longer trending on Twitter.
Racial reconciliation can be a hard, discouraging road. But we are not helpless.