How does one just fix racism in America? America thought it fixed the system in 1863 with the Emancipation Proclamation but we still had legalized segregation with the Jim Crow laws. Then, in 1954, America took another step forward with Brown versus the Board of Education, and next the Civil Rights Act of 1968. However, these laws began the fully legal process of forming ghettos for African-Americans in the inner cities. This history is rich and evolving, but in the wake of the recent Philando Castile and Alton Sterling shootings, many of my white friends are asking, “What can we do to bring about true racial reconciliation in our country?”
First, we need to look at our terms. It’s puzzling that the term “racial reconciliation” is today’s buzz phrase. Seriously—reconciling what? The word reconcile assumes there was once relationship and now we must restore what once was. But who are we fooling? There has never been harmony. Humanity has been fist-a-cuffs since Adam and Eve travelled East of Eden. Even in our ‘sophisticated’ world and systems of law, we will find a way to divide. If it isn’t systemic divide between white and black, it’s Jew and Nazi in the holocaust, Muslim and Christian in the Crusades. We can even begin to consider today’s Democrat and Republican tension.
As I have considered the hopeful unity of blacks and whites in our world (really just my neighborhood), I have come to realize that we all need to start at the bottom—man will always find a way to be at war with man. Our condition feels seriously desolate, doesn’t it? But maybe if we start by understanding the deepest issue of all, that “man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring; O hush the noise, ye men of strife, And hear the angels sing.” (It Came Upon the Midnight Clear by Edmund Sears) We can’t hear because there is too much history, too much noise.
So first, we must start with the understanding that we have a whole history of division and we must glimpse into a world of unity, which is the one Jesus Christ gives. Jesus came to reconcile the world to himself and reconcile us as brothers and sisters (2 Corinthians 5:18; Colossians 1:20). If we are going to use the phrase ‘racial reconciliation’ and take steps to make another historical step in our nation, we must be all about the inner, heart-level, life-transforming, conviction-driven work of Christ. Jesus Christ is the only one who can reconcile what once was. And because he is all about it, we must be all about.
But I still hear the text messages and late night conversations from friends saying, “Yes, I get the centrality of Christ and his gospel message in the racism of our world but how can I put my hand to the plow and fix this”? I’ve already written a piece on my journey with racial reconciliation but many of us white people know slacktivism and blogs are not enough. I think the greatest step toward changing history needs to be taken locally, in each of our cities.
I have African-American friends all over the US, but my local relationships are the ones I see making a difference. As a pastor, I have made a point to regularly dine with local African-American pastors, many of whom pastor predominately black churches. Through these meals and conversations, I have experienced a deeper understanding of the various issues they experience in their communities. We can’t underestimate relationships with neighborhood leaders who experience the injustice of our broken systems and do tangible work to heal their community.
The second regional work we can begin is to move into diverse neighborhoods. Though there is much to be said of the good, bad and ugly of gentrification, as a Christian who delights in the incarnation of Jesus into this world, we should consider our hospitality as a strategy for change. When I pose to many young white people in my church to move into neighborhoods where they will be the minority, it often inspires and excites them—initially. But laying down roots, building lasting friendships, and leading change for the long haul is the furthest thing from most free-spirited young people’s minds. Move, stay, experience, relate, add and build a community of reconciliation.
Finally, there are many non-profits, social enterprises and community organizations at work in African-American communities. Get involved! If there is nothing (and truly do your homework) consider developing a thoughtful plan to work with the community. My church has been working for the last two years to start a non-profit for one of Columbus’ most underserved neighborhoods. We’ve met with many local leaders, read every resource available, followed every successful organization template we can find, and have moved approximately one inch. As one of my friends always says, “Think in decades.”
Again, I ask, “How does one just fix racism in America?” Social media? Blogs? New laws? A few of us are called to change the big systems— but we can all work in our own neighborhoods.
We should all ask ourselves and each other these questions:
1- Do I have meaningful relationships with someone of a different race? (more than social media friends or mere acquaintances)
2- Why do I live where I live? Am I considering my home’s location as a key way to be involved?
3- Am I hearing the true needs of a community and involved with churches and/or organizations working to impact a community in healthy ways?