Monday, April 1, 2013

beyond the color barrier...


It is with some fear and trepidation that I write this blog post.

I'm about as far as it comes to being an expert to write blog posts about racial issues.  Not exactly the most comfortable subject, I must say.

Especially when white culture teaches us we're supposed to be colorblind and treat everyone equally, afterall.

And there IS, indeed, truth in that statement as far as treating everyone equally.  But not in the let's-be-blind-to-color part.  Because while white people are so busy "not seeing" color, you'd better believe that people of color are talking about it!  Which brings up something I've recently come to understand:   It's only the white people that can ignore our own color!  As a white person, I never regularly walk into a room and wonder if and how I'll be received simply because of my skin color.

I think it would do us all a little good to pay attention a little more often to our race and our culture as well as that of others.  What does it mean to be white?  What does it mean to be black, or hispanic, or Korean, etc.?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of our cultures?  Where can we learn greatly from other cultures, and where might we use our strengths be an encouragement to others?

These types of questions have been FASCINATING to Marc and I for the past several years.  I would have never known that all along the Lord, in His providence, was preparing us for a lifetime of raising a black son!

But now, as Jameson's mama, this IS my business.  His experience becomes MY experience.  His culture is worth talking about!  And so is mine!  Why would we want to ignore either of them?

I've been learning a TON on this subject, and I want to keep understanding more and more so that I can be the best vanilla mommy to my little chocolate baby.

The other night, Marc and I were able to take some of our RUF students up to UVa (University of Virginia) to an event called "Beyond the Color Barrier: The Gospel, Race, and Future of Christianity in America" with guest speakers Dr. Anthony Bradley and Dr. Soong-Chan Rah.  (You can listen to the whole thing HERE!)  It was sponsored by several campus ministries at UVa, including RUF @ UVa, and it was primarily geared towards college students.


Anthony Bradley, Ph. D, if you don't know him, is an Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics in the Public Service Program at the King's College in New York City.  He's written many books, and studies and writes on issues of race in America, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern slavery.

He also rocked an awesome lavender bow tie that night.  :)

Soong-Chan Rah is an Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL, a founding Senior Pastor of a multi-ethnic, urban ministry-focused church, and an author as well.

He seemed to have little problem stepping on some of white culture's "sacred cows" to make his point!

Needless to say, these guys knew their stuff!  They've given their very lives to study these topics.

Marc was fortunate enough to be able to spend the entire day with Anthony Bradley (what a privilege!) and hear him speak to a few pastors over lunch, and I was able to bring the students up to Charlottesville to hear the evening's event.

In the evening, both speakers delivered their own prepared talks, and then the final thirty minutes of the evening was a question & answer time.  (you'll hear on the audio)

So I thought I'd share a few of the things that stood out to me personally from the evening, in the hopes that it might be encouraging or intriguing to any of you who read this blog!  As eloquently as both of them spoke, I will TOTALLY not do it justice typing out a few things here, so please bear with me, and hopefully some things will be helpful, even in translation...


Anthony Bradley started off speaking a great deal about the image of God.  Whereas we typically think of how the image of God is found in individual lives, he talked about how it is rather found in the whole of humanity.  That all of us, as a collective humanity, bear the image of God.  So racial issues are not simply socioeconomic issues- they are shedding light upon how we are bearing the image of God.  There is an interconnectedness and a solidarity between us, and if one group is being discriminated against by another, he said that is sabotaging God's very image.  (wow!)

I thought another one of his points hit pretty hard:

"Being concerned about racial justice is not the same as loving someone of another race."  

He went on to say caring about an issue such as sex trafficking is different than actually caring about and loving REAL people who are different than you.  (ouch!  I know a lot of us, and even my own heart, care more about the theory and ideas than the actual people around me in my sphere of influence...)

Anthony said that typical evangelical Christians think that if they can get a bunch of different ethnicities in the room on Sunday morning, then they think they've achieved something. (gulp!)  But he said it's a false sense of progress because actually loving people goes far beyond that.

And then he talked about white privilege.

Sadly, several months ago I'd never heard those two words before: WHITE PRIVILEGE.

Now I feel like I'm seeing it all the time.

There's SO much that has been written about that topic, and so much more could be said than this.  But my guess is that most white people most often don't even SEE how much privilege we carry.  At times it seems as if we feel like it's how it should be.  Like we're entitled to it.

White privilege is rooted in history.  Even after slavery was declared over, blacks had nowhere to start and nothing to start with.  Even today, our generations of white families are still reaping the benefits of property handed down, of inheritances and other resources that provide us with more privilege than other cultures who can hand down nothing to their children.

Here's another example of white privilege Anthony gave: in the first day of teaching class each semester, he said statistically he has 5 MINUTES on Day 1 to dismantle his white students and all of their preconceived thoughts about him as a black man.  5 MINUTES.  And so what does he have to do?  Dress up.  Talk a certain way to be accepted.  (and boy, could he speak!)  Play "Mr. Rogers" and smile.

But a white professor?  He can walk into a class with hair disheveled, dressing like a mess, and the students will say, "Boy, he's brilliant!"

As white people, we don't have to walk into a room and even think a second about our COLOR and how we will be perceived in any given situation.  We may think about what we are wearing, or about how we come across, but never about how something as out of our control as SKIN COLOR will be received.  That is LIFE everyday for a person of color.  As they talked about that, I couldn't help but make some parallels to my daughter's alopecia and how she carries that everywhere she goes.

I've also realized that even Jameson, though he's black, is going to carry around some measure of white privilege by nature of having white parents.  That may make him not as accepted in the African American community, and equally not as "in" with white culture, either.  If I think about that too much,  I will fall into great fear.

It's at this point I trust the Lord's sovereignty and what He has ordained for little Jameson, and how his black birthmother and birthfather looked at a clueless, little white girl like me and thought, That's the mama we want for him!

 Well, if all of that wasn't convicting enough, then it was time for Soong-Chan Rah to speak!

Rah, in his studies, began by stating many sociological facts about the future of Christianity in America.  It was startling.  For instance, he gave specifics on the rapid spread of Christianity among Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans, while Christianity in our country is on a decline.  There are more Christians in the southern hemisphere now than in the northern.  Christians from North America and Europe make up only 40% of all Christians in the world.  Also, as the socioeconomic shifts continue in our country, in 2042, he stated there will be NO CLEAR ETHNIC MAJORITY in the U.S.  In 2023, the majority of children in the U.S. will be of non-European descent.

Do we hear that, white folks?  We who collectively pride ourselves in how we're the "majority"?    Bottom line is that the times are a changin'.   (And I happen to think that's a good thing!)

Now what was really interesting to me was when he explained statistically how all of this doesn't call for the de-Christianization of America as many fear will be the case.  Because Christianity is so much on the rise in these other cultures, it doesn't mean that it will decline in our nation.  He said, however, it WILL call for the de-EUROPEANIZATION of American Christianity.

He talked about how American Christianity today looks alot more like Western white values, and it gets increasingly hard in churches to separate out what is truly biblical vs. what is cultural.

Rah also explained how Christianity among western evangelicals contains a sense of American triumphalism.  We tend to focus on dramatic conversion stories... I once was this, but now I'm THIS!  But we are not as comfortable with stories of lament.  He talked about how the Psalms are FULL of both lamenting language and of praise language, but in our churches, we focus almost solely upon the psalms of praise.   And alot of this causes us to cover over our own shameful history and sin.  We've got to learn to be comfortable with cultures who have alot more stories of suffering and lament.

Some great questions were raised in the Q and A time, but perhaps some of the greatest were:

Okay, I think I believe in white privilege.  But what do I do with it?

To which Anthony Bradley quickly answered "Don't squander it.  Don't hoard it.  But use it for others."

Ahh, there's a thought.  Beautiful.

Another question was: As a white person, how do I avoid leaving here just feeling white guilt or anger? (which seems to be MY usual reaction, too)

And they encouraged ALL of us there, of all races, to begin engaging in REAL relationships with people who are utterly different from you.

To listen to their experiences.
To ask questions.
To not stay where it's comfortable,
where everyone around you looks like you.

May that be a challenge to us all today.
Let's go beyond the color barrier
for the glory of God.

5 comments:

  1. Awesome Amy! So proud of you for posting this. As a soon-to-be mother of three beautiful Ethiopians I too wrestle with some of the same issues and fears that you are working through. Let's keep leaning into our kids and loving others the way Christ has truly called us to!

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    1. Thanks, Anna! So excited for you guys!!

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  2. I've recently taken a class on "Cultural Proficiency" and the different levels of being proficient, or not in cultural differences. One of the lowest forms of cultural proficiency is "cultural blindness," where you see a difference and pretend you don't. Where teachers say, "I don't see in color, I treat everyone the same." When, in fact, that is not always the case, nor should it be. I appreciate your post :)

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  3. great stuff, amy.

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  4. Such profound thoughts! Thanks for sharing.

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