What did this look like? I wondered. What did it look like for me, a white person, to speak up on the topic of racism?
Did it mean I needed to post #blacklivesmatter? Did it mean I needed to get out on the streets and protest? Did it mean I needed to feel guilty and ashamed for not previously speaking up in the past about it? Did I need to stand in solidarity? God what do you want me to do?
“Teach about it.” He spoke to me.
Me? A privileged white male? Teach about racism? You’ve got to be kidding me. What could I possibly offer that would benefit the black community on the topic of racism?
Thus began my time with God, asking Him to show me His heart and what I could say.
My main question to God in preparation of my teaching was this, “God, what’s Your heart on this matter? and how should we, as the people of God, respond to this injustice?”
Here is my answer…..
My dad was in the military for 21 years. My “in-group” was anyone else who had parents in the military. I grew up in places like England, Germany and several different states within the U.S.A. I can remember my best friends growing up when I spent all of my elementary school in Germany. Walter, Michael and Alvin. White, Black and Hispanic.
I can confidently say that I don’t remember experiencing direct racism in my life until about 5 years ago, when our family moved to Haiti and lived there for 2 1/2 years. Talk about feeling like the minority! There were about 25 or so white people and the rest of our small town was Haitian, black. Maybe 30,000-40,000 total.
A few weeks ago I walked my kids through an exercise. I wanted them to be able to grow in empathy in feeling what it might feel like to be under the weight of oppression their whole lives. So I started the conversation with the only way I knew how, with a great question that came from Andrea.
“Kids, has there ever been a time in your life that you were treated differently than you had expected to be treated?”
There was a resounding yes, and I then asked, “when was that time?” “Haiti,” all of them responded.
“Tell me about that time.”
“I remember when there were Haitian kids outside our house and they wanted to come in through our gates.” Isaiah responded. “I had told them no, and they picked up rocks and threw them at me. I remember getting hit in the head with some of those rocks….I’ll never forget that.”
“I remember going into town one time,” Rachel spoke up, “and there was a group of Haitians who began pointing at me and just laughing at me.”
We all shared different stories of our time in Haiti when we, as minorities, had experienced some form of prejudice or racism.
Next, I asked them this question, “What would you feel like if you had been experiencing things like that for your entire life? In fact, think about this, how would you feel if your grandparents experienced that, me and your mother, then you and afterwards your kids and then your grand-kids?”
The responses were real and authentic, which I champion in our household.
“I’d feel hopeless and want to run away with my family and build a shelter on an island away from everyone.”
“I’d feel angry and want to hurt them all.”
“I’d call the police.”
“What if you couldn’t call the police?” I chimed in….”what if you didn’t trust the police, what if you felt the police were out to harm you, not protect you? What if there were no police?”
“Then I’d get a machine gun and guard my house.”
The weight of the room suddenly became real and heaviness filled our house.
“Maybe that’s what the black community feels like…” I said.
It suddenly became real. The pain, the hurt, the prejudice, the injustice. It became real for the Taylors.
“You guys have experienced a form of racism for a little over 2 years,” I said. “But think about those people who have experienced it their whole lives and for generations. We will probably never truly know what that feels like.”
I told the kids that I couldn’t speak for the entire black community, because I dare not categorize and group everyone together, however I can guess many might feel that way.
The first step, I believe, in speaking up about racism, especially if you’re someone who hasn’t experienced much of it in your life, is to grow in empathy.
If you look at the scriptures, Jesus was often “filled with compassion” for others. It was this filling of compassion that then led Him toward action and to actually do something to help others.
The first part of my teaching that God led me to is “how to grow in empathy” and then, only after we can actually put ourselves in the shoes of another person, can we look at “how to respond Biblically.”
Growing in Empathy
7 years ago, I made a radical change in my life that some, if not many of you reading this know about. God literally invited me to move to San Diego. At the time, our family was living in Colorado. I had a pretty amazing career of 10 years where my wife could be a home-maker, we lived close to most of our family and we owned our first house…well, the bank owned it, but I guess you could say we were “home-owners” which is a fancy word for saying we have a mortgage.
I was invited, by God, to sell my house, leave our family, quit my career and move to California, where I only knew one person…one of my very closest friends from College whom I have now had the privilege to know for 20 years. It was a bold move, full of risk and fear. But I had been reading lots of books and the Bible, and had grown what I like to call a “holy dissatisfaction” with my current life. Not that my job wasn’t good, or that my family wasn’t good, or that life wasn’t comfortable. It was that my life didn’t seem to appear congruent with the lifestyle of what Jesus commands and what the disciples lived out.
There was a major gap and I wasn’t sure how to fill it, I just knew that I needed to do something!
Thus enters the discipleship school in San Diego. God wrecked me during that process, not necessarily because the school was so amazing, which it was, or that the people were so joyful, which they were, but mostly, I believe, because my heart was ready for God’s Spirit to go to work and I positioned myself into a place where He could do it!
One of the most important things I learned in my time at Impact 195 was James 1:19-20. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
1. Quick to Listen
This is all about being “eager to hear someone else’s perspective.”
The other day we were playing a game at the table, Marvel Fluxx, which has quickly become a family favorite. Rachel began crying, literally, tears were dripping down her cheeks and puddles of them began to form on the table. “you don’t play with us like you used to,” she told Malachi, “we just used to have so much fun together and now you spend so much time on the computer.” I quickly discovered that my 12 yr old daughter was mourning the childhood of her big bro. She missed being “kids” with him and boy was she expressing it!
Later that day, I was on a walk with Malachi and I asked him if he had “heard” his sister’s heart because at the table he was real quick to defend his point of view about how the games were too childish and didn’t have the proper boundaries on them.
“I think so.” He said. “Malachi,” I responded, “you don’t have to feel like you need to defend your point of view, your sister’s not mad at you, and you don’t need to feel guilty about what’s happening and what she said. But I encourage you to “hear” her heart. Listen to what she’s saying, see her heart for you and be eager to get a full understanding of what she’s experiencing and expressing. And do this without planning a response to defend yourself or your perspective.”
This is what we need to do in our interaction with others.
2. Slow to Speak
This is all about being “slow to share our perspective or point of view.”
I remember in Haiti, when Haitians would get into an argument, generally speaking, it felt very different from how we handle arguments in the states. Most of us here, bury how we really feel deep down and then gossip about it to other people while staying silent to the person who actually offended us. Well, from what I witnessed in Haiti, that was a very different story. People told each other how they felt, big-time! Having yelling blow-ups in the middle of the street for all who watched seemed like a daily activity.
Both of these reactions, although being different, show the same thing. Whether we are “blowing someone up” with what we think or gossiping about them behind their back. They both reveal that we are not ‘slow to speak.’
In reality, we just want to be heard and we want to make a statement doing it. “I just need to vent.” Really? Why don’t we try venting to God? He can handle it, yet so few times we pray these trite, tired and disingenuous”prayers” to a Holy God and look to people to “get stuff off our chest.”
The second step is to be slow to share our perspective, let’s listen with a genuine heart to hear the other person out and not be so eager to respond from our vantage point.
3. Slow to anger
This is all about “being slow to an emotionally charged response.”
It was hot, like any other day in Haiti, but this day was different. It felt different.
We were hosting a team from the states and we were in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Jeremie, putting roofs on homes that had none. The sun was setting and we were told we needed to get out, fast! I ended up staying to finish a roof with a few of my Haitian brothers. The teams left, but I couldn’t leave without finishing the job to get this roof done for this woman who was handicapped. It was dark when we got done and we began to pack up and get out. As my friend and I drove the streets, we ended up coming to a roadblock. Several tires set on fire blocking the streets were at many different points and finding a path out was difficult. We tried one more route and as I was driving, I saw a group of probably 100 or more Haitians coming towards me. This was pretty intense for me because I really didn’t know what was going on.
I just began praying as we slowly drove through the crowd of people that swarmed around my vehicle and heard lots of yelling and banging on the vehicle…
There’s a lot more to the story, but I made it home and shortly after that, found out that there had been a Haitian Governor who was extradited to the U.S.A. This man was wanted on all sorts of criminal charges, but he was also a hero to the town we lived in. The next day, there was a mob of hundreds of hostile Haitians who were ‘seeking’ out any American’s to execute vengeance on what the U.S.A. had done to their criminal hero.
I had never ever been more aware of the color of my skin than during that time.
Emotionally-charge responses…even though this man was wanted for 19 years of criminal charges, and the Haitian police were the ones actually involved in capturing this guy, what was heard and seen was that the U.S.A. took him away from his people. Therefore all the American’s need to suffer. This was crazy, because, well my guess is, that just about every American who goes to Haiti is there to help them. I don’t think Americans are running away from luxury to the poorest country in the western hemisphere for a ‘vacation.’
The Bible says God is slow to anger…we are God’s children and we are commanded to be imitators of God…that means we are commanded to be slow to anger too. This doesn’t mean we hold our anger in, or suppress our emotions, but we should be so filled with the Spirit of the Living God that when circumstances come at us and people irritate us, that the love, joy, peace and patience of God spills out from within us.
Otherwise, I guess we just look like the world.