Updated: Oct 3, 2019
While reading “On White Women, their Refusal to Say Excuse Me” & Other Shared Reminders of Black Womanhood” my skin bristled. I started to think through every interaction I have had with black women in public. Every word made me want to say, wait, not me!
That same day, I saw Andre Henry’s tweet about Relevant. Over the week, as I read the tweets and blog posts online about how Relevant treated people of color, I wanted to tweet, yes, but not here! I’m not one of those Evangelicals.
A friend of color encouraged me to listen first during times like these, which kept my fingers from tweeting. I didn’t comment on Facebook. Instead, I listened. I listened to the stories of people of color have been marginalized in their workplace. I read accounts of people being taking advantage of by racist policies. As men and women shared stories of feeling invisible, I heard their pain.
The gracious storytelling of writers of colors provided an opportunity for me to hear what I didn’t want to hear. As I listened, I realized that many of the stories echoed the racist things I have done. The stories that made me most defensive were stories where the antagonist actions mirrored my own.
It doesn’t hurt my identity as a white woman to hear people point out blatant racism, such as the Klu Klux Klan. But when people start to point out microaggressions and other systematic racism, I have to come to terms with the fact that I am part of the problem.
Instead of going out to war, David sent Joab to battle with his army. While the men were fighting, David spies a Bathsheba bathing. He rapes her, and she becomes pregnant. To cover up his crime, David asks Joab to send back Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. But because Uriah is an honorable man, Uriah refused to sleep with his wife.
David still needed to cover up the original sin. He ordered the troops to be pulled back from Uriah, sacrificing Uriah to the opposing army. After Bathsheba mourned for her husband, David brought Bathsheba into his house.
Despite David’s close relationship with God, he was oblivious to God’s anger. So God sends Nathan the prophet to David. Nathan tells David a story of a rich man who had a massive herd of cattle and sheep and a poor man with only one sheep, whom he treasured. When a traveler came to visit the rich man, the rich man killed the poor man’s sheep instead of one of his own. “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this must die.” David was unable to see his sin, but when Nathan told him this story, he could see the injustice.
God has pointed out ways that I where I have been racist, benefitted from racist systems, or centered stories of racism on my insecurities. I have had gracious friends tell me when I have engaged in microaggressive behavior. But because my heart is hard, I could not hear their criticisms. I made excuses, justified my actions with my “good intentions” or begged people to see my history of being a “good alley.”
Stories have provided opportunities for God to show me my sin. Like Nathan, our cultures current prophets, such as Marlena Graves, Sandra Van Opstal, Kathy Khang, Andre Henry, Brenda Salter McNeil, Bishop Talbert Swan, Christena Cleveland, Austin Channing Brown and many more, are telling us stories of how white people, white institutions and white systems continue to oppress people of color. They have graciously, given us opportunities to hear the pain that systematic racism inflicts on people of color in our nation and our church. The question is, will we listen to them?
Will we (as white people) be defensive and argue? Will we center our own stories at the expense of people of colors voice? Will we discount their stories, because we didn’t see it or because we feel kin towards the antagonist?
As I read the Relevant account, I realized that I had told someone that if we continue to talk about race, we will drive away all of our white students. My argument was that in the South, where I work, white people need to be in our ministry because they need to be in a place that talks about racial reconciliation and if we run them out, they will go back to racist ministries and churches. I made excuses and in doing so, silenced a black colleague's voice. I may never have suggested hanging a noose on a black man’s neck to get attention, but there were other things in that story, that I have done or seen done and remained silent. And the anger that built up inside me as I read Andre Henry’s post was an opportunity to listen.
After David’s outburst, Nathan said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7) When Nathan sees that David understands the evil from the story, he quickly points out David’s sin. And David’s response was repentance.
As we walk with Jesus, there will be many times that we stumble. It’s how we respond that allows God to mold us. Stories are opportunities for God to point out our sins, inviting us to repent. If we choose to have a soft heart and turn from our racism, God will use the story to mold us into his disciple.
It is a gift that so many writers of color and artists are sharing their experiences with us. We have an opportunity to listen, to hear their pain, to uplift their voices, and to learn from their experience how to love all of God’s people.