Jan 192014 27 Responses

What a White Man Knows About Racism

Nothing.

That’s what a white man knows about racism.

A friend warned me about writing about this topic. “Beware of the kickback,” he said. Kickback. Think about the kickback I might face: someone might make a rude comment, they might make a mean Facebook comment, they might unfriend me. The scenarios of possible “kickbacks” shows how little I know about racism. Imagine telling the Little Rock Nine that I might have someone say something rude to me. Imagine Martin Luther King, Jr. sitting in a Birmingham jail feeling sorry for me because someone might unfriend me.

I might have heard about racism. I might know some facts having read a few stories. But I don’t know racism. I haven’t experienced it.

When I hear the word “police,” my first two thoughts are “They protect me” and “They were a good band.” It doesn’t cross my mind that they could profile me or be scared of me or do me harm.

When something doesn’t go my way, I might think someone has it out for me, but it never crosses my mind it could be because of the color of my skin.

Even when I experience a person who does not like me because of the color of my skin, it is just an isolated incident and I have enough opportunities that it cannot define me.

I don’t know racism and if you are white, neither do you.

I don’t care:

  • which side of the tracks you grew up on or what school you went to
  • how many friends you have or what you’ve heard
  • if you’ve experienced reverse racism or failed to get something some time because of your race

You don’t know racism.

Neither do I.

Because I know nothing about racism, I have two choices:

1. State my opinion based on assumptions

or

2. Shut up and listen.

You already know which one is better, don’t you?

I grew up in the town in which I now pastor. Growing up on the right side of the tracks (the opposite side from which my Dad was born), I was never aware of the presence of racism. We played sports with people of all races; I never heard my parents say a negative word of someone of another race. And my conservative, retired-military grandfather was happy when America elected its first black President. To me, racism wasn’t present in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Until I began to ask. After spending three years in Birmingham, AL, I returned to my hometown with a different perspective. Instead of assuming that my experience defined everyone’s experience, I began to ask others about their stories. What I heard was radically different from what I had experienced.

  • Church members couldn’t go into the homes of other church members.
  • Public greetings were given to hide private threats and jokes.
  • All children were loved as long as they didn’t date children of another race.

Not only was racism not absent from my childhood, it was still present in ways I never imagined. None of this would have been known unless I asked.

Even by asking, I don’t have a full picture of what has, and still continues, to take place. Yet by asking, I have a better understanding.

This is our great need today.

Obviously we need to stop speaking from ignorance. Stop assuming we know. Stop drawing false conclusions. And stop boldly proclaiming our opinions as though we are authorities on the topic. We need to shut up.

But it’s not enough to shut up. While it is better than speaking from our ignorance, we can’t stop there. We must also listen. We must build relationships, ask questions, attempt to understand what the experiences of others have been. To assume we know is foolish and destructive. It can give us a confidence we do not deserve. To ask shows humility and gives us the opportunity to learn.

Far too often, we do the former more than the latter. We assume we know what it is like. We draw false conclusions based on our assumptions. And we boldly proclaim our opinions as though we are deep authorities on the topic.

Ironically, assuming knowledge gives us more courage to speak and less opportunity to learn. We will know less but speak more. However, if we understand our ignorance, stop talking, start listening, and learn from the stories of others, we will know more, but speak less. (For an example of considering an issue from another perspective, read What If Trayvon Martin Was My Son?)

This is possible for anyone, but it is easier for a Christian. The Gospel continually calls us toward empathy, compassion, and trying to see life through the eyes of another. It quickly reveals our desperate need for forgiveness and prepares us to see faults within ourselves which we didn’t know existed.

This is another gift Christianity can bring to the world. This may be why it took a preacher to create true societal change. It’s why preachers should continue to involve themselves in societal change. It’s why all of us should stop talking and start listening.

What does a white man know about racism? I know that I don’t know. And because I don’t know about racism, I need to listen.

27 Responses to What a White Man Knows About Racism
  1. […] A criticism of Richard Sherman based on race has zero merit. Just don’t go there. The Internet... steven-hill.me/juststoptalking
  2. […] I don’t know what it’s like to be a minority. None. See: What a White Man Knows About Ra... steven-hill.me/black-history
  3. […] See: What a White Man Knows about Racism […]... steven-hill.me/flag
  4. […] first is still controversial because racism is deeply rooted in the human condition and has a long h... kevinathompson.com/sexual-harassment
  5. […] We have to ask why. (See: What a White Man Knows About Racism) […]... kevinathompson.com/question-for-my-baptist-friends

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