Natasha to Trillia: When referencing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, Piper reminds us that the white clergy said, “he [MLK] should be more patient, wait, and not demonstrate (25).” In a casual conversation about diversity, one of my Black college friends informed me that his white roommate shared the same sentiment as these clergymen concerning Dr. King. My friend attended college from 1997 to 2001! In 2012, why do you believe “we still can’t wait” to discuss racism and racial reconciliation? Why are we here, 44 years after Dr. King’s death, still having this discussion?
That’s a great question. After reading the book, I actually asked myself a similar question and then answered it in a post on my site. For me, racism and racial reconciliation is a very personal topic. I am a Black female from East Tennessee who has experienced firsthand bigotry and division. I think until Christ returns racism will be present. It would be foolish for us to assume that because time has elapsed since the Civil Rights Movement, hate and pride no longer exists.
We also talk about racism and racial reconciliation because of the gospel. God’s redemptive work in our hearts should compel us to love our neighbor as ourselves. To love others, all people. The gospel breaks the barriers that once almost destroyed our nation. But most importantly it breaks barriers to display God’s kingdom to a broken and fallen world. If our hearts remain divided and crippled by hate and thus we remain divided culturally and racially, the gospel cannot be fully displayed in all its glory to the world.
I guess I should probably share a little of my background as well, since I have not yet done that in this series. I grew up in a very small town in South Carolina where more than 90% of the students I guess) in the public school system which I attended were African American.
Snapshots from My Youth: My mother and family members were very active in the Civil Rights Movement, so needless to say the conversations about white people were not always pleasant when I was growing up. I had a little white girl call me and my sister the N-word in our own backyard and I didn’t know what to do with that. At an early age, my mother informed me to always take care of my sister (who was a much lighter complexion) because there would be white people who didn’t like her because she was black and black people who would be jealous because she was light-skinned (and that’s another post all together). Yet, I watched my mom who was a very loving person, outgoing; she could connect with anybody and often did. In some ways, without thinking about race or racism, I learned to fearlessly become a bridge builder from her.
There were a couple white teachers that I developed affectionate relationships while in high school. The white male teacher was actually the one who encouraged me to spread my wings and leave that small town. He wanted me to compete with the best of them and believed that I could. I still remember the conversation we had about all of my college options and why I needed to broaden my horizons. He thought I needed a change of environment (a better picture of what the “real” world was like) which was one of the data points in my decision to attend the Naval Academy and all of this was before I really knew Christ.
We are not in Kansas Anymore: To say that attending the Naval Academy was a culture shock would be a huge understatement. I don’t yet know if I can adequately articulate how drastic it was. I went from a majority African American environment to a majority white male environment where many made it clear that people who looked like me did not belong there. There was another transformation that took place during this time. I affirmed my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. From that time on, I have cultivated deep relationships with several white people (and I don’t mean—“I had one black roommate in college” type justification). I mean relationships where I entered into people’s lives, their homes and allowed them to enter into mine, we still share each other’s dirt, we ask hard questions, lovingly correct our wrongs and misconceptions, we talk about our kids, and we keep in touch. In short, we love each other and many of them have literally become my family because of our connection in Jesus Christ.
I am not an expert in the area of racial reconciliation. I am engaging this topic to share with readers, but also to educate myself because I do believe the conversation is needed and the topic is important. In response to your question, “We are not a post-racial society.” I’m not even sure what that means exactly. If the question is, “Have we gotten past the point of racism?” My response is certainly not. If the question is, “Have we evolved to a point where race does not matter in this country?” I would respond with a “no” to that question as well. I have given a brief snapshot of my personal history in black and white because a significant amount of American racism finds its roots within that context (and this is the context in which Piper writes), but I do believe racism is expanding somewhat to the Hispanic community. (Some of which will be revealed in my upcoming interviews with Hispanic voices.)
I agree with the sentiments of your article. Bringing up race or racism does not divide us more. That’s normally an excuse for those who want to escape the conversation, avoid the shame or guilt that inevitably comes with entering into these troubled waters. People normally go from one extreme of “let’s move on” or “get over it already” which I addressed here during ‘The Help’ discussion or the other extreme of Rodney King’s coined phrase “Can’t we all just get along?” “Yes, we can get along” but I believe God wants more from us than simply playing nice in the sand box.
Overcoming racism does indeed require that we first confront the issue. Scott Williams constantly reminds readers that refusing to confront the elephant in the pew does not make the problem go away. Just as you wrote, “Racism exists in the church and we really don’t know what to do about it.” This is what we do about it: We become part of the solution. We must be intentional about resolving the issues we claim are important to us. There are no quick solutions. Resolving the sin of racism takes time and lots of it and the real work starts in our own hearts. From Birmingham jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sounded the alarm that the time is not problematic for resolution. We don’t have to wait. The time of resolution can be and must be intentionally acted upon by us now.
So what do you think? Is this conversation still important? Why do we still need to talk about race and racism, particularly in the church?
© Trillia Newbell and Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2012 #RacialRec