Many of my majority culture friends (and yes, I share majority culture privilege in some ways, too, but I also have some minority experiences) are asking, in the aftermath of the election, “How do I help?” I hear your hearts. I see your earnestness. And I believe you can help, can be a force for change. I believe you can do it.
But you might not like the answer as to how.
The election has revealed what’s been there all along: we have a race problem. I’ll say it again: We. Have. A. Race. Problem.
If that sentence makes you uncomfortable, good. This is not an easy topic. If that sentence makes you mad, use it. Ask Jesus--Immanuel--God With Us--to cleanse that anger of sin, and then use it for change. For the changing of your heart foremost.
And if that sentence makes you say, “No, we don’t have a race problem!” then this post is not for you. This post is for brothers and sisters who are willing to speak this fundamental truth—that our country was founded on the sin of oppressing the vulnerable, and that those practices continue today. At every level, from individual to structural, vulnerable people are oppressed, marginalized, and hurt. If you disagree with that statement, then let us disagree graciously with one another and remain friends.
But if you are starting to see the vulnerable around you, if you are becoming aware of the oppressed, the marginalized, the hurt and the invisible in our society, if you are becoming aware of your majority culture privilege, welcome. God is at work in you. Because he’s seen those folks--those human beings--all along. And now you that you see the brokenness, there’s no way back to blissful ignorance. There’s no way provided in the gospel for ignoring the hard truths and going backwards.
But does it seem impossible to move forward? Does it seem that as soon as you realize that we have a race problem, then you realize you’re part of that problem, and then when you try to solve that problem, you can't? That’s frustrating. That's disheartening. That's exhausting. And it's especially hard when it is the very people you'd like to serve that are telling you "no."
Would you like to know why you’re being told no?
Yes, you'd like to know?
Are you sure?
"No" is so often the answer for several reasons. Some of them are good reasons, some of them are bad, and some just are. But there are real reasons behind why your well-meaning efforts may not be helpful, may be met with resistance, and may drive wedges further.
Because the "yes" that God is asking of you now might be the worst kind of (in)action imaginable in our dominant culture: listening and lamenting.
I'll say it again. Listening and lamenting.
“No,” you say, “You don’t get it. I want to DO something. Take action. Take a stand. Stop injustice in its tracks.” I say, "Wonderful! Good for you, but YOU don’t get it." I mean this literally. You do not get "it," that "it" being the depth and the complexity of the problem. If you aren’t willing to listen and lament, you truly cannot understand the minority experience and what needs to change.
Yes, there is a time for action. Yes, that time is now. But no, brown folk don’t need a “white savior.” No, women don’t need a man to explain how we can work together to fix the problem. No, oppressed minority groups do not need the majority to lead them to victory as though the only way to win is through majority culture leadership. You, dear friend, you who are so passionately asking, “How do I help?” by your truly humble question, prove that you want to learn. You also prove that you shouldn’t be arguing with people when they answer you. Because you don't know. When you are told to listen and lament, then, do it. Do. It.
I told you the answer might not be something you wanted to hear. And yes, there are actions to be done, stands to be made, and truth to be shared. But until you can understand the helplessness that a minority of any kind feels, day in and day out, you won’t know how to help. Until you can listen and lament, your actions will be unhelpful, your stands will be awkward, and your truth will be biased.
Actually, even after you listen, you’re still going to mess it up sometimes. That’s the message of the gospel—that we’re all broken people who need a savior to restore and reconcile us to himself and one another. But the odds are much better for your actions to succeed if you educate yourself first. The chances will be much better that your stand will make a difference, and that your truth will be heard and taken to heart by others.
Still mad? Good. Still uncomfortable? Excellent. Still frustrated? Fantastic. Now sit with that. Sit in it. Ask God about it. Cry out to him about it, like the Psalmist did. Not just because it’s good for you (though it certainly is), but also because in this work of listening and lamenting, you are joining the work that is already being done by brothers and sisters around the country. You are joining the cries of kidnapped men, women, and children that were in horrific conditions during the Middle Passage and in chattel slavery. You are weeping along with immigrants who have paid life savings and risked drowning, starvation, suffocation, and being shamed, all to leave behind everything familiar. When you scream aloud with women who have been sexually harassed, abused, objectified and debased, you are joining the Holy Spirit and even the entire earth in groaning and pleading for the coming justice of the King. When you are willing to not just stand with others, but actually helplessly lie down in the street with those who are most vulnerable, then you are emulating Jesus and the sacrifices he made to dwell among us. Then you will receive greater understanding.
Because if you don’t understand at all the misery, vulnerability, and plight of human beings that I just described above, if you think it’s really not that bad, that the stories are inaccurate and biased, and if you feel the need to say “yeah, but—” then you are not ready for action. And nobody wants to hear that. I know, I don't want to hear that. I don't want to sit and wait on the Lord. But we all have to do it at one time or another, so why not now? Enter into this Advent season willing to listen and lament. Willing to wait on Jesus to arrive in unexpected and unheralded ways.
You may need to have some concrete steps to learning how to listen and lament, and I get it. I'm that way, too. So read Prophetic Lament by Soong-Chan Rah. Heck, just read the book of Lamentations in the Bible. Read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Read this brother's blog post (with an open mind) on Ferguson: Why "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" Still Matters. Visit the National African-American Museum at the Smithsonian, or the Civil Rights museums in cities like Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta. Watch Do The Right Thing, 12 Years a Slave, or A Time to Kill. And if you want to know more about the immigrant experience, the LGBT experience, women's experience, or any of a number of minority experiences, stories aren't hard to find. As my good friend Jemar would say, "Google it. Google. It." People are willing to share, but let them do so on their own terms.
We are all created in the image of God, and what a painful, wonderful blessing it is to listen to each others' stories, lament with one another, and wait on the Lord.
Moving into God's presence,
A Fellow Image-Bearer