She told another story of a colleague making a snide comment on what he assumed her food tastes were based on the color of her skin.
Tracy also told us the story of how her older brother sustained brain damage after being beaten by four white boys in his childhood.
As the night progressed, I realized that because I am white, I have had the privilege of ignoring the problem that African Americans are all too familiar with. I realized I had clung to this narrative that the Civil Rights Movement had made everything right and that racism was no longer an issue on a larger, American society level.
I realized that I can choose to ignore the problem if I want to. My livelihood does not depend on understanding how my brothers and sisters of different ethnicity live and how they struggle. I probably won’t have to worry about how my kids are going to be treated or whether they know how to respond if they are pulled over by a police officer.
None of us gathered there would call ourselves racists or would even think that. But what we are guilty of is apathy—and that, my friends, is the other side of the racism coin. We might hear of things in the news and shrug as we think “That’s so sad. I wish that hadn’t happened,” but we don’t know what to do about it. And because the problem isn’t in our backyard, we aren’t reminded of it on a daily basis. Yet hatred is a daily reality for more people than it is not.
So… What Now?
As our prayer meeting progressed, we began doing a couple practical things, which I believe could be of benefit to the broader church:
1. Repent – On behalf of our nation, we repented of the atrocities committed against Native Americans and African Americans. We repented of bigotry, misunderstanding, and apathy. This is corporate repentance. We repented of things our ancestors had done—things that we would never dream of doing today. And yet, the wound remains. This is why repentance is necessary. We also repented individually for things that have contributed to our current problem. I repented of retreating and ignoring the problem.
2. Listen to others’ stories – We tend to fear what we don’t know or understand. I think this is the case with some of the racial tensions we are facing today. When we aren’t used to being in close proximity to someone of another race, it can be hard to know how to relate. This is something Bryan Stevenson, the author of Just Mercy, talks about. How can we help if we don’t even understand the problem? We’ve got to get close to people to be part of the solution.
3. Don’t stay silent – I know many friends who were disappointed in their church’s lack of response to the demonstration. The truth is that this incident has shined a revealing light on a problem in our society that has not gone away yet. It will never go away on its own. The church, who believes in redemptive and reconciling power of Jesus Christ, can be—and should be—the first to speak. And we should speak often.
The only conclusion I’ve come to at this point is that I don’t have the luxury of ignoring racism anymore. I am a follower of Christ. I am a member of the church. I am a fellow human being. And I cannot afford to be naive any longer.