I’ve reached the point where I need to repent.
A lump wells in my throat as, for the past couple months, I’ve read article after article on the black experience in America, and become more aware of the suffering taking place at the hands of a very corrupt system.
#BlackLivesMatter was something I once thought was common sense. I’ve never considered myself a racist and have always extended love and respect to people of every skin color. I thought hating Trump was enough to qualify as a non-racist.
But in the words of King’s Kaleidoscope (fronted by a white singer),
I’m complicit in the prejudice, it’s automatic
I take advantage being born into my demographic
But what’s a blessing when it generates a struggle of a color
For the privilege of another?
In my whitewashed tomb
I’ve become immune
Oh, my God, oh, my God
In the same song, spoken word artist Propaganda notes that “Oh, you tweeted about it? …Most don’t notice the system till it turns against them.”
And that’s exactly what I’ve realized lately. Of course, the system has not turned against me (I’m a white male…come on), but what I have begun to do is seek to understand the system. And I have barely scratched the surface, but what I’m beginning to realize is that I have absolutely taken advantage of my passive participation in a corrupt system, but I don’t want this to become another Systems post.
So what’s this post for, then?
It’s primarily to repent and apologize. It’s a nuanced tightrope to walk between advocating social justice without falsely accusing all white people of individual sin and inducing unnecessary (and unproductive) white guilt. Here are a few thoughts.
I’m sorry for making racist jokes.
They’re harmless, right?
The more I read about people losing brothers, daughters, parents, and other loved ones as a result of gang violence, police violence, or any of the other plethora of sources of violence many black and Hispanic people face in America which I will never have to, the harder it is to take it lightly. In fact, I become disgusted by myself for even laughing at or making certain jokes myself.
I do not think jokes are harmless. We joke most about the things we are most ashamed of, and I can’t help but wonder if there is a collective white shame which is revealed through this sort of joking.
Jokes build walls, not bridges.
And I do not want to be the type of person who builds a wall.
In a recent exegetical paper for class, I’ve come to realize that this is a decent way to sum up many of Jesus’ social teachings: You can either use everything at your disposal to build fences from others and segregate yourself from those you don’t want near you, or you can use your resources to build bridges and span the barriers created by race, economic level, or any other dividing factor.
Christianity is not a gated community.
I think racist jokes, though seemingly harmless most of the time, paint mental images of people of different colors as “the other.” They are not like me, therefore, I construct distance between myself and them, and joking is a way to do that.
One sort of inverse tragedy I’ve seen in myself and many (white) people I know is a refusal to understand black cultures. I’ve seen this most exemplified in the character of Kendrick Lamar and many white Christians’ response to his work. Most of us do not know that his song “Alright” inadvertently became the anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement, as protesters and activists chanted the peppy, optimistic hook, “N***a we gon’ be alright!” (The critically-acclaimed video, which I can’t watch without tears rolling down my face, shows Kendrick et al. facing violence of varying types, concluding with Kendrick being shot by a white police officer). I can’t help but wonder if the reason for this is that we, good moral Christians, shut out Lamar and his ilk because he swears and uses the N-Word.
Have we completely missed the point?
In chasing after ‘purity,’ and attempting to purge our Spotifys of explicit songs, have we simultaneously become deaf to the cries of the oppressed, standing on a mountaintop with our fingers in our ears? I feel like this is a common pattern in white evangelicalism: We shoot to grow in holiness by eradicating ‘dirty’ media from our minds (Didn’t Jesus say something like “It’s not what goes into a man that makes him unclean…”?). This means streaming primarily music made by/for Christians, meaning we unwittingly subject ourselves to a segregated bubble in which we are unaware of what’s happening outside of it. We listen to what we want to hear.
We are simply playing intramurals while the rest of the world is happening around us.
No one learned this more explicitly than Christian rapper Lecrae, who recently began speaking out on issues of race and segregation and received ample rejection by his listeners, made up of thousands of white kids who wanted him to be who they thought black people were. Once subliminally hailed as the ‘cool black rapper for white Christian kids,’ Lecrae experienced rejection by them once he began to stand up for movements like BLM and reclaim his black heritage. (He and his clique were not unaware of their cultural tension. Propaganda observed that they could fill a stadium with white kids, raising their 1-1-6 tats, but would make awkward conversation with them in the green room because they hadn’t talked to a black person before.)
So again, where does all this lead me? What is the purpose of this post and what are the next steps?
Of the latter, I am unsure. I don’t know what difference I can make today to alleviate the suffering of others, or to shift the American system toward justice and equality. But I think the first steps, as a white man unfamiliar with deep generational suffering, is to apologize and repent.
I believe communal sin is real, so while I can’t apologize on behalf of all white people participating in systemic violence and injustice, I can apologize on behalf of Ethan Renoe.
I’m sorry for turning a blind eye to the issues faced by millions in America, and not making much of an effort to educate myself; for assuming I knew what you were going through, or minimizing it.
I’m sorry for making and laughing at racist jokes, as if bolstering the division between cultures is a trivial thing.
I’m sorry for becoming numb to photos of dead bodies in streets and news of yet another South Sider being riddled with bullets.
I’m sorry for playing intramural Christianity instead of seeking to heal the world outside the doors of the Church; for accidentally building fences instead of bridges.
And, although I’m still figuring out what exactly this means, I’m sorry for not doing more to mend our divides.