Wednesday, November 23, 2016

I am White, We are Black - Part 6: Cultural Differences & Wrap-Up

Where We Got The Name

We've called this blog series "I am White, We are Black" from the beginning, but we've never really explained why. This name came out of several conversations that we were having early on while planning out this content. 

As we were talking, I realized that Kevin kept saying "we" as he shared the experiences of black people across the nation and throughout history. Even as he talked about specific instances of racism enacted on individual people, it was as if Kevin saying that action happened to him personally. Then, when he would talk about "white people," I would almost immediately make a mental protest saying "It's not all white people. I would never do that."

Kevin was sharing deep feelings of personal and communal pain with me. My response was to think, "Well, I didn't do that." In the midst of these exchanges, we realized that a cultural difference between blacks and whites was making constructive conversations about race and racism difficult.

Our hunch was that African Americans tend to be more collectivists and whites tend to be more individualistic. So while African Americans perceive our current situation as a shared, ethnic history in which every black person is a participant, Whites see the same history as a story to be observed from the outside. 

As it turns out, our hunch was correct. Research shows that, at least when it comes to ethnic identities, blacks tend to be more collectivists and whites tend to be more individualistic. This is part of the reason so many white people feel like they are not to blame for oppressive systems or institutionalized racism - since they themselves did not make these happen, they are not responsible.

However, from the shared perspective of the African American community, they are still living in the after-math of slavery. The story of oppression is not just the story of individuals in their community, it is the story of their entire people. 

As you might imagine, these cultural differences have made reconciliation difficult and have often led to more conflict. When blacks are saying "we are being oppressed, stomped down, profiled, killed...," whites are saying "That's really sad, but I'm not oppressing you, I'm not stomping you down, I'm not profiling you, I'm not shooting anybody." Blacks are crying out for a change and the majority of whites are saying they're not responsible. 

Perhaps it would be helpful for whites to realize that, although we are individuals, we are a part of a community of people with a shared history. And our history as white Americans has set the trajectory for our black brothers and sisters in undeniable ways. It would be good for us to take part in corporate confession, just as the prophets of old did. We need to confess the sins of our people and start taking responsibility for making things better.

While I don't feel like I have the perspective to give in-depth advice to blacks on this matter, I do know that any cross-cultural communication class would teach you that when you want to communicate across cultural differences, it's important to keep the other person's cultural perspective in mind. Some how the problem has to be expressed in a way that acknowledges the systemic weight without putting individual whites on the defensive. 

Us whites, as individualistic as we can be, can become very defensive when we feel like we're being accused of something immoral. And, while we do share in our own cultural story, we have a hard time seeing that. The moment I feel like I have to defend my own honor or integrity is the moment when I start back peddling rather than moving forward to make a positive change. Kevin had a good example of a way he's changed his own communication in Part 5 - clarifying "racist whites" instead of "whites" as responsible for certain actions.

Blacks and Whites: We have to come together on this. Whites need to become more collective in our racial identity, and Blacks needs to respect the individualist perspective in order to draw whites into meaningful conversations. We both have to move towards the other if we want to bring the Kingdom of God to our country.

Some Concluding Thoughts from Kevin

1 John 4:11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” As believers, if we’re honest, we have a difficult task of loving not just those who love us, but even those that don’t have our best interest at heart. If we were to put ourselves in the shoes of Jesus Christ, we would have failed in the unconditional love department. However, the act of loving unconditionally is a process.

No one can jump to that level of love over night. We, as the children of God, have been commanded to love and forgive ALL people as He has done for us.

Throughout the duration of this blog series, Keith and I have shared our thoughts and experiences concerning culture and race. We learned some valuable lessons and gained knowledge through experiences. But, could you imagine how we would have turned out without having a relationship with Christ? Things would have definitely turned out differently for both of us and we would have lacked the love of Christ and the fruit of the spirit to accept the things we may not understand. Again, that isn't an easy task, especially for people like myself that have personally experienced acts of racism.

However, what those of us that are within the body of Christ can do is show the world what heaven looks like, but on earth. Invite other ministers that may not look like ours to our holiday gatherings. Come together and do street ministry to reach the lost. Bring our children together for youth events and show them what it is to love those that don't ok like them and learn about their cultures. Have small group ministries intentionally built around conversations about race.

Diversity in the body of Christ must be the norm, not just reserved for special occasions.

Overall, we must remain focused on the mission Christ exemplified during his 33 years on earth, to spread the father's love. It was His mission and should be ours as well.

Upcoming Resource

Nazarene Theological Seminary's Center for Pastoral Leadership is partnering with Youth Front to offer More Than "Getting Together": Youth Ministry and Race on December 1, 2016. This is a great opportunity to continue having significant conversations about race and the Kingdom of God.

3 comments:

  1. To put this blog in a nutshell, Europeans came to this country in one type of ship, blacks came in another type of ship. Regardless of the type of ship that got us here, we are all in the same boat now and it behooves us to work together to keep it from sinking.

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    1. As I perceive your vested interests in this matter to be genuine and not malicious, Id like to pose an idea.

      Perhaps putting such topics in a "nutshell" is the exact corner we find ourselves ( blacks, whites, and other races) trying to get out of. Just as an example, although again i believe no fowl meant, making it as le as the "ship" we came in, could easily be viewed as reductive and short sighted, seeing as though, many Africans and Jamaicans, and other coastal slaves were sacrificed in this process and treated as cargo/imports. Lot of feelings attached to those "ships"

      Still I agree totally that we must work together to keep a healthy working dialogue where all parties involved become open enough to focus on whats next.

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  2. This is a great healthy dialogue that has been started and I hope and pray for more believers to publicly bring this type of tough discourse to public forums like Youtube and other social mediums. I know its hard with the petty comments that spring forth but I believe being visual with this type of love is pertinent! Thanks Keith and Kevin

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