Would a white doctor be dragged through the aisle of an airplane for not leaving his seat?
I ask this question not only because it’s timely, but because I’ve asked this question for a hundred different scenarios:
Would a white woman be scolded in this situation, her feelings called paranoid?
Would a white man’s motives have been scrutinized here, his criminal record redlined?
Would a white woman have been protected in this situation?
Would a white man have been given the benefit of the doubt rather than shot?
I am used to seeing black men framed as hulking figures to be feared, the ones you can justify shooting out of fear. I am used to seeing Latinx persons depicted as threats, aliens you can rationalize criminalizing. I am used to seeing mugshots and unflattering photos of Asian, Arab, and indigenous peoples on the news more often than pictures of them smiling or holding their children.
These patterns of representation cannot be attributed solely to individual bias or even prejudiced media outlets. They point to an insidious reality that pervades both our individual and collective experiences: racism as sin. In my previous post, I shared how the personal and institutional dimensions of racism shape the anxieties of many people of color–and the responses of our white brothers and sisters. Racism estranges us from each other because its intent is to sow dissension, distrust, and displacement. It is a very real spiritual force that establishes strongholds around communities, nations so we no longer act as blood-tied brothers and sisters, but as distant relations merely inhabiting church sanctuaries and neighborhood blocks together.
I think of the implications of Easter and feel sadness. The Cross stands in opposition to anything that distances us from the Revelations mural of multi-ethnic, multinational, multilingual, multiracial family worshiping together and celebrating both what distinguishes us and what makes us belong to one another: Jesus’ death for our sins and his defeat of that very same Death. But not only physical death–no, Jesus put to death all things that bar us from the abundant life God designed us for. Racism spits on that vision of freedom and so it must die, and we must die to it.
Some argue that the Christian life should prioritize only personal salvation and avoid distractions like social justice issues that just cause more division and are only “of this world.” We can feed the poor, house the homeless like we ought to, but giving so much attention to “political” issues like race isn’t really as important or necessary on a large scale. Those called into racial reconciliation ministry can do that work, but the rest of us should focus on the spiritual essentials.
A pastor I heard recently responded to this strain of thought by stating: “We talk a lot about what salvation saves us from, but not enough what it saves us for.” He pointed out that while our choice to surrender to Jesus as our Savior saves us from eternal separation from God, it also ushers us into a new reality, a new way of living where we join Him in the restoration of all things. We are in the In-Between, the Here-and-Now, equipped to engage whatever infringes upon God’s coming Kingdom and cultivate cultures, institutions, relationships, and personal practices that reflect His shalom, His harmonious intention for our world.
Scripture draws us to that vision where we are positioned as ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:11-21), people of renewed minds (Romans 12:2), and a community defined by love and sacrifice on behalf of others (Romans 12:9-15). Our salvation and the life that emerges after that choice should bear this kind of fruit if we are aligning with God’s work both within us and around us. This signifies that I have been saved for the kind of work that will contribute to reconciliation between estranged peoples, whether that be on the racial, economic, gender, national, or embodied axes.
So when I notice a consistent difference between how people of color and white people are treated in my country and the opportunities made available to them, I have been saved for confronting it. This doesn’t mean that each of us has to become Social Justice Warriors Inc. and devote ourselves to writing books and lectures on racial reconciliation; however, it does require us to expand our understanding of salvation to include the redemption of our communities and institutions.
We each have a unique combination of experiences, gifts, and relationships that God can use to contest areas of racial brokenness on these levels so we can become known as those people leading the charge in our promotion of just and loving ways of relating to each other rather than “those Christians” who lag behind secular activists already on the front lines. There are opportunities for fruitful partnership with those who also value the equal and dignified treatment of all people, and there are opportunities to represent the God who instructs us to care for the oppressed among us (Isaiah 1:16-17).
Movies like Get Out expose us to the racial brokenness that touches each of our lives–whether we acknowledge it or not. It’s not a black people issue for black people to deal with–it’s a sin issue we must bring before God, repent of, and seek ways of supporting those wounded from it. Relegating it to a controversial topic black people should work out is neither loving nor helpful in building the kind of unity I think we all want to see but rarely exert the sacrificial effort to make possible.
I’ve written many times about the exhaustion that creeps in when you feel like you have to market yourself as safe and consumable for white people who tiptoe around race because there’s a cost to wrestling with racial tensions and insecurities. There’s a cost to entering into the mess of it without the clinical distance sustained by TV screens and blog articles (yes, even this one). It’s a cost many people of color pay each day because we can’t necessarily afford to be detached. You can try to diminish how often you think about racism, try to rationalize it as not a big deal or not affecting you as badly as other people, but your body is always with you. You bring the race card into each space you’re in, not because you want to play the game, but because the world outlined the rules of it without your consent.
This anxiety and hyper-self-consciousness is not of God. They are symptomatic of a sinful world which capitalizes on the differences that, rather than celebrated, are cataloged and used to justify why one group of people should be feared, fenced out, or assimilated and another group should be normalized, standardized, and made neutral. If diversity is a reflection of God’s creative imperative and the fullness of the eternal kingdom to come, the discomfort I sometimes feel within my skin must grieve God.
Maybe you’re a person of color who has never felt this way–and if so, I’m glad for it. I’m glad that you have been welcomed, affirmed, and included in the spaces you have entered. But please don’t take that safety as the rule; it is unfortunately the exception. Don’t let your sense of comfort negate the racial pain other people of color have experienced–listen instead. I can only speak out of my own experience and others’ stories I have had the privilege to share, but the experience of being Othered is a common thread. I write about it in the hopes of resisting my impulse to pretend I’m fine when what I feel is a whole influx of complicated things simultaneously. I can be the Georgina of Get Out, calm and complacent even as tears fight to the surface, and I could be the Chris of the final movie arc-furious, desperate-all at once.
Get Out is a cautionary tale, a reminder that white spaces, whiteness exists and should be examined. But beyond that, it demands us to confront our racial wounds and acknowledge that those wounds are psychological, spiritual, and visceral in nature.
How do we get out this mess? And as the alternative…what are we supposed to be getting into?
So I help out with the kids ministry at my local church, and this Sunday the kids will be learning about how Jesus is our “bridge to God.” Many of us have seen the image of the cross laid horizontal, closing the breach between us and our Heavenly Father.
Why am I bringing this up? I want us to think about bridges and their purpose. In simple terms, bridges allow what was once distant and separate to draw close. What was once separated doesn’t have to cross-they don’t even have to come that close-but the opportunity is ready and waiting.
The Cross Jesus died upon invites us to draw close to God, but unlike our tendency to hesitate, He doesn’t settle for a tiptoe. He wants to be intrinsic to our lives, part of everything we are and everything we do. He wants the kind of closeness where He can be present in and work through every painful and raw and riddled part of our daily experience as well as our past.
Intimacy is the antidote to distrust, to fear, because intimacy is the fruit of love, and there is no fear in love, not when God is at the foundation. When you take the time to know me, when I allow myself to be known and have the courage to step closer to you, that fear dissipates. When we mutually surrender our interactions to Jesus, we are equipped to wrestle with strongholds that would otherwise threaten to distance us or incite doubt and resentment. Our communion will not resolve all racism or fix the bone-deep systemic issues, but us struggling together, crying together, learning together builds a resistance that can endure and erode those historic fortresses until they crumble.
If you’re aiming for the “feel-good,” flowery kind of intimacy, this isn’t it. This is the intimacy of the Cross: Blood. Grief. Confusion. Pain. Death. Love. We must get close:
Personally: We must take the time to listen to each other’s experiences without the defensiveness or fear that often freezes conversations about race before they have a change to delve deep. Instead, we allow ourselves to be guided by the Spirit so we can repent of the ways in which we have hurt each other (and may continue to hurt each other–we aren’t perfect!) and forgive what has been done against us. We have to be honest with our friends and neighbors as we build relationships with them, understanding as well that trust is bolstered over time and backed up by consistent actions of love and vulnerability. We each have baggage and scars in this area, and we approach each other with patience that can only be enabled by the One who redeems all things.
Communally: We must take responsibility for the racial sin marring our history as a Church and the sin rooted beneath our neighborhoods. We mourn this history and lay it before God, and we commit ourselves as a community to actively open up spaces for marginalized peoples to speak to us and lead us in efforts towards reconciliation and justice. We commit to engaging the racial tensions within our neighborhoods. We promote the ministries, services, and organizations building bridges through these tensions and we ask God for guidance in what our participation should look like as our love for the people in our proximity grows.
Institutionally: We must take ownership of the power we have been granted, whether that be through privilege of our skin color, our socioeconomic status, our gender, our able-bodiedness, our social connections, our citizenship. These privileges are ours to steward in a way that benefits those whom the laws and institutions of our land disenfranchise. We must demonstrate the willingness to consider what people value outside of our partisan camp and how that may either reflect the heart of Christ or contradict it. We should speak to those things in love, using our voice, our vote, our civic action to challenge injustice when it is exposed and call our leaders and representatives to be accountable to those whom they serve–especially the ones most vulnerable to neglect and oppression.
There are more ways we could draw close to the problem of racial sin, but I want to emphasize that engaging with it on one level isn’t enough because our faith is not restricted to one dimension. Our salvation didn’t just cover the personal–it had ramifications for ALL of these areas–it’s holistic. When Jesus conquered Death, he established a new path for humanity that culminates in the harmonious diversity depicted in Revelations. If that is what our salvation points to, our daily lives must point to that eternal reality as well. So we get out of the mindset that dealing with race is a side-project and we get into the toil of generating a culture here and now that reflects God’s ultimate design for us as a community.
There will be those who will not enter into this process, those who will scorn the grace extended and reject the efforts of those who seek understanding and reconciliation. They may halt conversations out of anxiety, anger, and defensiveness. They may continue to gravely hurt their sisters and brothers of color-as well as their allies-with their actions. I pray for them–the ones I can’t reach. I pray that God will soften their hearts and filter through any distortions in their vision so, someday, they can join me on this journey. Some may never take that step, but the Cross dares me to hope.
As a woman of color, I surrender my anxieties to God and ask that He enables me with the grace and courage to step across color lines and trust white people with my vulnerability and pain. It doesn’t mean I throw pearls before swine or pretend they have no power to hurt me, but I am open to welcoming them into my struggles and my celebrations. I see the bridge and ask for the courage to cross.
For my white sisters and brothers, I challenge you to meet us (people of color) beyond the halfway point since we are usually the ones expected to stretch far to accommodate you. I invite you to suffer with us as much as you enjoy our cultures and our company. I am not just black, I am not just Latina, and I am not an object upon which to cast your pity or look to for absolution for any guilt or discomfort. Yet God decided to form me this way, knowing the labels that would be fixed to my body, and there is intention in that design. I ask you to take the whole of that rather than the parts you are comfortable with if we are to learn to step forward together into this redemptive work.
What do we do on a larger scale? Imagine if more white people talked about racism with their neighbors, whether that be in the Midwest, the South, or New York City. What if they introduced black voices to them so they wouldn’t seem so threatening? So they could listen? What if we led our nation in repentance for our racial sin and reclaimed our interconnectedness so all could flourish, and not one at the expense of another? What if more people of color were empowered by their church communities, supported by their family to process their wounds and equipped to transform nations in profound ways? What if all Christians were labeled “Social Justice Warriors,” and it was a compliment of the highest regard?
Intimacy is one step, not a whole solution. But it’s a pursuit, and it makes us more than strangers–it makes us family.
I am reminded of this every time I have a conversation with one of my friends who are white. They are never just White Friends. They are my sisters. They’ve seen me at my worst and loved me. We’ve argued and stumbled as we’ve unloaded our struggles with race and have been made better for it.
No friendship is ever without difficulty, and when you add race into the equation, it means a lot of arguments and apologies and explanations and renewed commitments to understand. But I love my friends and their willingness to take this road with me. It’s hard on them too, and they want to listen and help, and my heart cracks open to receive them.
A day after the presidential election, I dragged myself to the highest floor of the student center near me, fighting tears the entire time. Desperate to hear another human voice, I called my friend, a white woman from the Midwest. Phone creased into my ear, fingers trembling, I didn’t even know where to begin, but I started talking. Then I started crying. And it was like she was sitting there beside me on that lonely stairwell as I cried myself out. My heart was heavy from seeing the rise in hate crimes, sensing the division in my country, feeling like my peoples weren’t being listened to–and I felt alone in it.
She cried with me. And as her voice shook, she told me: “I feel like they’re attacking you, and that hurts me. They’re attacking me too.” Her words are steel in my step. I have people in my life who not only see my pain, but also huddle with me because they recognize it as their pain too. They don’t know the loss I have-and neither have I walked in their shoes-but they tether themselves to the stakes I face personally because God has made it matter to them.
And they don’t stop there–I have seen them defend me, advocate for me, and pray for me. They carry my stories and share them. They assess their own hearts and seek God in unlearning bias and expanding their vision. This has been a source of healing for me because my heart has been slammed too many times by the silences of my white brothers and sisters when it comes to addressing racism in my country. People are dying, people are crying out for acknowledgement, and when those cries litter the wind, unheard, it hurts. Yet in the silent stairwell, my friend on the other line, I saw another way.
Movies can show us the either/or side of racial conflict: evil white racists or victimized black people. They don’t always tell the stories of me and my white sisters on another scale entirely, three-layers deep and finding freedom together on the other side of the Cross. We need more of those stories. We need more of that God-enabled intimacy at work among us, healing our land and ourselves.
My sisters, white by nature of a society who scripted us in stark colors, stand with me. This is where I see salvation at work: We get in together, and we go deep.