The Witness

How to Fight Racism, Part 2 – Relationships

Jemar Tisby

I remember two married couples from my church—one couple was black and the other was white—who became friends. They had very different views on politics, vastly difference experiences in life, but they bonded over conversations about their children. One day the black couple told the white couple about “the talk.” No. Not the “birds and the bees” talk. This talk is the one black parents give to their children about how to interact with the police so as not to get arrested, hurt or worse.

The white couple had never heard of “the talk.” They could not fathom ever feeling like their children had to go to extra lengths in order not to be perceived as threatening by the police. Prior to this encounter the tense relationship many black people have with police would have been completely foreign to the white couple. Reading a book or hearing about it on the news may not have been persuasive. It was only through a personal relationship that they learned how differently some people of color experience America differently from white people.

In the first part of this series, I listed some resources to increase your knowledge about how racism works and how to resist it. These resources focused on equipping you with facts and data from documentaries, books, museums and more in order disrupt racism from an informed perspective.

In the second part of this series, we continue utilizing the A.R.C. of racial justice. It is stands for Awareness – Relationships – Commitment. This article focuses on relationships.

The simple fact is that all reconciliation is relational. In order to make peace with a person or a group they have to become real to us through communication shared experiences. The problem is we live segregated lives. Most of us interact only with people who are like us economically, racially, ethnically, educationally, and geographically. So meaningful interaction across social boundaries will not happen by itself. To develop relationships with people who are not like us we have to take intentional steps.

The suggestions below will help us move beyond our comfortable boundaries and into spaces where authentic cross-cultural relationships are possible. These relationships form the bridges to empathy and understanding across deep divisions in society. Meaningful relationships with  people different from us are indispensable for racial progress in America.

First, it is important to understand just how isolated we are. a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute reveals that in a 100-friend scenario, the average white person has just one black friend. Meanwhile, the average black person has 8 white friends. The poll also showed that fully three-quarters of white people have ZERO black friends. So white people, in particular, have some hard work to do if they want to get to know people of different races and ethnicities.

Image result for 100 friend scenario

A difficult fact for many of us to accepts is that in order to truly live integrated lives, we will have to reconsider where we choose to live and where we choose to go or send our kids to school. For more information about why we are so segregated read The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America and “Choosing a School for My Daughter in Segregated City” by Nikole Hannah Jones. But below are some actions you can take more immediately.

Start with people you know

In many instances, although we may know people who are different from us racially and ethnically, we have not specifically asked them about their experiences. We may talk at work, chit-chat after church but we haven’t sat down to hear one another’s stories. For most of us, it’s not too hard to get us to talk about ourselves and what we’re passionate about. So why not ask an acquaintance or a friend if he or she would be willing to spend some time sharing how they have experienced life in America. Pay particular attention to any ways that race and racism may have shaped a person.

Start a conversation

Sometimes it’s easier to talk about an issue as tender as race or racism if you have some content to discuss first. So pick a book, movie, article, or some other piece of content and gather a few friends to discuss it. Informal is good. Groups often meet at someone’s house, a coffee shop, or the church. All you really need is something to discuss and a place to do it. These discussions can help uncover hidden assumptions and give space for racial and ethnic minorities a rare opportunity to share their honestly experiences with people willing to listen empathetically.

Create content

Another way to start a conversation is to create the content yourself. Write a blog post about what you are learning about race and ethnicity. Compose a poem or song to express your feelings in a poignant and artistic way. You could even write a post on Facebook that expresses some f your thoughts and ends with a question (but be ready to moderate the comments!—and you might want to create a private group).

Put yourself in the way of diversity

Once again, diversity in your friendships does not just happen. You have to go after it. People in overseas missions, the military, or athletics often have access to many people who are unlike them linguistically, culturally, and racially. You can replicate this access by joining a sports team, book club, civic group, a theater group, choir or some other community activity that brings together people from different social networks. Check your local newspaper for events happening nearby and see how you can get involved. The pain is to meet new people who you might not ordinarily encounter in your daily routines.

For Christians, our lives changed the moment we accepted by faith the salvation offered by Jesus Christ. This relationship changed everything. In a lesser, but still transformative way our relationships with other people will shape our outlooks and opinions. No amount of reading, studying, or pondering will improve race relations in our country by themselves. Change happens with and between real people in respectful relationship.

3 thoughts on “How to Fight Racism, Part 2 – Relationships

  1. Islam

    for your nice post

  2. Thomas W.

    Correlation isn’t your strong suit, Jemar.

    How many white Mississippian’s have how many black friends would be more telling if there’s a disparity against the population demographics (which there may still be). 1 in 10 over the nation is about the population density of African Americans. Why would the average, across the nation ever be over that?

    Pursuing good relationships with anyone is certainly something to promote. Though being, introverted, I can entirely understand why that’s hard for at least half the country on even non-ethnic/racial grounds.

    Also if you want good relationships it’s usually a good idea not to insinuate their sins on the basis of their voting habits. Just a helpful tip there.

    And you can put a good example forth of making more relationships by actually engaging people you don’t see eye to eye with like a John MacArthur, or even a guy in your comment section that has politely offered to build one with you, multiple times.

  3. Elizabeth Neal

    I totally agree. I’m so thankful for my friend who was willing to share with me about her views. It changed my life completely.

Leave A Comment