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On Friday afternoon, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed when I stumbled upon a post shared by a friend who challenged the prejudiced rhetoric of Dr. James White’s post. Whenever there is a social media post, story, or an incident involving race, as a person of color, I must do a racial cost-benefit analysis.

On the cost side, I measure the psychological, emotional, and sometimes, physiological toll it would take on my well-being, depending on the magnitude of the racial event.

On the benefit side, I measure the possibility of a teachable moment, the chance to change false narratives, and show how the gospel bears practical implications for racism, always with the hope that much fruit would come as a result. After completing my analysis, I determined the benefit outweighed the cost.

White’s Comments
By now, you may have heard about the social media firestorm that ensued as a result of White’s racially charged Facebook post about a fifteen-year-old black boy exhibiting typical teenage behavior. According to White, the boy flipped off the police as he crossed the street and poured the contents of his bottled drink on the ground, and tossed the empty bottle into a nearby bush. Based on those anodyne, yet unwise acts, White speciously concludes this young boy most likely never met his father, wasn’t given guidance, nor was he taught about the merits of hard work and the value of a good education. Moreover, this young man would go on to father several children out of wedlock, some of which he would abort at Planned Parenthood clinics.

From two seemingly innocuous—yet juvenile acts—committed by this young boy, White prognosticated his fate and that of his community. He castigated and dehumanized black people by reducing them to statistics, which he admitted he exaggerated perpetuating myths about intractable fatherlessness, endemic laziness, entitlement, and sexual immorality. I am not going to critique the spurious claims made in White’s post because Jemar Tisby, along with others, did so in a thorough and gracious manner.

Seeking Allies
Before responding on Twitter, I waited momentarily to see if our white brothers and sisters would come to our defense by using their platforms to challenge Dr. White. A few of them did, and for that I am grateful; their allegiance revives those of us who are suffering from racial fatigue. Nevertheless, I am left to wonder, when will the few white allies we have become the majority. When will we, black people, get the opportunity to witness a multitude of white brothers and sisters bind themselves to us in this fight against racism, instead of exercising their privilege by observing from a safe distance or not engaging at all? Where are our white allies? Those are the intransigent questions nestled within my heart and mind as I have observed the initial event and subsequent defenses from White.

At this juncture, it must be said that I am thankful for our non-black minority allies who have locked arms with us, and are constantly fighting the good fight against racism inside and outside the church. Thank you! We know, that you too, are fighting racism against your people in the various ways that it manifests itself and impacts your respective communities.

These questions are exacting and pointed at our white brothers and sisters who have the white privilege other racial minorities lack. It is a well-known fact that despite the browning of America, white people still hold many of the positions of power in this country. The same is reflected within American Evangelicalism. In order to observe this, one needn’t look any further than the lily-white speaker line-up at popular conferences, faculty website pages at evangelical seminaries, and mainline Protestant denominations. Oftentimes, the only time people of color are centered at evangelical conferences is when the topic is on race, which is now on trend in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Rarely, if ever, are we called upon to speak on union with Christ, theology proper, justification, sanctification, and other theological topics—although many of us have the theological credentials and ability to do so.

Racial Oppression Toll
In the absence of a legion of white allies, we are left to defend ourselves and refute racially charged remarks like the ones embedded in White’s post. When we do, our experience and expertise is undervalued and undermined when our speech does not conform to the sensibilities of the majority.

Regardless of how gracious, patient, calm, humble, and measured our response is, we are called Marxists, liberals, race-baiters, agitators, and divisive, just to name a few of the labels ascribed to us (there are other unseemly names that ought not escape the mouths of the saints, but often do). We endure the constant verbal abuse that comes with speaking truth to power, and we pay the toll racial oppression levies on our mind, soul, and body. We can do no less if racial reconciliation is the goal.[1]

There is no reconciliation apart from the little ‘t’ truth, which is this country’s racial history and the ways the church has been complicit in this regrettable history and its present impact on black people, and big ‘T’ truth, Jesus Christ who is truth embodied. In the same way, there is no liberation without non-black allies.

We are not separatists. This is America, the country that is a proverbial melting pot. We cannot secure our liberation by ourselves. Dr. Evelyn Higginbotham says this: “There is injustice, but we have to fight it. I still believe the way to do it in a lasting way is with allies. That’s how movements are formed, you’ve got to have allies… The key thing is show me any moment in the history of our people in this nation where we did something completely black and we changed our situation. It just didn’t happen.”[2]

Burden Bearers
Dr. Higginbathom’s statement pertains to historical and sociological matters, which are important because we live in this world, but are not of it. What of Scripture? I recall the Prophet Jeremiah saying to the Israelites, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jer. 29:7).  The Israelites were exiled among people who were not like them, yet they were called to seek the benefit of the Babylonians. How about when Jesus shared the parable about helping the least of these saying, ‘”Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’’’? Apostle Paul also says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). We are called to bear one another’s burdens, and do good to everyone, especially to those who are of the household of faith (Gal. 6:2,10).

Bearing the burdens of another is the ultimate imitation of Jesus, our supreme burden bearer who carried our burdens until He breathed his last. Brothers and sisters, surely you can lay down your privilege in order to stand with and defend us when we are attacked by fellow Christians.

It may cost you some Twitter followers, speaking engagements, reputation, comfort, and friends. But the gospel calls us to stand up for what is right, true, and good. At times, the cost of answering that call requires our livelihood; other times it requires our lives. Take heart and remember “whoever loses his life for the sake of carrying his cross, will find it” (Matt. 16:25).

 

[1] Personally, I believe the term “racial reconciliation” is a misnomer because it connotes equal fault. Racial history in America shows that to be demonstrably false. “Racial forgiveness” is a term coined by sociologist Dr. Chinyere Osuji Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University (Camden), which is more precise. For the purposes of clarity and continuity, I employ “racial reconciliation” because that is the common term used in evangelicalism.

[2]  Kimberly Foster,  Wrestling With Respectability in The Age of #BlackLivesMatter: A Dialogue, October 2015, Accessed on March 21, 2016.

 

photograph by Matt Rourke / AP

Ekemini Uwan is a public theologian and co-host of the Truth’s Table Podcast. Her insights have been quoted by the New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. You can find more of her writing at www.sistamatictheology.com and follow her on Twitter @sista_theology

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