How To Not Be Racist : A Guide For White Christians
Here’s the thing. Being not racist is actually a lot harder than it looks.
We thought it would be easy. Just don’t be racist, we told ourselves. Just don’t do it. Just stop doing that. But when the society you have grown up in has been steeped in hundreds of years of entrenched white supremacy, it becomes complicated. You can’t quit it that easily.
You must make a concerted effort to extricate yourself from its clutches. You must actively, day after day after day, confront your own racial biases that have been handed down to you along with your other genetically inherited inborn traits. We all must do this. We all must unlearn racism.
Unfortunately, you can’t just excuse yourself. You can't just say that you don’t need to do this because you aren’t racist. This is much like people who say they do not need to go to therapy, because they “don’t need it.”
Were you born a human on planet earth? Then you need therapy. It’s not a commentary on your lifestyle choices, it’s not a judgment, it’s not an accusation. This is just how it is. The act of being human – by its very nature – requires therapy. It requires a paid professional. I’m sorry to break it to you. It wasn’t anything you did or didn’t do. It’s not about that.
It’s the same thing with racism.
If you were born a white human on planet earth, then you need to deconstruct & dismantle your racial biases, because you are racist. We all are. None of us has escaped it. Just like no person of colour has been able to escape racism, likewise we have not been able to escape being racist. Being racist is not ALWAYS an accusation of poor moral character. At least, it doesn’t have to be.
It only becomes that when we don’t take responsibility for it. It’s like going to a restaurant. You order your food, the food comes, you eat it, the bill arrives, you pay your bill. That’s how it goes. Nobody’s mad at you for owing money to the restaurant, nobody thinks you’re a bad person for ordering food. We all understand that that’s just what happens at restaurants.
However, you become an asshole if you purposefully leave the restaurant without paying your bill. Your inaction causes harm to the people around you. You can’t just leave and be like, “But I didn’t really eat anything tonight, I wasn’t very hungry, so I don’t think I owe anything.” You still ordered food. You were still at a restaurant. You still owe money.
This is not a perfect system, but it is the system that we have.
It's the same thing with racism. If you are born white, you – by the very act of existing in Western society – are racist. Nowadays, it seems that the boogeymen for white people is being called racist. There’s constant headlines about it. I saw one today that accused Sesame Street of being racist. And it seems we don’t really know what to do with ourselves once someone is accused of being racist or someone says or does something that is racist. We either ignore it completely or clutch our pearls and shriek like distressed seagulls.
I would argue that neither of these reactions is helpful.
You don’t need to be defensive and deny everything. You don’t need to be offended. You don’t need to completely boycott any people/products/shows/ideas that are racist. Nobody is calling you a bad person. Sesame Street has probably done or said some racist things at some point in their existence. It doesn’t mean that you need to boycott Sesame Street or that you need to defend Sesame Street.
What you need to do is confront and dismantle your own racial biases. What you need to do is listen and learn. What you need to do is educate yourself. What you need to do is realize that you’re not always going to get it right. What you need to do is just try. You don’t need to be right. You don’t need to put the blame on someone else. You don’t need to argue. You don’t need to cry, “cancel culture!” You don’t need to claim you’re “not political” and then ignore everything that’s happening. You don’t need to do any of that. It is not required. It has never been required. And not only that, it is a red herring. That’s not the point of the story.
The point of the story is that there are other stories besides the white story and that it is our responsibility as humans and especially as Christians to pay attention and listen to it. It is our holy mandate to recognize and affirm the divine image in others. There is nothing we’re doing as Christians that’s more sacred or more important than this. If we are not prioritizing it, if we are not actively dismantling it, then we are not living as Christians. It’s that simple.
Let me be clear : I am not saying that I am better than anyone, that I have it figured out, or even that I am good at this. I am not good at this. I make mistakes constantly. I revert to ingrained biases constantly. Like Gene Tennenbaum, I've always been considered an asshole for most of my life, that's just my style. (But I'd feel really blue if I didn't think you were going to forgive me.)
I'm only saying that it's harder than we thought and that we don't need to be dismayed. We can do this. We can do hard things.
To that end, here are a few resources that have helped me to confront & dismantle internalized racism in my own life :
Yo, Is This Racist? This Place Can one person change the criminal justice system? - Next Question with Katie Couric | iHeart) Hella Black Gravity Leadership Podcast: Lisa Sharon Harper: How Racism Broke the World, and How to Repair It on Apple Podcasts