Reconciling Race, Slowly by Slowly

I grew up in the rural South of the United States. I’m the exact definition of a WASP (White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant). I get ridiculously sunburned every time I go to the beach, I can binge eat any form of potatoes, and I was raised to nestle orderly in a church pew every Sunday with my middle class family. That about sums up my racial identity.

I say that to begin this post because I want you to know the perspective from which I write. My biological race is one of unearned privilege; it’s also one of often unstewarded responsibility.

My formative years were full of confusing signals about what kinds of people were safe and what kinds of people were charity.

The society I knew and understood was one in which law enforcement was in place to be my protection. I believed that hard work and honesty were about as valuable to my success as personally knowing people in positions of authority.

My passport allowed me to travel anywhere in the world I wished. My skin color somehow legitimized my education level. Doors of opportunity were opened wide to me because I had been granted a life of material wealth, emotional stability, and given status.

I could afford the most professional clothes for interviews, I never once knew fear of physical harm or relational abandonment, and I shamelessly used my own entitlement to work systems in my favor.

If I had wished, I could have continued to live in a world where I believed everyone enjoyed the same privileges as me. I could have written off poverty as a result of laziness and destitution a result of poor life choices.

But my whiteness continued to clash with so many of my life experiences until I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

Then came the cycle so many of you will recognize, when the “white man’s burden” kicked in and overwhelming guilt motivated my interaction with those different from me. I spent years chasing after good works to cancel out my disgusting wealth.

I wanted to perfect my charitable deeds. I wanted to claim that I didn’t see color. I wanted an easy fix for race relations.

But OH THE CLASHES. Messy, uncomfortable, and awkward clashes between my white worldview and—I don’t know—the REST OF HUMANITY.

***

I remember introducing myself to someone recently. As we got to know each other, she asked about my children. So I explained that I had two daughters and pulled out my phone to show the lady a picture.

When she saw that my oldest daughter was clearly adopted, she turned to her husband, and said, “Awwwww! I want one!”

She had already told me about her children, so my face must have looked a bit confused because she added, “I’ve always wanted a black kid.”

Honestly? I wanted to be angry at her comment. I wanted to lash into a full lecture about how inappropriate it was to speak in such a way about my daughter, or any other child for that matter.

But I thought back to all the completely inappropriate comments I’ve made about other races.

I’ve said things like, “Well, you know Asians…” and used story markers like, “Then this black guy came up to me.”

I’ve objectified humans. I’ve struggled to allow people to be individuals rather than forcing them to carry stereotypes that were never theirs to carry. And nothing has revealed my sin in this more than welcoming a child of another color into my family.

Any hint of racial tension or cultural frustration must be addressed. If we ever hoped to avoid discussions about race, well…those days are far gone for us in this home.

I heard Tyler Burns say on the Upsidedown Podcast last week that “No one will stumble into racial reconciliation.” And how true it is that the hard work of loving your neighbor is uncomfortable and awkward and full of self-denial.

Loving my neighbor doesn’t mean getting her to look and act and think like me. Loving my neighbor means asking her questions and seeking to understand her and walking alongside her through this thing called life.

Sometimes that means even learning to love the neighbor who shares my race, too.

***

I feel confident that this community of women holds a wealth of knowledge that far exceeds anything I could write in 700 words. So I’m counting on you in the comments. 

What has living cross-culturally taught you about race? How has the fall of man been reflected in your actions and thoughts among people different from you? How have you come to understand the reconciliation of the cross as it relates to your interactions with different races?

12 Comments

  1. Julie February 7, 2017

    I am Australian and work with the original inhabitants of this country, so loving my neighbor means loving people who are very different from me. One of the many lessons I have had to learn was, that in order to start to live cross culturally, you need to know your own culture. If you don’t understand how and why you think and act in a certain way, then you can never hope to understand how and why others just simply don’t think or act the same. It has been a time of great and wonderful learning, embarrassing mistakes, lots of laughter. Laughter is truly like a medicine in these circumstances, learn to laugh at yourself with those you are alongside and they will laugh with you. Slowly I have grown now to appreciate another culture, seen its strengths and also its weaknesses. It is a unique culture, deeply affected by its history. I no longer think in terms of us and them. We just are who we are and struggle together to make sense of life and although I still mess it up, I know that I am understood, as much as I seek to understand. Yes, loving your neighbor means self denial but it is so very worth it.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 9, 2017

      Julie,

      I think I would really enjoy sitting with you in a coffee shop and hear all about your life, ministry, and rich learning from working cross-culturally. You are so right that the first step in understanding others is understanding yourself. Not out of selfishness, of course, but to be able to interact with others in the most compassionate and understanding way. I *amen* everything you said here. Grateful you’ve had this journey!

      1. Julie February 9, 2017

        Thank you Lauren. I am still on this journey, even late in life and enjoying every moment. I agree we need to be careful not to concentrate on ourselves and our culture out of selfish motives, but, as you so rightly say, to enable us to interact with others in a compassionate way. Last night out team spent an evening at a native church here in AZ, it was an amazing experience to see how very differently the people worshipped and glorified God and yet with what joy they shared their testimonies. We were so happy to hear the pastor’s words, repeated often, to keep reading scripture! Would love to be able to chat over coffee too!

  2. Marie February 8, 2017

    I’ve always loved different cultures and ‘races’. From young age I always came in contact with and sought out people with different color, shapes and forms. So, I thought…I see us ALL equal. Well…I was wrong. Now living in South-East Asia, I honestly sometimes struggle with the thought and feeling that they are ‘less’. That they know less or are not as good in doing stuff. I am ashamed to admit it! And it’s not what I believe in my heart! But for some reason it comes up here. Just yet an other reason for going to God…to deal with my crap…

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 9, 2017

      Marie,

      You are so brave to say what so many of us are afraid to share. That there are times we do think more highly of ourselves is a part of our human nature, and definitely keeps us before the Throne. I would assume that every person who read this has been or is in a similar place with some population. It may not be racial, but it could be religious, political, or socio-economical. Either way, we do all struggle placing others before ourselves. I believe that, and I’m glad you shared so freely. Thanks!

    2. Shelly February 12, 2017

      Marie, I completely understand. Living in Asia has given me a window to see inside myself in a way living in “my own culture” had not. Oh, entitlement was already in me, but I didn’t notice it as I do here. And it comes out so easily, so carelessly, so thoughtlessly even now. This series of posts is a timely reminder to bring this self-serving attitude to the Lord for His transformimg work in me. What phrases do I say too readily that suggest the Other is less, wrong, uncivilized, a problem or a bother? What Word of scripture could be brought to bear on those situations that bring up such comments? Could I make it a practice to meditate on that word as I enter those spaces and times when I am more likely to set myself up above the Other? I am reading Mary DeMuth’s spiritual warfare book (behind the book club) and I can’t help but think that such a practice may be good battle training. (For example, when I was struck by my need to yeild to the Father about something, I took up the practice of physically yeilding to others on my commute to work, which included 2 busy subway line transfers. Those commutes were ripe ground for nurturing negative thoughts – and words – about the Other.) Several other thoughts are weaving their way into this now, but not fully formed: fitting myself with the armor of God daily, not leaving home without the all-purpose garmemt of love, accountability with another about the words I speak about our host culture, actively seeking avenues for recounting the praiseworthy attributes of our host culture, examining my own cultural values and identifying those that are contrary to the Kingdom, etc.

  3. R February 8, 2017

    One thing I’ve learned has been that this whole thing is an issue requiring not a one-time treatment, but many. Being a Messianic Jew living in the Middle East, I’ve listened to Westerners who complain because this country isn’t enough like theirs (put bluntly 🙂 ). There are the visitors who are much too prone to admire me because of my background. Then there are the people who think I am evil and not a human because of my background. And then there are international politicians, who have passed a decree that I have no right to have any connection to any part of this country. I freely admit that for many years I had a problem with cynicism towards many people because of this. However, the Lord has shown me that looking beyond (or beneath) the comments and attitudes is the key- the key to recalibrating to the truth regarding every situation.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 9, 2017

      Oh yes, yes, yes! Yes to this issue being one that needs so many touches moving us towards better understanding of others. And when you’re putting in the hard work or you’re the one being discriminated against, of course you experience cynicism and fatigue. I’m glad you’ve been able to walk through this with the Lord. Prayers for your life and work in the Middle East!

  4. Ashley Felder February 8, 2017

    “No one will stumble into racial reconciliation.”–Nailed it! We have to be intentional and purposeful with these conversations, or they won’t happen and we’ll each stay in our stereotyping bubbles while protests and violence continues to rage.

    I remember a particular culture class in college where we sat our desks in a circle and went around telling various stereotypes we had about other races. Our teacher was African American. I think that was so bold of her to do, knowing many of the comments would be about her own race. I still think about that class, then try to tear down any recent stereotypes I have of people—because honestly, we ALL have them. My constant prayer is that I would have the eyes of Jesus to see others.

    1. Lauren Pinkston February 9, 2017

      Engagement is key, yes Ashley? I thought of you lots as I wrote this, and enjoyed reading your post this week.

      That college class seems like it was so rich. I also took a class called “Diversity in America” and it rocked my world. As in, turned it upside down. How cool that your teacher had you all walk through that exercise with her.

      Yes, we all have stereotypes. I wish that wasn’t the case. I like your prayer for the ability to see them through the eyes of Jesus. Good stuff. <3

  5. Karen February 10, 2017

    You asked about “the reconciliation of the cross” when it comes to races. I love that as believers living cross-culturally, we have opportunities for fellowship which include people from many different cultures and races. Although every culture includes people of many personalities, there are unique ways in which different cultures worship, and it’s so beautiful to sit back and watch the differences and admire God’s creativity in that. I love hearing the harmonies created by one group as we sing, the contemplative prayerfulness of another, the sensitivity another group has to making sure the children are included, etc. Although everyone is an individual and shouldn’t need to carry the burden of stereotypes, I do think there are different aspects in which different cultures as wholes tend to reflect God’s glory.

    One part of the beauty of such fellowship is that while I mostly fit into one particular group, I know I can wander over and enjoy worshiping with any other group, and that I am welcomed with open arms to do so, because we are enjoying our unity in Him. I don’t need to pretend that I’m someone I’m not, but I can be present enjoying the gifts of others. I’m not saying that we do this perfectly or that I don’t have stereotypes of my own, but when we do have these times together, I believe it’s a small taste of what we were created for, to be part of the reconciliation that comes through the cross; each of us fully “ourselves” and also able to appreciate His handiwork in the lives of others.

    However, when I sit down to try to explain this to friends, I immediately am faced with a struggle. Questions of race are so sensitive, that even to use phrases which refer to a person’s race or nationality feels like dangerous territory. It can so easily lead into hurting or offending someone. I guess this is part of living in a fallen world. We long for the closer relationships that our redeemed hearts know we were made for, and yet we aren’t in heaven yet. We are still human and do struggle with the sins that lead to racial disunity. How good to know that this reconciliation is part of the great inheritance He has purchased for us.

    1. Julie Reynolds February 10, 2017

      Thank you Karen, that is such a thoughtful piece. How we long to be part of that glorious throng around the throne, people of all nstions! tribes, languages and peoples singing praises to our God and to the Lamb! I agree that even mentioning race can be like putting a match to dry grasses, and people can be angry or hurt. However in our particular case here, race is a matter of great pride, alongside their lack of self worth, it is a strange combination. I enjoyed your comments about wandering from group to group to enjoy different styles of singing praise. Here it is fascinating as we are dealing with people who have never had the harmonics of the rest if the world and sing in quite a different way, and I use the word sing lightly! So often guitar and singer will both be performing in different keys, and not even notice it. Not always thus, but often people just open their mouths and literally “make a joyful noise unto the Lord”. This makes joining them difficult for we Anglos, especially anyone training in music!!! But we are learning and a joyful noise is all that God requires. Julie

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