I am an African American woman who spent the last year living, working and worshipping in predominantly white spaces. Before I did Love Thy Neighborhood, I was used to being the minority in some settings. I went to a predominately white college, and worked in a mixed-racial environment. But my church, family, and home life, I was surrounded by my African-American community.
Time in Louisville was different. Even though I lived with another African American woman in a diverse neighborhood, most of my housemates were white. And while our church is working toward racial reconciliation, the congregation is still predominately white. My office was made up of mostly white faces. My free time was spent in mostly white spaces.
It’s been hard. A lot of tension, feelings, emotions, and uneasy conversations have happened as a result. After being in this environment for over a year, there are a few takeaways I want to pass on to anyone who finds themselves in close quarters with someone of a different race.
The first is that both sides need to share their stories.
I know how significant it is for me to share my story as an African American woman. Minority voices have often been silenced or not valued, so I recognized the need to speak up. Yet, I have experienced hesitancy when sharing my own story. I don’t want to be seen as the “angry black person” that is always portrayed in the media.
Another reason I have kept quiet is because I didn’t think anyone would understand my point of view. I’m learning how to move past these thoughts and see that my story is important. Even if people don’t understand me or start to have a negative view of me, I am starting to recognize the value in my voice and my story.
But, I have also come to realize that I cannot just go around spouting my anger to every white person and expect them to put up with it. That is not fair. When I think of someone who does this, I imagine a fire hydrant that has exploded and the water is bursting out of every open space. It’s destructive to everything in its path.
I have also learned there are some comments that I have to withhold at times. I need to be aware of what I share and how I share it in order for it to be helpful.
It’s important for the other person to share too. Once I started to be more open to hearing the majority’s side, I realized how beneficial it was to hear what they were feeling.
To white people: don’t believe the lie that you have to always remain silent when racial issues are brought up. It is important for minorities to hear what you are thinking. It’s important for us to hear how you are feeling.
I’ve learned that a lot of white people don’t want to say something offensive, so they keep quiet. But trust me, it’s better to say something wrong than to not say anything at all.
The second is that both sides need to listen to each other.
Listening is another important component when having racial conversations. As I shared earlier, it can be hard for minorities like me to see the point in telling their story sometimes. So, when a minority reaches a point where they feel comfortable sharing with you, please recognize their boldness and listen to them. Some of what they share may be hard to hear, but try to take it with grit.
It’s not common for minorities to be told to listen to what white people have to say. Something I have learned is that white people need to be heard as well.
There have been a couple of times where I was that “exploding fire hydrant” to white people, and did not take the time to listen to them.
There was one instance where a white person told me that what I said hurt them. A light bulb went off at that moment for me. I know it’s silly, but this encounter helped me realize that when conversations about race come up, Caucasians have deep emotions about it as well. I have learned to make an effort to listen to what they have to say.
To minorities engaging in conversations with white people: White people have feelings and thoughts worth listening to. They have questions they may be scared to ask. Take the time to listen to them too after you share your experience. Some of what is shared may be hard for you to hear, but receive it humbly. Two-sided conversations are crucial.
3. Be Humble
The third is that both sides need to have humility.
Humility is hard for everyone, because we’re all human, and the human heart is sinful. I learned that conversations on race can bring up a lot of unhealthy pride as a minority because it is so personal. I have experienced racism, so I have the tendency to come into these conversations on the defense. But I’ve learned that not everyone has had the experiences I have had. Some people have never experienced racism personally, and I have learned that I need to be patient with those people.
As these conversations unfold, both sides are going to say or hear something offensive. It’s almost inevitable. When that happens, all of us need to take it with grit and grace.
It will be hard, but if either side gets defensive about everything someone says, there will be no moving forward.
Minority brothers and sisters: When something offends you, be sure you communicate in a gentle way, educating your white brothers and sisters and not tearing them down. Correction is necessary for connection.
If you decide to engage in conversations about race, I hope these reflections are helpful for you. Racism is a result of a fallen world, but racial reconciliation is God’s idea. Because of Christ, the nations can be united to one another in peace.
“For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” Ephesians 2:14
Ashley Jackson is from Bowie, Maryland and made an impact by serving in the Nonprofit Leadership track from May 2016- August 2017. Ashley is the co-author of “Different Together: Exploring Racial Identity in Christian Community” coming soon through Love Thy Neighborhood. Sign up on our email list to be notified when this becomes available.