When I was a senior in high school, I took a class that ripped me out of my limited worldview regarding race and ethnicity.
The class was African-American history. . . and I was the only white guy in the class.
While the content of the class was certainly an eye opener, it wasn’t what changed me the most. The other people in the class are who changed me.
The reason this class provoked me so much was because – until this class – I could usually expect that my opinions, thoughts and experiences would be readily understood by the majority of the students around me. However, now, I could no longer simply blend in.
[pullquote class=”left”]I often felt misunderstood. I often felt out of place.[/pullquote]I couldn’t make assumptions that most of the people around me shared my life experiences. Many people didn’t “get me” when I spoke up. I often felt misunderstood. I often felt out of place. I often felt confused. Sometimes, I heard other students say things about white people that felt unfair and generalized. Sometimes, I felt profiled because of the color of my skin.
In a small way, I was learning what it felt like to be a minority.
This wouldn’t be the last time I would experience this. God would continue to teach me this truth in the coming years. I often found myself in circumstances where I was the minority. After high school, I moved to West Oakland, CA where I joined a 99% black church in a 99% black neighborhood. This sent me on a series of moves where I found myself in majority black neighborhoods – first in inner-city Philadelphia and then in Shelby Park in Louisville. Even today, I continue to be a part of a church where many of the leaders on the stage – including my pastor – do not look like me.
I had no idea how important these experiences would be for my Christian faith. Why?
- Because it’s easy to judge from a distance.
- Because it’s easy to be indifferent when it isn’t our problem.
- Because it’s easy to sin when we don’t feel the impact of our sin.
Before that class, I was oblivious to the realities that so many minorities around me deal with regularly. From a distance, it was easy to push off complaints of racism as “marxist cultural narratives” or dismissively claim people were “just playing the race card” to get something they wanted.
Ignoring issues that trouble minorities became much more difficult the more time I spent with minorities.
My African-American history teacher would tell us about being pulled over by the police again without cause. In Philadelphia, wealthy developers rezoned our neighborhood, gentrified it and drove out all of our low-income minority neighbors. In Oakland, I called the police after being violently mugged but they never came to my minority neighborhood. When I moved to a mostly black neighborhood in Louisville, some friends and family stopped visiting us out of fear and discomfort.[pullquote class=”right”]If we want to be agents of reconciliation, we must feel the pain of our neighbors. If we want to be agents of ethnic reconciliation, we must feel the pain of minorities.[/pullquote]
The experience of life in a minority neighborhood is not the same as the experience of a white majority neighborhood. Both have particular gifts. Both have particular pain. But we cannot understand either without exposure.
How are we supposed to bear the burdens of our neighbors if we don’t understand their pain? How are we supposed to honestly share that the gospel can help suffering people if they never see us suffer with them?
If we want to be agents of reconciliation, we must feel the pain of our neighbors. If we want to be agents of ethnic reconciliation, we must feel the pain of minorities.
How can we do this?
1) START WITH THE END IN MIND
Revelation 7:9 says, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”
God’s ultimate goal is to create a diverse people – one body but many cultures. God made us diverse. Our diversity is intentional. God’s vision must be our vision. We must see our neighbors as people who bear the Image of God. One day, those who are Christians will worship and live together with Christ for all eternity. We must begin this work now.
2) READ AUTHORS FROM OUTSIDE YOUR CULTURE
In the age of social media where our news feeds and platforms are curated to reinforce the things we prefer, it has become increasingly difficult to be exposed regularly to views that challenge our own.
Perhaps more than ever, we must be intentional about seeking out authors who look different than us, think different than us and who have different norms than our own. It is possible that the things we believe are “the Christian way” may actually just be our cultural norms? Reading authors outside your first culture will help you increase your empathy, your ability to love people different than you and keep you curious about the world you live in.
3) SEEK OUT EXPERIENCES WHERE YOU ARE THE MINORITY
Whether it’s the friendships we pursue, the church where we worship, the restaurants where we eat or the stores where we shop, our life is full of opportunities to make intentional choices. While some rural communities may not have as many options, the majority of white Americans can make a variety of intentional (though less convenient) choices to seek out experiences where they will be the minority.
Eat and shop at new places that are minority owned or where most customers are minorities. Get involved with a ministry that serves mostly minorities. Move to a new neighborhood where you’re the minority. Take a class that explores a minority culture. Be a part of an institution where you’re under the leadership of a minority. Don’t make people into pet projects, but don’t be surprised when you find out that genuine friendship and God’s love transcends culture.
If we aren’t intentional with our choices, the chances are that we’ll remain stuck with a limited worldview – unaware of the joys and trials of our minority neighbors. Our experience and view of God will be limited and so will we. Racial reconciliation doesn’t happen naturally. It only happens intentionally.
If we as white Christians choose to take action by keeping God’s diverse eternity in mind, we will find that the beauty of Jesus is much greater than we ever realized. God becomes bigger when we see him through eyes different than our own. God intentionally wants his children to be diverse so let’s be intentional to pursue that diversity now.
Jesse Eubanks is the President & Founder of Love Thy Neighborhood. He is passionate about the art of storytelling and equipping young adults to do justice.