It’s early February and I’m already seeing Black History Month advertised on search engines, website banners, and TV commercials. The popular content is predictable. I remember it from last year and every year before that. We see images of Rosa Parks and Dr. King. We see the schools opening and the “Whites Only” signs coming down. The popular level content is celebratory, which can be a problem, or an opportunity.
I am not saying celebrating victories in the struggle for justice is a bad thing. Failing to celebrate robs God of glory and dishonors those who fought long and hard to see change. We celebrated the removal of the Mississippi state flag for these very reasons.
The problem is looking at the history of black people in our country and in our world and having such a one-note response. White Christians like myself should not look at black history and think, “Job well done. I’m glad racism is over.”
We may come to that conclusion if we only read celebratory headlines. But it will not survive a more thorough examination. So let’s see Black History Month as an opportunity to learn.
I encourage my white brothers and sisters to do a little digging. It’s not that hard. Much curating work has been done for us.
Take Dr. King for example. It would be hard to find a more universally applauded figure in America today. But his approval rating, according to public opinion polls, was not always over 90 percent as it is today. In the year of his death, nearly 75 percent of Americans disapproved of him. He was much more provocative than his soundbites might let us believe. We can still learn from him.
This February, why not do some reading and praying beyond the soundbites? Here are a few resources I suggest:
Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail
Frederick Douglas’ Autobiography
Francis Grimke’s The Negro: His Rights and Wrongs and the Forces Against Him
Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns
Allen Guelzo’s Reconstruction: A Concise History
Pastor Bobby Scott wrote last year that understanding our history is necessary for charting a way forward. Let us resolve to understand black history, even (or perhaps especially) the parts that make us uncomfortable. Let us not do this as some act of emotional penance, but as a way to understand so we can act in love for our brothers and sisters. We love better when we understand more. The history and context of our brothers and sisters is not an obscure section of a textbook or a symbolic gesture for one month of the year. Taking these steps of self-education will help you learn more about your brothers and sisters without making them your primary resource for that education. As we read, let’s continually go to God, asking Him to show us what He’d have us do to honor all made in His image.
- Pray that we would have a right understanding of history in a confusing world.
- Pray that our knowledge of the world would drive us to love our brothers and sisters better.
- Pray that God would more fully establish His justice in our world.
- Come, Lord Jesus.