Last Memorial Day, my girlfriend (now wife) Michelle invited me to her parents’ house for a cookout. I knew I wanted to marry her, so my every interaction with her family carried the weight of unrealistic expectations. I wanted them to like me. When I arrived, I knew I would be the whitest guy at the cookout. I didn’t know my beloved girlfriend had volunteered me to run the grill. I learned I would bear this sacred duty as I stared at rows of cousins, uncles, and, most terrifying of all, my girlfriend’s father, all eager for their holiday feast.
Many white people like myself can feel insecure or confused about how to act when we are around minority friends. We might assume this is what it’s like to be the minority on a regular basis, but there’s more going on than we even realize. We are used to our preferences as white folks being normal. We can sense that there are differences going on, or even that we are coming across as overbearing though we are not sure why.
I do not consider myself any kind of expert or cultural ambassador. But I do have a few suggestions for how white people can love our minority brothers and sisters.
1. Be Yourself
There is nothing worse than the white guy who tries to act black around his black friends. Black brothers have recounted to me how friends, pastors, or seminary professors will approach a group, shake hands with everyone in the group, then try awkwardly to dap up the lone black guy. You do not need to become a different person to build a relationship.
2. Be the Most Humble Version of Yourself
Nothing exposes preferences and customs of which we were unaware quite like being around people who do not share our background. Work to not impose your preferences on others. Love “does not insist on its own way” (I Corinthians 13:5). It is an expression of love to minority friends to submit your preferences to theirs. This may be as simple as being quiet to observe and learn rather than speaking and interjecting just so you will feel vindicated.
3. Trust the Holy Spirit in your Brothers and Sisters
Relationships are hard. We will be insensitive, intentionally or, hopefully, unintentionally. We will misunderstand and be misunderstood. But many of us avoid attempting relationships with people different from ourselves because we are fearful. We fear making a relationship difficult, or losing it altogether. Yet this is an area where we can trust that God will enable our brothers and sisters will graciously receive our imperfect efforts. I am routinely humbled by the grace I receive from minority brothers and sisters after I step on their toes. But that shouldn’t surprise me, given the work of God in them.
4. Enjoy Stumbling Forward
Many of us fear the prospect of offending. We know we will not relate to minority brothers and sisters perfectly. But there is joy in fellowship. It is good when brothers and sisters dwell together in unity (Psalm 133:1). God is uniquely glorified when saints show grace to each other and show that our unity in Him is more important than any differences which might separate us. Do not let fear rob you of that joy.
- Pray for God to grow His people in courage.
- Pray for us to prize fellowship and unity above comfort.
- Praise God that the unity He has purchased is stronger than our fear and our sin.