What White Folks Learning About Racism (Can) Ask? “But what can I do to fix this?”
I have heard some variation of this question asked dozens of times, often with evident and genuine pain behind it. The people asking this question are usually white, and through relationships, education, and the work of the Holy Spirit, they have come to understand the harsh realities of race in this country.
It’s a good question. Given the different experiences majority and minority culture folks can have, developing an understanding of what other people go through should produce a sense of sympathy and injustice. But I am not sure it’s the right question.
In one sense a person who can come to understand racial disparity and not want to change things is a terrifying prospect. Zeal and motivation for change are, I trust, works of the Holy Spirit. Faith without works, after all, is dead (James 2:17). What Christian can learn about the extent of redlining and not want it gone forever? Or hear brothers and sisters recount tragic experiences and not want to help them? The desire to work out faith and the life-changing, reconciling love of God in our broken world is part of what it means to be a Christian. I would never want to discourage anyone’s zeal.
Yet I would encourage a friend asking this question to gain more perspective. After all, “desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way” (Proverbs 19:2).
Though he or she might not realize it, the question is at worst proud, and at best, naive. Racial disparity in our society took hundreds of years of deliberate action by many to get to where we are. You won’t fix it. You can’t fix it. For more on this, see this article about systemic racism.
A better question is, “what can I do to be faithful?” There is a huge difference between thinking your racial awareness is the answer to the world’s problems and understanding yourself to have a duty to your brothers, sisters, and neighbors. Perspective settles in for the long haul and gets to work.
What’s more, zeal without perspective is hard to deal with. It builds before planning (Luke 14:28). Ironically, it can make us less likely to listen to others, especially when we think they are trying to tamp our zeal. Think of the person who rushed to be a missionary without seeking counsel. Or think of the husband who, in response to a crying wife, glibly asks “How can I fix this” when what his wife needs is a hug, not a fix. The husband doesn’t understand that when he asks how he can fix it, he cheapens his wife’s pain by making the problem not seem as severe as it is. It’s foolish to assume we know everything. Wisdom listens to advice (Proverbs 12:15).
Zeal with perspective understands more of the scope of what we are up against when dealing with racism. Perspective without zeal might give up. But these two qualities paired together lead us to ask more questions, take informed initiative, work hard, and trust God to do what we cannot.
In this way, coming to understand the significance of race and racism serves as a beginning rather than an end. There are many ways we can adorn our faith in Christ with good works as we seek the unity he prayed for (John 17:20). Those ways might not be clear to us at the beginning. And those ways will not be the final answer to all of the world’s problems. But that’s OK. God has called us to obedience, and the more time we spend focusing on obedience rather than quick fixes, the better off we and our neighbors will be.
- Pray that God’s people would rightly mourn the reality of racism.
- Pray that we would be zealous for good works.
- Pray that God would do what we cannot, and bring true and lasting justice.