A few days ago, I was on a Facebook Live with Called to Peace Ministries, where we discussed my blog post, Shiny Happy People, an African American Perspective.
If you haven’t read the blog post, please do so first so you have a good foundation for where I’m about to go.
When I talk about racism or missionaries gone wrong, periodically, a white person will ask, “How do we do better? What can we do?”
Often, my answer is Educate yourself. Read. Figure it out by yourself – through reading the works of Black authors, scholars, historians, and influencers- what it takes to be safe for non-white people.
Many of those who write to me or leave comments get it. They take what has been shared and accept responsibility for their subsequent steps. Many won’t come back and ask me for more. But some do.
I’ve been told it’s not enough to simply talk about missionary work or racism. That I have to be more specific and tell them/churches/institutions precisely what to do differently so they don’t cause or perpetuate harm.
Those types of expectations are not new: I’ve seen them placed on other black or non-white people who speak about racial injustice: “Don’t just talk about how racism hurts, tell us what to do about it.”1
So I decided to write this blog post to address that. CW: Growth-type thoughts ahead.
Here’s where I am at: Dear white ally,
You can’t place the burden of changing your entire belief system on one individual
I mean, you can, technically. But it’s not realistic.
Beliefs don’t just happen. Belief systems don’t just happen. They are a result of values and experiences and mindsets, and stories. Shifting these layers is not something someone else can do for you.
When a white person comes back with “but tell me what to do” after a Black, Indigenous, or person of color has already given something to chew on, it feels like the white person is putting the responsibility of change on the BIPOC individual. It is more weight. It feels like entitlement.
When someone shares their experiences, points out where harm has occurred, and offers a path to further learning, it is not the time to ask for more. It is time to sit with what you’ve been given.
Engage in self-reflection. Check out the resources and recommendations they’ve provided. (E.g. see bottom of this post.) If they have not given any, go online or to your local bookstore and look up something. Do something with what you received.
Victims are not responsible for your entire education
Racism is a deeply systemic issue in the US. People of color have been talking about it from the beginning.
My husband and I moved to the US some 12 years ago. 12 years ago. If you are white, born and raised in the US and you’re only learning or starting to pay attention to racism because this late arrival is talking about it, well….that’s just a lot.
I don’t mean to sound unkind, but I struggle when a white person says, “I had no idea,” or “I didn’t know how bad it was until I saw it on TV.”2
And that’s one of the reasons I recommend people to read for themselves: that lack of self-initiative has been (one of the many) a problem. There are, and have been, abundant resources from historians, advocates, activists, writers and authors, teachers, and influencers that have remained entirely unfamiliar to white people.
And that needs to change #selfInitiative.
Black folks have been discussing their oppression since oppression began. It’s just that folks haven’t been listening. But you can start listening, not just by reading commentaries like mine but by immersing yourself in education found in books and resources by black authors.
Dear White Ally: Of Missionaries and the Unpopular Stand
Since I started talking about the dark side of missionary activity (another way supremacist thinking and racism express themselves), former and current missionaries have reached out to me and shared their stories, both at home and in the field.
Broken homes, duplicity, uncaring churches and organizations, abuse, Christians so enthralled by missionary vocation they didn’t see the people or harm done to populations. Read Can We Talk About the Idolization of Christian Missionaries?
They’ve shared horrific experiences in their marriages, with the sending organizations and the spectacle that is being “worshiped” by Christians back home and how it impedes their ability to speak up. (How do you talk about abuse in your home when your sending church and Christians are smitten by him and his work and “sacrifice”?)
It is affirming when missionaries tell their own stories. It corroborates our experiences as nationals, shows we are not crazy and proves you simply do not serve unhealth from a healthy soul. Get well first.
We just want people to do better. To understand their roots. Rethink how it’s been done. Come up with a new way of doing things (aka mutual honoring partnerships.) Pack up and leave if you cannot fathom changing.
I keep saying God does not require people to be coerced, brainwashed, and harmed to receive “the good news.” If you think he does, you likely follow a different god, not Jesus.
I know that my stand on missionary activity is not popular. Whiteness3 does not like to be told it’s wrong on any level, let alone on religion. People who cry, “But we have to spread the gospel,” don’t even understand how white savior-ist that statement is.
And certainly, Africans have diverse views.4 But how will harm be confronted if we only speak up once everyone is on board?
Imagine taking the same approach in domestic abuse advocacy work in Christianity. Questioning and pushing back when victims and their allies speak up because “your views are not shared by most churches.”
We need to accept that sometimes the crowd is walking in the wrong direction. Sometimes we need to pay attention to the few, not the masses.
Dear White Ally: Rethink, educate yourself, and take personal responsibility, if it matters.
Racism, bigotry, and all its wings is a deep-seated issue. And change won’t happen until we each take personal responsibility for it.
Internal change won’t happen via a non-ancestral individual giving three points. I do see my part as raising awareness yes and then sending people to folks who will provide them with more…the roots, the stories, the histories, the mindsets, how to show up as an ally, the frameworks, the practices.
We all have to take responsibility for something. We all have some personal work to do. And buying that book from a black historian or author, or advocate is your next step in the right direction.
Those who demand that we (black people, recent immigrants etc) don’t talk unless we can provide a complete solution might not be aware but they are lolling in the same supremacist mindsets being called out.
Solidarity, not demands. Graciously receive what has been offered. Then move on to the next thing; taking responsibility for something. Don’t return to the same person who gave you something and demand more.
I was not born or raised in the United States. Black Americans were. We need to to listen to their stories and expertise as told by them.
Here are some great start-off points: (Aff links)
- Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation by Latasha Morrison
- Carved in Ebony: Lessons from the Black Women Who Shape Us by Jasmine L. Holmes
- This Here Flesh: Spirituality, Liberation, and the Stories That Make Us by Cole Arthur Riley
- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
On Asking Questions..
I’m not saying you can’t ask questions or seek clarity or even have a conversation around these issues with a person of color.
I’m just saying temper expectations, walk in humility and acknowledgement of what has already been offered and keep moving forward. Sometimes the tendency to kick the ball back to the Black side is indicative of that tendency to not take personal action. As long as it’s on them then I don’t have to do anything.
So yes, have these convos, but write yourself into that growth story. Even when these authors (above) provide education, sit with what they say. Do something. Take action.
PS: In the Shiny Happy People: An African American Perspective article, I also explain why I’m no longer engaging with people who find these types of posts offensive.
- I find that approach interesting because I’ve also been told that I’m not an expert and should not talk about areas I don’t have expertise on. So either way, you lose. When folks don’t want to do the work, there’s always an excuse.
- “It” being a black Image bearer murdered in front of cameras and later shared on TV.
- “White vs. whiteness: White, as a term describing people, refers to light-skinned people of European descent. “Whiteness” as an ideology derives from the historical practice of institutionalizing “white supremacy.” Beginning in at least the seventeenth century, “white” appeared as a legal term and social designator determining social and political rights. Eventually, it was used widely to decide who could vote or be enslaved or be a citizen, who could attend which schools and churches, who could marry whom, and who could drink from which water fountain. These and thousands of other legal and social regulations were built upon the fiction of a superior “white” race deserving special privileges and protections. (Jay (2005:100-101). Whiteness Studies and the Multicultural Literature Classroom. University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee)” Source “Whiteness and white racialized identity refer to the way that white people, their customs, culture, and beliefs operate as the standard by which all other groups of people are compared.” Source
- I’ve received messages saying my opinions are unpopular in my continent.
*Here’s the link to the Called To Peace Ministries Interview on Facebook.