I Don't Want To (But Feel Like We Need To) Keep Talking About Race
By Tai Anderson, October 31, 2016
We are a week away from a presidential election. It’s hard to think about anything else. The troubles over race relations in our nation aren’t really front and center right now. After all, we have to pick a new leader, or at least the person that will occupy the role. Despite the urgency of the upcoming election, I just can’t get race off my mind. It seems like it’s a conversation we only talk about when tensions are high, divided into our separate camps. I think we can have a more meaningful conversation when tensions are relatively low, even though we all know this issue is just bubbling under the surface.
At Leadercast, we have a sister company called Catalyst. We have very similar missions building leaders worth following, but they have a specific audience of the church, and the people who love it. I recently attended their Catalyst Atlanta event where I watched this amazing panel on the current state of race in the church.
I was profoundly impacted and convicted by the conversation. I’ve grown up with a monumental lack of cultural intelligence and racial sensitivity. I attended a nearly all white Christian school, went to all white churches, and played in an all white band for a nearly all white audience. It’s all I’ve ever known. Somewhere along the way, I developed the awareness that my life experience was monochromatic, and I wasn’t okay with it. I’m still not okay with it. I want to change.
Perhaps it was late-night conversations with Toby Mac, the inspiration of my younger sister who did EVERY book report in school on Martin Luther King Jr., my experiences in South Africa, Uganda, and Haiti, or my kids involvement with youth sports. Just as we grafted our adopted child into our family tree, the desire for racial unity has been hardwired into my DNA. I want it. I want progress. Nothing repulses me more than racism. I want to live in a world that realizes MLK’s dream. I want to do my part.
Just 3 days after I watched the above panel discussion at Catalyst, I met a local African-American pastor at Roswell football’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I recognized him from somewhere. I couldn’t quite place it, but then it came to mind. He was the local pastor I had seen on Twitter who invited our police chief, Rusty Grant, to his church to pray for him in the midst of the height of racial tensions this summer. LEADERSHIP! The picture really impacted me, and it prompted my podcast with Police Chief Rusty Grant where we discussed policing and the African-American community in Roswell.
I thanked Pastor Jenkins for his leadership reaching out to our police chief, and he invited me to a small group of faith leaders at his church where he was leading a discussion on the African-American experience in our nation. Our group is just 2 weeks old. Our conversation is just beginning, but I’ve already learned more in two weeks than my previous 20 years. As someone who works in leadership development, I’ve purposed to apply Covey’s principle to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” That is my mantra, my north star. I have purposed to speak less and listen more and gain a better understanding of a different perspective than that with which I’ve experienced.
After our last meeting, Pastor Jenkins tweeted out a picture of our group thanking the author of the book we were navigating in our discussion. I retweeted the photo, and didn’t think much about more about it. Just today, I checked some of the comments on his tweet. I’m sick to my stomach. Here’s the original tweet and the comments to the right. (below on mobile)
I’m angry right now. My friend is modeling the very kind of leadership that white people so often admonish black people to demonstrate. He is calmly sharing his perspective with friends. Guys, I’m sick of the racists I see on social media everyday. I’m sick of the racism that keeps our country divided. I’m sick of a populism that has infected our nation that encourages the blaming of others before self examination. I’m sick of simplified hashtags for complicated problems. I’m sick of condemning my brothers and sisters that are hurting and frustrated before trying to empathize with their experience.
However, here is the reality, I’m allowed to be angry. I’m entitled to be angry. My friend, Lee Jenkins, a successful businessman and pastor is not. It’s not culturally acceptable for him to be angry…. Ever!
Even in my indignation, I’m the beneficiary of privilege.
I’m starting with me. I’m screwed up. I have prejudices in my heart that I am examining and expunging. I have work to do. If all of us are honest, we’ll acknowledge that all of us have prejudice and even the seeds of racism in our hearts, planted by a legacy of the sin of slavery and nourished by the fear and segregation of our own experiences. I think step # 1 is non-defensively acknowledging that.
Friends, something has to give. I want to invite you to go on this journey with me. I know that many of us don’t want to go. I know that many of us think the problem of racism was solved by the civil war with a little touch up of civil rights in the 60's. That’s simply not true. I know many of us think that the African-Americans need to "take responsibility for their own problems", "forget the past" and just “get over it.” I've heard you loud and clear. I’m not going to try and change your mind. I’m not pointing the finger, except at myself. I can do better. I can do more. I can be more understanding. I can be more loving. I can change. I believe you can too.