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What Does Racism Have to Do With Me?

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You may wonder what this has to do with you if you don’t personally hate black people and you may wonder if you should be held responsible for other people’s past decisions? Certainly you are not responsible for your ancestor’s individual choices. But when it comes to racism in America, your personal responsibility doesn’t tell the whole story.

In America, we prize our individualism above most other things. We revere our rights, sing about our freedoms and love the idea that any one person can achieve the American Dream. But while individualism is a pillar of American culture, the Bible’s vision for humanity is about solidarity, the opposite of individualism.

The story of the Bible goes like this. First, we are united in creation as one race made in God’s image. Second, we are united in our broken, fallen state “in Adam.” And third, we are united in God’s love for us in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross. [1] The universal church has always held these beliefs, but Western Christians tend to miss how anti-individualistic they are.

Yes, certain white individuals are guilty, and yes, each person is responsible for their own choices, but it’s impossible to isolate an individual from their community and every last one of us is shaped by forces and systems outside our control. The Bible calls these larger systems “the principalities and powers,” [2] and the major “principality and power” that took root like a noxious weed in America’s beginning was white supremacy (the idea that white people are superior to other races—smarter, harder working, more capable, etc.—and should run society), which fueled America’s systemic racism. This noxious weed is ravaging our country. Even if we didn’t plant it originally, it’s in our backyard and we are still responsible for uprooting it.

An individualistic perspective says, “It’s nothing to do with me; it’s just a few bad apples we need to take care of.” But a few “bad apples” in positions of power can create impersonal systems that no longer require individuals to operate them. It’s like a self-driving car: type in an address, hit enter and the car will drive to the destination with an empty driver’s seat. America’s founders put the institution of slavery, constitutionally-mandated discrimination, pseudo-scientific “research” on supposed “racial inferiority,” prejudiced media, economic policies, social hierarchies and general white-favoring practices into America’s GPS. And with all that in place, and no specific white supremacist steering the car, systemic racism was up and running. Even when we do modify or dismantle systems like slavery, Jim Crow laws, racial covenants and redlining, their ripple effects continue to roll over communities of color.

And a system is much too big to pay attention to individual intentions. The issue, then, isn’t what specific people (like individual police officers) believe. Derek Chauvin was allowed to remain on the police force for nineteen years, despite obvious disregard for black lives, and despite eighteen prior complaints, two resulting in disciplinary action, because an entire judicial system designed to advantage white people and disadvantage non-whites was backing him up. And while there will always be a “few bad apples” in every system, a system that works for everyone will do a much better job of weeding them out.

When white Christians who identify as Kingdom people look through the lens of communal solidarity, they recognize that because the white church as a whole failed to preach and live the full Gospel, racial injustice grew. White Christians must learn to see past individuals to the systems that exclude and oppress non-white people. Then they can feel solidarity and self-sacrificial love toward those who suffer and can commit to being part of the solution to name, unmask and dismantle these systems.

To do so, white Kingdom people and communities must partner with communities of color. This begins when white people and congregations confess their intent to turn from (repent of) the historic racism of the white church, and to partner with people and congregations of color to work toward a more just church and society. [3]

[1] Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:22
[2] Ephesians 6:12 
[3] 2 Corinthians 7:8-11, James 5:16

One thought on “What Does Racism Have to Do With Me?

  1. Emily says:

    Thank you all for your comments and feedback! We believe this conversation is worth continuing, but are closing the comment section for now as we hope to engage individually with those of you who would like to discuss these topics in more detail. If you have further thoughts, please email us at info@whchurch.org.

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