I used to think I was fine when it came to racism. I had a variety of people of different ethnic backgrounds in my circle — people of color whom I loved, people woven into my life by marriage and friendship and proximity.
As a kid, my family hosted a slew of international students. I was accustomed to sharing life and space with people of many cultures. I remember the hushed tones of two Japanese girls in the downstairs bedroom and the boisterous bursts of laughter from the Argentian girl in the corner room upstairs. College students from Taiwan, China, Finland, France, and Spain gathered around our dining room table to share food, customs, and conversation. Learning to count in other languages was my favorite.
My high school was 65% Latino and my first long-term boyfriend was a Vietnamese guy whose parents weren’t too keen on the fact that I was white.
Through the years my mom dated several Black men and my dad’s second wife was Korean. I celebrated a half dozen Christmases with my three Asian American step-siblings and was fascinated by my stepmom’s kimchi refrigerator. I have one niece and five nephews on two sides of my family who are mixed race.
As a Southern California resident, I’ve rubbed shoulders and shared meals with people who don’t share my pale complexion. I’m used to hearing multiple languages spoken in Target and at school pickup.
I used to think, Look! Clearly this shows that I don’t have a problem with race, so I’m good, right?
Little did I realize that being “good” with race wasn’t the point.
It’s humbling now to admit, but I used to use this list of people of color in my circle to justify my place and participation in this world. Any time a conversation about the ongoing problem with racism would come up, here’s how my line of thinking would generally go: First, I would feel bad about the situation and sorry for the people who were being adversely affected. Then I would secretly scroll my mental list of diversity evidence. Last, I’d pat myself on the back for not being part of the problem.
But this way of thinking is part of the problem.
Without malice or ill-intention, I made the issue of racism about me. I was accepting and inclusive. I wasn’t perpetuating racist actions or beliefs. I felt fine. (I shake my head at my old self.) Evaluating my former way of thinking, I now realize I was guilty of tokenism. I was making individuals in my circle symbols of my “good enough-ness” — tokens to prove racism wasn’t an issue for me and that I didn’t have work to do.
I thought it was enough to have people of color in my circle, but it’s not. It doesn’t make me immune to biases and prejudices. If you’ve thought similar thoughts, if you’ve ever counted your coworkers, friends, or family members with Black and brown skin as proof that racial injustice and inequality are not your problems either, let me gently say as a sister who’s been there that it’s time to change the way you’re thinking.
Scripture clearly defines how we ought to think about others:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as
more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests,
but rather to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4 (CSB)
As a white woman, for a long time I didn’t see racism as my problem because it didn’t affect my own interests. This thinking is unbiblical, and it’s wrong. My pride said, “Look at my diverse circle of friends, family, and acquaintances. Five gold stars for me, please!” It saddens me to admit this.
Admitting our false thinking and sinful patterns is critical to repentance and crucial to reconciliation.
People are not tokens. People are not symbols of status or progress or political correctness. If you have willfully or accidentally made someone a token in your organization, business, personal life, or mind, now’s a good time to confess, repent, and do better.
As the community manager here at (in)courage, I love that our circle of writers includes talented women of many hues. I love that each writer brings her unique voice, stories, and culture to our shared table and together we can learn more what the fullness of Christ and the beauty of God’s colorful kingdom looks like. We are all His image bearers, and I see God more clearly through the kaleidoscope of His people.
But I’ve learned and am learning from my past mistakes. Having a diverse writing team is amazing, but that doesn’t mean we’re off the hook from important anti-racism work. As believers in Jesus, it’s our responsibility and privilege to be passionately aware of and proactively advocating for others’ interests.
One small way we’re going to pursue this in the months ahead is by hosting ongoing (in)courage Community Conversations around the topic of racism. (Find our first one here and stay tuned for more!) We’ll continue to gather as friends and sisters in Christ to humbly listen and learn from each other.
I’m both convicted and encouraged by James’ words:
Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.
James 1:19-21 (MSG)
Friends, I’ve still got so much more growing to do, but I’m grateful the Gardener is patient and He’s provided a community like this to be open with and grow together. Here’s to leading with our ears and giving thanks that tomorrow brings new mercies.
As believers in Jesus, it’s our responsibility and privilege to be passionately aware of and proactively advocating for others’ interests. -@beckykeife: Click To Tweet