I have a confession to make. When I was new to conversations on race and culture, I got upset a lot . . . like a lot a lot.
There was the time a random woman behind me in the check out lane at the grocery store said I looked beautiful, like “exotic beautiful,” and though I had a smile plastered on my face as I said, “thank you,” inwardly I was fuming. Who does she think she is, calling me exotic, I thought to myself. There have been the countless times people have asked me, “What are you exactly?” and “Where are you from?” — questions that made me feel like a foreigner and a misfit. One time, a guy called me “Pocahontas,” and he meant it as a compliment-insult. Each time an incident like this occurred, I’d say very little in the moment, but then I’d go home and vent to my husband, or to my friends, or (as is often the case when you insult a writer), I’d write those people into infamy.
Lord, forgive me.
I’d like to say that those days are far behind me. It’s not that I don’t ever get offended anymore. I do. But I’ve also learned a valuable lesson over the years: it’s better to forgive than to fume.
We live in a day and age in which getting offended at every slight is in vogue. The question about race that rubbed you the wrong way, the compliment about your hair or skin color or an article of clothing gone wrong, the off-handed comment about your ethnic heritage or culture that felt like a slap in the face. Instead of either letting the words slide off, or perhaps gently leaning in to ask for clarity, we dismiss, disengage, and dishonor.
I’ve come to see that there is no path for healing for the person who turns everything into a fight (and that includes me).
Worse, we’ve conditioned ourselves to ascribe motive to people’s words and actions. Someone didn’t just make a comment on culture or race or justice that we disagree with. Now we’ve decided that they said what they said because they’re an insensitive person or because they’re privileged or even, perhaps, because they’re trying to flex their power over us. Then we find out a week, or a month, or a year later that the person we thought was a full-blown racist was, in fact, just coming from a different angle, or that we misheard them, or perhaps we just didn’t have a category to understand what they were saying, but now we do. Reality is rarely what we think it is.
In race conversations, we need to forgive people, because God forgives us. But I want to take that even a step further. I have made it my goal in life to not be easily offended, because God isn’t easily offended with me.
I love how it states in Colossians 3:13: “Bear with one another and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” As Christians, we are called to forgive. And, if it’s hard for us to forgive, then we haven’t understood the full scope of God’s forgiveness toward us. Every day of our lives, we sin against God, and yet He’s quick to show us mercy and grace. God doesn’t burn us, or cancel us, or shame us. God’s treatment of us is the model for how we are to treat one another.
That’s not to say that we turn a blind eye on real-world problems or become insensitive to the hurting in the world. But we do have the power to not be bothered by people’s questions and comments. We have the power to not assume motive or intent. Because we have the Holy Spirit living and breathing within us, we have been given the power to be unoffendable.
Here’s what this could look like in everyday scenarios:
- Did a family member make an off-hand comment about another person’s culture or ethnic community? You might feel ready to bring out your pitchfork. Instead, try a gentle approach. Respond with something simple, such as, “Hmm, that’s an interesting perspective. Could you tell me more?” If you’re not willing to truly listen to them and make them feel heard, don’t address their comment at all.
- Did someone on the internet post about a race-related issue that just sent your nerves firing? Instead of typing a comment that would most likely escalate the tension, stop and pray for them (and yourself). Consider whether it’s possible for you to just keep scrolling and move on with your day. Remember, you don’t need to pick fights with everyone you disagree with. If you feel strongly about what the person has said, DM them and communicate a humble, respectful desire for dialogue, if they’re open to it. If you don’t know the person, why are you even trying to engage them in the first place?
- Did someone at work, at church, or in your community make a comment about you that feels like a dig on your physical appearance, ethnic heritage, or cultural way of life? If so, is it possible for you to just laugh it off? Humor is a wonderful way to brush off perceived slights. Could you choose to respond with a genuine smile and a kind reply that invites them to get as excited about your culture as you are? As the old saying goes, kill them with kindness.
Christians should be the most forgiving people on the face of this planet, because we know best what it means to be forgiven. When it comes to race conversations, may the world know we are Christians by our love, our grace, and our inability to be easily offended. Meeting people where they’re at is the healthy, Christ-centered way forward.