In light of the recent tragedies related to race, inequality, and violence, this Edmund Burke quote keeps flashing through my mind: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
I feel like one of the good [women] doing nothing.
When protests were going on near our house the other day, I looked at my husband and said, “Why aren’t we there? I feel like the white person who never participated in a Civil Rights march or sit-in during the 60’s. If we’re not actively against inequality, then we’re complicit in it…right?” And yet, we didn’t go. Couldn’t get a sitter for our kids in time. It felt a little scary and out of my comfort zone. We didn’t know anyone attending. Our presence probably wouldn’t even make a difference. All reasons….but good enough ones?
I want to ameliorate racial tensions and inequalities, but at the same time, I don’t quite know what to do. I know that I am called by Christ to love all of his children. I have heard that being an ally means that I should say something, or get in the fight, to stand up for anyone who is being put down.
I am outraged that we live in a world where someone can’t reach for a wallet without fear of being mistaken for pulling a gun. But my outrage isn’t doing much.
I am ashamed that so many black and minority Americans face indignity after indignity and do not feel heard nor do they expect that change will come. But my shame isn’t changing much.
I am fed up with the educational and economic divides that run along racial lines, particularly where I live in Atlanta. But my frustration isn’t solving much.
I am fearful for the many policemen who so selflessly put their lives on the line every day and who, because of the horrible actions of a few, are now unfairly viewed with distrust and distain. But my fear won’t save them much.
I hope in the reconciliation my church (Buckhead Church, Pastor Andy Stanley) is trying to foster. This candid conversation –about race, our nation, and what, as Christians, we are called to do during a time of racial division such as this–took the place of the sermon on Sunday, and it was so powerful that I had to go back and listen again. I have posted it here, and I encourage anyone who is feeling discouraged to watch or listen.
I distinctly remember the few powerful times when, in middle school and high school, I stood up to a bully for someone else. Once, some boys, friends of mine, were making fun of a lower-classmen by pretending to be nice to him. This was not a racially motivated situation; it was a group of boys flexing their social-capital muscles. “Dan, come sit next to us,” they snickered. “Yeah, put your book bag here and join us.” Giggle, giggle. “I’m the coolest cause Dan is sitting next to me.” “Yeah, the coolest,” snicker. Dan warily joined them, looking at these guys, wondering what was coming next, whether they were actually being nice or just pretending. They were just pretending, of course, and the worst part was that they were using their niceness to be cruel. I remember feeling torn up inside, hating what they were doing, but feeling a little powerless to say anything. But then, my conscience won out over my loyalty to my peers, “quit it, y’all. Let’s go, Dan.”
Here is my problem. In that situation, it was clear who the bullies were. There was a face. There was a moment. I either don’t have the opportunities or I am blind to the moments to “stand-up” to racism. Does my white-privilege just blind me? Am I a bystander, or worse, the bully, without even knowing it? How can I stand-up to a system? How can I face down history? How can I put my arm around entire races of people and tell them to come sit with me? Is writing this post even a start?
Mother Teresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.” I very much doubt the ripples of this writing will have any tsunami-like effect. I could scarcely imagine giving speeches in front of multitudes or inspiring others to action by my heroic deeds. But there are moments, everyday moments when I might do a small thing with great love.
When a neighbor of mine, a little rough around the edges, makes a racist or sexist joke, my usual response, rolling my eyes and frowning, is no longer enough. Perhaps I can, with great love, ask him not to make jokes like that.
When over the Holiday dinner table, a relative of mine starts to speak in stereotypes about “black people” or “Muslims” or “women” or “gays,” my usual tactic of changing the topic will no longer be enough. Perhaps I might have the courage to gently but firmly challenge those assumptions.
When I overhear a student in the hallway say, “that’s so ghetto,” my typical correction of a raised eye-brow will no longer be going far enough. Perhaps I might kindly start a conversation with that student about the power of words.
Jesus told us to love our neighbor. Being loving doesn’t mean being a polite pushover, but I have often confused it as such. Too often, I remember only the first part of 1 Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” If these were the only characteristics of love, I would never be able to challenge my neighbor or family member about race, religion, ethnicity.
But that is not the end of love: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (emphasis added). Can I protect one neighbor by persevering with and hoping in the goodness of another? Can I trust my neighbors and family to understand where I’m coming from in those moments I challenge them?
I think I am learning that I must.