As an international organization, we value the candor with which colleagues speak into our lives. Coming from other cultures, they see things we don’t. They help correct our blind spots. With that in mind, we’re posting this piece written by a European partner.
I’m sure we’re grieved about the events in the U.S. and once again have racism on our minds, which sadly we also see in many of the places we serve. Here is an imperfect attempt from a white European living in Asia to not be silent on racism.
Should I say something about racism? Yes, but I’ve hesitated. Letting everyone know how appalled I am over the unjust killing of George Floyd, perhaps adding a powerful quote by Martin Luther King, and then getting on with my evening just feels inauthentic. Like I’m just making sure I said something so people know that I care or that I’m some champion for justice. One African-American leader wrote this week that silence often speaks volumes and that more white people should speak up. I don’t want to be silent.
I’m a white European living in Asia; how should I respond? If you’re interested, here are some imperfect suggestions that came to mind. I’d be keen to hear your responses and suggestions. Too often we make anti this or that statements and then offer no action steps.
– Listen. Really listen. Listen in order to understand. Many of us assume we understand racism but we’ve never experienced it first hand or really heard those who have. I can posture myself to listen and learn. It can keep me from saying and doing unhelpful, insensitive things, from making sweeping generalizations and assumptions, using non-constructive language (e.g. ‘we should be colourblind’), labeling people or putting them in neat categories.
– Teach. I have some influence; we all do. For example in our homes. This morning we spoke with our children about racism and why it is wrong. As a Christian, this is rooted in the belief that God created the people of every nation and ethnicity with equal value and dignity and in instructions such as loving our neighbour as we love ourselves and in the example of the early church which was made up of people from many nations and ethnicities, including in its leadership e.g. Acts 13:1.
A lot of prejudice is passed down the generations. If my children ever have a prejudiced thought or action, I don’t want it to come from anything I said or did! I must lead by example.
– Protest / Campaign / Agitate. Looking back I think I haven’t been angry enough, vocal enough, engaged enough about racism. God hates injustice, oppression, and discrimination. Righteous anger and political and social engagement is more than appropriate. Just because I can’t work full time on every important cause doesn’t mean I’m free to watch from the sidelines while people are being harassed, abused and killed because of their ethnicity. ‘Seek justice, correct oppression.’ Isaiah 1:17 ‘Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts.’ Amos 5:12. So I can protest and wield my righteous anger without sinning. This could be writing to those in authority, using my voice and influence in the workplace, marching non-violently, using the internet. What else?
– Be Consistent. If we’re honest, many of us become vocal about racism for a week after a tragedy like this and hope we sound like we’ve been fervently anti-racist for years. There’s plenty of prejudice going on in our own corners of the world that we must stand against as well. I can engage with that and not just point ‘over there’. If I call out parts of American society on it’s shameful discrimination of black people (and of others), which is perfectly appropriate to do, I should also call it out elsewhere. Those of us living in Asia or who are from Asia, racism is here too. Also, another part of being consistent is to check my own heart for prejudice and…
– Repent. Laws alone can’t stop racism. Hearts have to change. Have I searched mine while I shake my head and post online about how bad ‘those’ people are? Perhaps we find it easier to rail against racism in America but we harbour prejudice against immigrants in our neighbourhoods in Europe? Perhaps you have experienced racism but now you are prejudiced against another nation, ethnicity or tribe. Those of us living and working overseas, have we harboured a superior attitude towards those we live among?
– Be Accountable. Who will challenge me about whether I’m doing these things? What kind of community am I a part of? Would I listen if someone challenged me about my prejudices? In our churches, are we aware and engaged on the issue of race, challenging each other, holding each other accountable to live lives that reflect the character of Jesus?
– Share the good news about Jesus – I’ve not seen anything else that can unite people from different ethnic backgrounds the way Jesus can. I have to accept that parts of the Church have not demonstrated this reality but I still hold it to be true and I’ve seen it around the world. And I know of nothing else that can deal with the heart of the problem, the heart, changing us from the inside out and bringing reconciliation with God and with others.
[No doubt we all believe Interserve must play its part in challenging racism where we see it in our many different contexts. I wonder what this looks like in practical reality? And let’s repent if prejudice or superiority has been present among us.]