Man on top of a mountain holding a tapestry

When I Felt Heard by a White Man

Written By Justin Morris, USA

When it comes to sports, wearing the right shoe is critical to one’s successes or failures. Whether adequate skates on the ice hockey rink, sneakers that support the stopping, turning, and cutting motions required to excel on the basketball court, or the agility and freedom of movement apportioned by the perfect pair of cleats, it’s imperative to find your footing if you want to thrive.

But in the game of life, navigating difficult turf does not come with a fix as simple as strapping up the perfect pair of kicks.

And the most recent obstacles that life has thrown at us have been curveballs nearly impossible to hit.

They’ve come with a frightening abundance: COVID-19, political warfare, relationship challenges, increased racial tensions.

The last though, has become a focal point in the dialogues of many throughout the United States since millions bore witness to George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of a police officer in May.

 

A Paralyzing Reality

To many, these racial tensions are everyday life obstacles to hurdle—not newly emerging problems. I am one of the many: a Black man who calls America home.

Racial injustice was institutionally woven into the fabric of America long before the country’s independence1. George Floyd, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are just the recent names that have crescendo’d their way into the wavelengths of national media airways. They’re names that have commanded the attention and empathy of millions across the globe, and left many feeling paralyzed.

Some people are paralyzed because of the tremendous work they believe it would take to begin fixing such a flawed society.

Others are paralyzed because of the discomfort of even sparking a conversation with a friend or coworker about how they’ve maneuvered through their own racial turmoil.

And for many, simply wishing for a more utopian civilization with love and equality for all just seems easier than doing something about it.

 

A Hopeful Encounter

I recently had a conversation with a white teacher I met at a protest after the now-infamous killing of George Floyd, and it’s given me hope that we can move beyond the paralysis.

The teacher had been a middle-school aged instructor for nearly 30 years. Although he had been alive for many of the past violent travesties that occurred against the Black minority in America, his assimilation to his own predominantly white culture kept him from seeing many of the injustices we’ve been facing for decades.

During our discussion, the teacher was utterly shocked and dismayed to learn about some of the perils people faced based on the color of their skin. As he learned about the unfairness of the way of life that some had to navigate on a regular basis, I could feel his growing disgust at that reality.

For me, his questions seemed trivial. “So you’re always worried about how you’re coming across, and weary of not appearing threatening?” “Does police presence really bother you?” “Are you conscious of being followed around certain stores, or going into the wrong neighborhoods?”

Every answer was a resounding, unequivocal “yes” from my standpoint. But the gap between our realities was entirely eye-opening for me. While my own existence is plagued by mistreatment due to the color of my skin, he had lived completely unaware of this.

 

Taking the First Step

This man’s prior unconsciousness to the Black plight exposed a significant reason these issues continue to persist. And I felt dejected.

But I think the key to finding a solution to a problem—even one as paralyzing as racial injustice—is to first, recognize it.

My dejection turned to a glimmer of hope for me as our conversation continued. This man was interested in my story, eager in sympathizing with my pain, and open to the dialogue that needed to be had. All of these are extreme rarities in my experience, so that exchange was precious to me.

And I think that’s a crucial step to real transition: humble hearts and a willingness to hear about others’ experiences.

There is no commandment greater than the one that prompts us to love God. Jesus tells us in Mark 12 though, that with this love comes another that’s just as important:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’

We can’t love God without loving all of His people.

Skin color is nothing more than a divine characteristic of outer uniqueness. But inside, you and I have a mind, a spirit, a soul. A God-like creature, made in His image.

That’s what I am. That’s what you are.

And to understand that the similarities between our minds, bodies, and souls far outweighs any differences between them is monumental.

That’s what the teacher I spoke with courageously chose to do: to unravel his own long-held conceptions of reality, and to make himself available to hearing about the circumstances of another fellow image-bearer.

So while there are many worthy and feasible ways of making waves, the truest, and deepest form of change comes from our own hearts—and what we must do above all with that powerful organ that fuels us all is simple: allow the Holy Spirit to open them up to loving and listening to one another.

  1. Tisby, Jemar. Color of Compromise. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019
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