White Christians, It’s Time We Repent for Our Racism

We can’t focus so much on the racism out there, as if we remain innocent.

What are we to make of last week’s mass shooting at a Charleston church, in which a young white man took the lives of nine African Americans? Many have called the shooting an act of domestic terrorism, a hate crime, and even “white supremacist terrorism.” Reportedly the shooter even hoped to “start a race war.”

Though easy to condemn, it’s difficult to absorb, much less confront, such racism. But what about the subtler forms of racism we encounter in those around us . . . and even ourselves?

In recent months, I have seen more and more people with fair skin like mine joining protests, lamenting systemic injustice, and condemning acts of racism around the country. Although I’m glad to see such growing zeal for racial equality, I’m struck by how much we focus on the racism out there, as if we ourselves remain innocent.

Implicit racism is even in hearts God is changing

As a Christian, my faith tradition doesn’t let me assume immunity to whole categories of sin.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” wrote the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:23.

Isaiah the prophet gives worse news in Isaiah 64:6: “All our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”

In The Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it this way: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart . . . [E]ven in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an un-uprooted small corner of evil.”

I am living proof of this truth.

Despite my best efforts and noblest aspirations, I become a very selfish commuter when running late. I have misused money, overeaten, taken office supplies, envied others’ romantic success, told and believed lies, used and cursed others, and dishonored my parents. And those are the more mundane examples.

Compared to God’s law, my own standards are far more inconsistent and skewed to favor me, but I haven’t met those either. Given such consistent moral failing in all other parts of my life, why would I ever believe that I’m immune to race-based discrimination and misjudgment?

For the past year, I’ve been earnestly seeking to understand and repent for racism, learn more about systemic injustice, and listen to others’ experiences and perspectives — especially those of African Americans. But just recently, I was reminded anew of how deeply ingrained prejudice and racism is . . . even in a heart I believe God is changing.

At a private event I attended for a largely white group, I noticed an African American man I didn’t recognize getting food. Though it pains me deeply to admit, my first thought was to question his presence, since our group was only using part of the restaurant. Was he a patron who’d missed our event sign?

Then I had a second thought: there were many in the group I didn’t know; perhaps he was someone I hadn’t yet met. Thankfully I acted on that assumption and introduced myself — he proved to be the guest of a friend.

As Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan wrote earlier this year, “Even if, in our slow thinking, we work to avoid discrimination, it can easily creep into our fast thinking. Our snap judgments rely on all the associations we have — from fictional television shows to news reports. They use stereotypes, both the accurate and the inaccurate, both those we would want to use and ones we find repulsive.”

Only diverse relationships unveil our blind spots

When I first began to recognize my own racism, I felt deep shame.

This sin seemed so awful I didn’t want to admit it to anyone. Worse yet was the thought of confessing it to my African American friends. How could they ever accept me, much less forgive me?

But as I began to acknowledge my sin and blind spots, I didn’t find the rejection and shunning I had feared, but instead gained closer, more honest relationships. I am still very new to this journey. With courage comes greater boldness in some conversations, and probably greater offense. Yet through those precious relationships, more and more lies I’ve believed about other people become exposed and stripped away.

Several months ago, a fellow Christian asked me, “Wouldn’t my Bible reading convict me if I had a problem with racism?” The question implied a belief that we’re the best judges of our own sin.

But blind spots — which often fuel racism — are invisible to the blinded one. It takes the challenge of others’ input to realize how much we distort or can’t see. Even then, people publicly accused of racism often deny that they’re guilty of prejudice.

If those in your circle of relationships mostly look like you, who in your life could even be accountable for telling you that they sensed some racism in a remark, assumption, or interaction? People who look like you probably share the same blind spots — and therefore probably would not pick up on implicit racism.

Even if you do have more diverse relationships, could you receive a suggestion of racism without attacking or dismissing the speaker? As Professor Robin DiAngelo recently noted, white people almost never respond well to feedback about racism, regardless of who provides it.

The Bible leaves us no room to proclaim innocence

As the nation collectively mourns the most recent wicked assault, I would plea with all of us, but especially my fellow white Christians, to consider and repent for our racism.

So long as we deny this sin, we continue to hurt our brothers and sisters, grieve the Holy Spirit, and miss knowing the parts of God he reveals in those whose equal humanity we deny.

I do not believe we can see real change until more of us take responsibility for our own racism. The Bible does not give us room to proclaim innocence.

Perhaps it starts with a prayer along these lines: “Father, where I am guilty of racism, expose it, and help me be willing to confront and confess my sin. Bring forth the healing in our midst that you intend for your kingdom, so that we might see and experience more of who you truly are.”

You could also use the prayer of St. Francis or the Book of Common Prayer’s prayers for social justice or times of conflict. If we start by taking the necessary steps to acknowledge the evil in our hearts, we can begin to confront the problem of racism from the inside out.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Anna Broadway
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  • David Crupe

    This is very sad, you make it out to be as if ONLY WHITE Christians can be racist. That’s not good, not good at all. Way to put everyone in the same group. *Ps, a study was done that shows blacks are in fact the most racist group. -Don’t bring up the racist line with me, the first University I graduated from was a predominantly black school, some of my best friends are black, and my wife and I even tried to adopt a black child. I’m just stating the facts.

    • bakabomb

      I’m not gonna say you’re kidding yourself because I’m not in any position to show that. But do you realize when you say “blacks are in fact the most racist group”, that pretty much fits the textbook definition of “psychological projection”? If you’re stating a fact there, surely you can supply a link to back it up? Thanks.

      • xaade

        That would be a hard thing to do, because prejudice is subjective.

        I might find a reason to not like someone, and then they associate it with any number of categories they fit into. Now I’m a racist, sexist, trans-sexist, etc.

        • Carly

          at the end of the day, you gotta do what’s right for you and your family.
          if you don’t want to associate with someone because of your “gut feel” and how that person won’t gibe with your family or will cause a relationship problem down the road, then you have to do what you have to do.
          and ignore the people who want to run your life and tell you how to live.
          I put it this way, have you ever sat at a stop sign, waiting to pull out into a busy street? Have you ever had someone blare their horn to get you to move on it? What do you tell yourself? Do you swerve into the road to get that person to stop, or do you get mad and wait or do something passive aggressive like make them wait extra long? How you respond tells a lot about how you cope with peer pressure.
          When someone does that to me, I say to myself, I’m taking all the risks here, so I get to go when I feel comfortable with the traffic, how fast my car can make the move, and when I’m calm enough to do it safely.
          In other words, don’t get flustered by people honking their horns at you, calling you a racist, sexist, etc.
          You do what you know is right for you and your family. Don’t live your life like you are on trial, having to defend your every actions.

          • xaade

            I get it.
            But I feel like, we’ve created a super hostile environment, where everyone has to tiptoe around people’s feelings.
            You know what, everyone is responsible for their own feelings.

            The problem with taking racism and turning favoritism into an extension of racism, is that people don’t realize how far that goes.

            Let’s say you have the opportunity to show favor to a friend at a workplace. You reference your friend’s skills and your friend gets hired. Was that equal opportunity? No. Your friend had a better chance. In essence, you’re now a racist.

            Let me show you how. If your friends happen to be all the same race as you, it would be indistinguishable from racism. And we’ve turned into a society that judges based on equity, or equal results, not the availability of results.

            And if your friend happens to be white male cis-gender, this automatically fits into the category of “prejudice”.

            But it’s not, it is favoritism.

            Prejudice would be if you purposefully choose to never give someone a chance based on their traits. Favoritism is if you happen to prefer people because you know them. You are going to know more people that share your traits. And not only that, but there tend to be more straight white able-bodied males than any other group. So the chances for a black person to show favoritism to a white person are higher than the reverse. And since society judges based on outcome, due to laziness or due to purposeful distortion of facts, they take that and fit it into prejudice.

            So, if you’re showing preference and favor to your friends, you are a “-ist”, because by extension, you’ve locked out other people, by the simple trait of not-knowing-them.

            And so, when you judge a person based on the outcomes around that person, it is likely you’ll “discover deep seated -isms”. And this creates a hostile environment, where people feel their favoritism and comfort around people that are similar to them is prejudice against people not similar to them. And this creates divisions between people, because everyone has these preferences. EVERYONE.

            And to put undue weight on the favor and preference that, specifically, white people feel, is creating a guilt economy, that if we allow to internalize into the Kingdom, will only tear us apart.

          • Crowley

            My goodness, you use a lot of words to say what my old sociology professor did:
            “People think in categories to take off the cognitive load.”
            I would add that we think this way because we’re hardwired this way.
            Most hires are based off recommendations. Most recommendations are based on someone’s personal experience.
            I’m often tapped by friends to find them job leads, but I don’t push them through the process. When I dig up leads, I’m thinking of good fits – for company and friend. They have to apply and impress the screener.
            I’ve never had a friend slight me for not “making it happen” for them, because my friends are people who want to chase and win the opportunity on their own.
            What about recommendations?
            Pick outstanding friends and you don’t have a problem recommending them because you believe in their abilities and are honored to speak up for them.
            And if someone calls that racist (a clumsy, unsophisticated ill-fitting label), well, I have examples in my hip pocket that I befriend people across the races and socioeconomic categories. Why? Because talent transcends, and I know when I’m lucky enough to brush up against it.

          • xaade

            It doesn’t matter if you are not “making it happen”. The fact of the matter is that, if everyone, recommends their friends for hire, as this number reaches the point of being 100% of what the company has time to look at, then you’ve created a system of preference based on association. This is nepotism, whether or not you’re purposely hiring solely for this reason, it ends up inevitably that you hire solely for this reason.

            I had a much better construction of this point at a time, but I’ve lost it. That’s why I’m saying it in so many words, to try to remember what that way I made the point was.

            It’s not racism per say. I’m saying it’s, in effect, is no difference than the modern mis-use of the term racism.

            Because the modern definition of racism is equal *outcomes*. People don’t realize that’s what they’ve done with the word, because they don’t associate the way they measure it, with the definition. But from statistics, and practicality, the way you define a word is the way you determine it.

            Purposeful hatred and discrimination has turned into incidental (not-preference).

            I mean, you can’t even say something like, “I’m less attracted to people of [race]”, without someone saying you’re racist. It’s just ironic for me that I’m less attracted to people of my own race, preferring East Asians instead.

      • Carly

        Maybe the study backs up David Crupe’s personal experience. Maybe it’s not projection.
        Maybe Crupe reads studies that back up his perceptions. Most people do that. It’s called confirmation bias. Like what you did when you honed in on the phrase that stuck with you, and discounted the balance of his post.
        Maybe there are elements of truth to the study. Maybe it’s woefully flawed.
        Either way, you’re a long way from diagnosing him as displaying “psychological projection.”

    • Carly

      When you tried to adopt a black child, did you get pushback?

      I learned that there can be a lot of resistance to allowing that – yes, even in 2015.

      I did extensive reading about “transracial adoption” – and there is an excellent “Voices” series of books, interviewing all the stakeholders in adoption, even the children and their impressions. Also, there is a relatively new-ish movie out there called Connected – you can watch it on Amazon. Lovely little film.

      Anyway, there are still people who believe that transracial adoption is a last resort only option.
      I’m just sad that in 2015 we’re not there yet.

      At the end of the day, though, the people who care the most will surmount the obstacles and overcome.

    • Mervin Malone

      “….he first University I graduated from was a predominantly black school,
      some of my best friends are black, and my wife and I even tried to adopt
      a black child. I’m just stating the facts.”

      Uhm — well hallelujah. You DO realize that the whole “some of my best friends are black” mantra is one of the oldest and most redundant canons in the heart of a white racist, don’t you? I looked at your Facebook profile; you like “The Kelly File”, “O’Reilly Factor” and other fear-mongering Fox “news” programs — which suggests to me that you are likely one of the most unknowingly racist people in contemporary American society! The programs on Fox news REGULARLY inflame white fears of blacks, not to mention foment misunderstanding of poverty, class etc. You really need to ask your reputedly “Christian” god for guidance, because they path the hell is paved with human indifference.

  • bakabomb

    This is where we can borrow a concept from 12-step programs. Step 4 is to “Take a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” The key words are “searching” and “fearless”. Just as it’s human nature to hold off going to the doctor when we’re having symptoms — because we’re frightened of what she may find — it’s human nature to hold off baring ourselves to our Creator for fear of what we might discover about ourselves. But we have to learn to transcend that part of our human nature that holds us back because of fear. That’s what enables us to dig way down and clean out whatever may need it, with God’s help.

    I’m a bunch of different ethnicities: Hawaiian, English, Chinese, French, Pilipino, Swedish. I don’t have the luxury of living at war with myself! And neither do I have the luxury of living at odds with those of other ethnicities. So I daren’t take it for granted that just because I’m multiethnic, I don’t have a trace or two of racism left in me. I try to treat everyone I meet as if they were kin, because who knows — they just might be! But we’re all fallible, and I know it’s only by grace that I can be fully freed of all bias and prejudice.

    • Carly

      I have a nephew, who is also from many different ethnicities: 1/2 Jamaican (West Indian-Sikh) and 1/2 average white person (which breaks down to 1/2 Welsh, 1/4 German, and 1/4 Irish). Throughout his teen years he said he hated white people, including his dad, and his white grandpa smelled like old people, though that “old person” paid for his private college courses.

      Not everyone embraces all their identity. You cultivated that attitude. Or your parents impressed it on you. Or your environment.

  • Carly

    My school friends called me “white devil” while we studied the civil war together. Other classmates said, “White people smell like dog when it rains.” I was kicked on the bus for sitting in a seat after asking a black girl if she minded if i sat beside her and she said “no” (oops, she didn’t know what “do you mind” means). Me and my black friend were accused of racism against an interracial girl because she was bossy and we gave up playing with her for that reason only. I attended “dollar camp” (poor kids’ camp) and was one of three white kids (my brother, sister and me), and we learned how to fight back when the counselors egged a kid to fight us.
    I could go on … tell you how loitering boys treated me as I walked on by. Told me things a 14 yr old girl shouldn’t hear. I dealt with them – and they never bothered me again: calm, cool confidence and letting someone know you aren’t afraid to get real loud if someone bothers you.
    But none of this keeps me from being friends with decent people of different races and different religions and different sexual persuasions – and, yes, I believe Jesus is the son of God, and He came for all, yet He is the One Way, and if He loves me, despite my mess, to make me better, then I can love the world in its pathetic condition, and if He loves the Church in its harlot state, then I have to love the Church, too.

    With that said, I’m no fool. As scripture says, Be innocent as doves and wise as snakes.
    I watch who I keep company with.
    Here’s my list of people I discriminate against, meaning I don’t associate:
    Hardcore alcoholics, druggies, people who don’t respect themselves or others in speech or in actions, people who chronically complain and don’t lift a finger to make anything better, people who lie and put down others and gossip.
    I don’t associate with them, or I try not to, because I don’t want to fall into their pit of misery with them. I don’t want to go that way. I have enough problems and attitudes to sort out – pride and getting mad at being slighted – that God won’t tolerate. I don’t need to add more problems with it.
    Am I bad because I discriminate? Let God be my judge, and admonish me kindly brother and sisters.

  • Carly

    Last I checked my skin was white…
    Today, while working, I listened to back-2-back sermons from Tony Evans (he’s been my fav for 20+ years)
    Years back I voted for Alan Keyes (against McCain and Bush)
    I always had more black than white friends (school, work, neighborhood) – we just clicked, humor and culture wise ..
    Haha!!
    anyway, the writer of this article might want to not use such a broad brush to paint us all with…

  • Stan Dathwart

    It doesn’t work for me to presume myself guilty until proven innocent. I am not a big believer in self-inflicted guilt. Nothing good comes of it. I don’t honestly know what in Peoria she is talking about because ‘racism’ is almost a code word, lacking a clear Scriptural framework so that it can mean most anything bad one might do. It is no news bulletin to any sane believer that he or she has violated the second great commandment in more ways than can be imagined. Any spiritually healthy person has accepted it, sought forgiveness for it, received the forgiveness and moved on in joy on a consistent basis. Why is this article something new?

  • xaade

    I think you’re confusing racism with culturalism.

    I can tell you that when I meet a foreign black person, a black person that acts like me, a black person with a british accent, or any number of cultures outside of inner-city uneducated black with a chip on their shoulder, I don’t have the same jarring hesitation. I can tell you that the innercity white-hispanic-asian kids all act exactly the same as the innercity black kids. It’s a specific culture, not a race. And I think that’s more to do with what I’ve allowed myself to experience, rather than racism itself.

    If you keep watching the news, portraying the criminal things that some black people do, you’re going to harbor a distrust of black people. If you, instead, meet as many black people as you can, serve them with hospitality and humility, you will begin to shed off that distrust.

    However, I don’t agree that this distrust is a form of racism. It’s not racist to question the only black at a gathering of white people. I can say that I’ve experienced the same thing in reverse when I attended gatherings of black people. They have a double-take, they move on, and we’re all happy. You should have been there when I had brought a black coworker home because she didn’t have a ride. Strolling through a black neighborhood with a 45 year black lady, as a 17 year old white kid, gets you lots of looks. It wouldn’t bother me one bit if someone thought, “OMG there’s a white kid kidnapping grandma”. Have you seen the Madea movie where she has to harbor white people in a witness protection program. It’s hilarious what happens, but it’s not racist.

    We have these hesitations because of natural tendencies to feel more comfortable in what we know. I can tell you that when I look at my coworkers, I don’t see race; I see individuals.

    But that all aside.

    What I won’t do, is assume that all these natural hesitations due to self-preservation, is due to a hidden racism (which would mean that I hated black people simply because they were black).

    Because what you are asking us to do, is buy into the rhetoric that we somehow owe the loud obnoxious, division-seeking, political correct loud-speakers and agree to their lies.

  • Carly

    About this guilt Anna feels (in her eyes, the white culture feels) … The overanalysis and hand-wringing makes it all apparent. How can we ever experience abundant life, freedom, and love like Jesus invites us to?
    Hey, I know! Let’s poke holes in the air, speechify, and wring our hands over the state of our hearts, pass the leather strap to flog our backs … so we’ll feel better about ourselves, right? Right? Because more words is better than actual action, right? And condemning a whole demographic puts us on the right side of the issue, the one who revels in scorning the straw man wrong side, and we can do even more speechifying without really changing anything.