Racial Reconciliation Conversation Stoppers

If we truly want to advance the cause of racial reconciliation, there are several unhelpful things which are better not to say.

All lives matter.
White privilege.
My grandfather didn’t own slaves.
White supremacy.
Everyone has the same opportunity.
Systemic racism.
I can’t see how anyone can vote for _______.
Don’t you know the statistics?
If you believe in equality, you must support these protests.

These phrases and statements, and those like them, close down conversation because they close minds as well. When your black friend hears you say, “All lives matter,” he may assume you are discounting injustice or ignoring his daily reality. And when your white friend hears you refer to systemic racism, he wonders how a racist nation can elect a black president, and why people of color still flock here.

When you say, “My grandfather didn’t own slaves,” your black friend hears you dismissing the cruelty to which his own forbears were subject. When your white friend hears you mention white supremacy, he thinks you are associating every white person, including him, with lynchings and the KKK.

When your black friend hears you speak of America as the land of equal opportunity, he wonders if you are aware of the many civil rights laws ignored over the years. When your white friend hears you say, “white privilege,” he immediately wants to tell you how he has worked hard for all he has achieved because “no one gave me a thing.”

When your black friend hears you talk about Candidate A in glowing terms, he assumes that you have not heard that the media has repeatedly identified him as a racist. When your white friend hears you criticize Candidate A, he wonders if you have fairly assessed his record, and why you think Candidate B is better for the city.

When your black friend hears you emphasize the number of murders every weekend in Chicago, he may assume you are ignoring or even excusing racially motivated violence. When your white friend hears you talk about white policemen killing black suspects, he wonders if you assume that every such killing is unjustified and racially motivated.

When your black friend hears you talk about the rioting and looting, he thinks you may be forgetting why the protests began. When your white friend hears you talk about which lives matter, he wonders if you know who is funding the protests and using them to promote violence.

When we discuss these things, as we should and must, it’s good to drop the incendiary and questionable language, and use terms on which all can agree. And we desperately need to find such terms.

What we call something is very important, and certain words and phrases in our day have been redefined, cut loose from traditional moorings, and the issues themselves, politicized. The social and moral realities of racism do not always track with the way the word “racism” currently is being used. Moral and political realities are not the same.

We must stop defending ourselves in the moment, and just listen compassionately to another’s experience. Until that happens, we will keep arguing two different points of view, both of which are sincere and truthful, but may not take everything into account.

Like most issues in a fallen world, this is a sin problem, not a skin problem, and we need daily reminding of the level ground at the foot of the Cross. We also need reminding that we see things only from our vantage point, and to get the whole picture takes many sets of eyes.

Paul captured the medium for such dialogue in this beautiful tribute: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

“Father, help us listen, learn from, and love one another, so that the world may see that we are yours. In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

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