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October 2018

6 Things I Tell People Before They Start Talking About Race

6 Things I Tell People Before They Start Talking About Race 710 250 Corey Leak

It seems like everywhere you turn these days, you’ll hear race at the center of conversation. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports talk radio, the nightly news, social media or your favorite television show. Everyone is talking about race. If you or someone you know has been reluctant to engage in the conversation, here are some things you should know:

1. It’s not as scary as it seems.

Polarizing conversations are hard, and few conversations are more polarizing than dialog along racial lines. Racial discussion is driven by people on the extreme outer edges, and for that reason can appear scarier than it actually is. Reasonable people can engage in tough talks without stooping to personal attacks or harmful rhetoric.

2. Listen. 

None of us get to interpret someone else’s experience for them, but I’ve witnessed people try over and over again. I once heard it said that: a person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument. Approaching issues of race from a solely statistical point of view dishonors the human experience at the core of the conversation. When a person shares their story about how their race has impacted their lives, our job is to listen.

3. Don’t try to “win”.

It seems like some people jump into important conversations to win an argument or prove how intelligent they are. That type of approach isn’t helpful when engaging in a discourse aimed at healing. If my goal is to help, then I have little time for going back and forth with someone intent on proving that they are right.  No one wins a shouting match, so don’t bother trying.

4. Know when to walk away.

If you are a person trying to move us forward as a society, then it’s important to recognize that not everyone has that same agenda. There is a difference between an ignorant fool and an arrogant fool. The former is open to dialog and growth. The latter is looking to validate their own bias.

5. Play the long game. 

The race conversation has been around for thousands of years, so don’t approach it from the naive prospective that your experiences, ideas, questions, or data will have an overnight affect. When we adjust to the reality that every generation has a responsibility to chip away at hatred and injustice, we have more peace and a greater sense of resolve. We could be the generation to end racism, but only time will tell.

6. Privilege affects your lens

None of us can do anything about our history. We can’t change the family we were born into, the ethnicity we were born a part of or the path our parents put us on. We bring all of that to the conversations we have. If I enter a race conversation from a place of privilege, it will affect what I say and how I say it. White people talking about issues of race are without question speaking from a place of privilege. It’s not something to be sorry for or feel guilty over. Neither of those sentiments are actually helpful. It is helpful to recognize that a privileged lens blinds you to what it feels like to be a minority, which makes #2 your most valuable take away.

 

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One Race

One Race 704 396 Corey Leak

There is a damaging  idea out there that many of us in the faith community have been taught to believe. It is disguised as a virtuous, just, and inclusive idea, but beneath the surface it eats away at the fabric of culture. It’s a pathogen masquerading as a cure for what ails humanity. We’ve been served heavy doses of this ideology in recent years as politicians and predominantly, faith based communities have tried to heal the wounds of a divided Nation. The idea that we’ve bought into is that we are all ONE RACE.

https://www.facebook.com/chuckbernal/videos/10156776390602915/

Let me very clear here. Priscilla Shirer is a brilliant communicator and by all accounts an extraordinary woman. Her messages have had profound impact around the world. I’ve been laboring over whether or not I would share this video as an example of the rhetoric that I believe is unhealthy because it’s not my intent to be divisive. I’ve now had a couple people ask for my thoughts on this particular video, so I felt it would be appropriate to share what I believe about what Shirer said in this clip.

I was also recently on a panel at an event where Dr John Perkins was speaking. He shared some disparaging remarks about the Black Lives Matter movement that drew some uneasy and awkward responses from people of color in the crowd.

Image result for dr john perkins

I was then asked about my views regarding the movement. Needless to say, I disagreed with him. Dr Perkins is a remarkable man and true advocate for unity. That doesn’t mean we are not allowed to disagree with him or any other leader within the faith community who hold ideologies we believe to be damaging to culture such as the One Race theology that Shirer and Perkins have preached.

It’s true that regardless of our individual ethnic origin, we are all part of the human race. It’s also true that the idea of race has been used as a tool to subjugate black people to whites, and in an effort to walk back the damage done by racism, some faith based leaders of color have been the primary carriers of the message that race/ethnicity doesn’t matter. I know that race and ethnicity aren’t the same thing, but to speak in common language and meet the conversation where it is, I will use the terms interchangeably. Allow me to share a few of the reasons I’m disturbed by the One Race idea.

God never asked us to choose. 

If you’ve ever heard a talk or read Christian material on racial reconciliation, you’ve likely read or heard famous quote from the Apostle Paul about there being neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female… in the Christian faith. It’s been quoted to advance the idea that the Bible, and therefore God, doesn’t place any value on ethnicity. Or, at the very least, that when a person takes on the Christian faith, they are laying down their ethnicity. Interestingly enough, I’ve not seen the same principle applied to gender.

The writers of the Bible were Jewish men who were keenly aware of their own ethnicity and what that meant in society. None of them were color blind. If you were to sit down and read the totality of the writings of Paul, you’d find him consistently wrestling with what it meant for Gentiles (non-Jews) to be welcomed into what had traditionally been a Jewish only religion. Paul himself never claimed that Gentiles were no longer Gentiles or that Jews were no longer Jews. He fought for Gentiles to be welcomed into the Jewish religion in the face of violent opposition, but never ignored the fact that there were different ethnicities in the world. He recognized that the debate of his day came down to ethnicity. Jewish people believed Gentiles to be impure. They believed contact with Gentiles would delay God redeeming the world. It would have been ignorant and evasive of Paul to behave as if there wasn’t an issue to be resolved that centered around race.

Statements such as the ones Shirer made in the above video create a false dichotomy that says I have to choose my ethnicity or my religion. It implies that true piety is the absence of color awareness. Somehow if I’m striving to be exercise my faith well, I’m doing so blind to the color of my skin or the color of others.  It’s plain and simply unnecessary to cast one’s race against their religion. We are never asked to choose one, so why manufacture that issue as a moral quandary?

Society recognizes race.

As I stated above, the authors of the Bible included race in their conversations because it was an issue in the society they lived in. Then, as now, people were treated differently depending on their race. Jewish people dealt with discrimination in the greater Roman world, and Gentiles suffered the same in Jerusalem. Today POC are discriminated against, looked down upon, and even violently harmed because of their race. Those are facts. We don’t get to ignore realities that make us uncomfortable if we are committed to making the world better. Race is an issue that is discussed, and no amount of white washing of the issue will change that. People care deeply about their heritage, and they should. It’s a part of what makes us beautiful.

Unity is broken without diversity.

If God wanted all people to be one shade, one heritage or one culture, why aren’t we born that way? We are created both in the image of God AND in the context of heritage and culture. Religion doesn’t cancel out ethnicity in the same way that it doesn’t cancel out gender. Even Priscilla Shirer’s own remarks reveal that being a woman is part of her identity that she is willing to retain. Our heritage, customs, culture and skin tone are all part of the mosaic God has created to show divine creativity. We shouldn’t dispose of that creativity because tensions exist over it.

Ironically enough, I can’t personally remember seeing any White Evangelicals denouncing their whiteness in an effort to reconcile. Why is it that the burden of denouncing race is carried almost exclusively by people of color? Sometimes the idea that’s presented is that if people of color would accept the dominance of whiteness within American religion and culture, things would be fine. We would have peace. We would have unity. That idea boiled down to its essential truth is that whiteness is the One Race that we should all accept as the culture of faith. I hope you can see the problem with that.

 

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Believe Her (Part 2)

Believe Her (Part 2) 3000 1556 Corey Leak

Believe women. That’s not a controversial statement, but somehow our culture has made it a polarizing phrase. Often times when people hear or read that phrase they interpret it as don’t believe men. It’s similar to how BLACK LIVES MATTER elicited a ALL LIVES MATTER response. Ironically these efforts to lift society to a greater level of inclusion, can make people feel left out. That’s kind of a head scratcher for me. Why can’t we lift the downtrodden without the rest of society balking at the idea of equality?

Both data and routine conversations with women reveal that our world is not a safe space for women to come forward. We rarely adequately punish the perpetrators. We call into question the validity of the woman’s story and we rush to the defend the credibility of the man. That is a gauntlet we ask women to run through to share their stories with us. No wonder most incidents of sexual assault or abuse go unreported. I want to take a moment and speak to one of the factors that put a barrier in front of survivors of assault. It is an important one that I believe we should spend some time wrestling with.

Last week I was faced with an interesting question about how I would want to be treated as a man if I were falsely accused of sexual misconduct by a woman.  First, the fact that so many people wanted to talk about false claims in the wake of remarkably credible testimony from Dr Christine Blasey Ford, is truly maddening. However, I will speak to the question I was asked.

If I were falsely accused I would want those closest to me to support me, and believe me when I tell them the truth of what happened. I would be frustrated and angry if my name were dragged through the mud based on an unsubstantiated claim about me. I would tell my side of the story to anyone who asked me and do all that I could to clear my name. I would certainly deny all the accusations and essentially call the woman who named me as her violator a liar. That’s my answer to a specific question about a hypothetical situation. Now, to greater issue with the question and the idea it springs from.

In an ongoing effort to make America safer after 9/11, TSA began requiring passengers to remove their shoes when going through security. This was after a man tried to set off explosives hidden in his shoes on a flight from Paris to Miami. Several other measures were taken in the years that followed to make traveling safer for all. I’ve never stood in a long, slow security line (I don’t have TSA pre-check) and heard anyone say “Thank God we all have to take our shoes and jackets off. I feel so much safer!” We endure the inconvenience to ourselves for the sake of everyone’s safety.

If making the world safer for women to tell their stories means more men have to deal with an increase in false accusations, I’d consider that a worthy disruption of the current status quo in an effort to make the world a better place for all. I don’t believe we would see a dramatic increase in false claims, but if we did, would that be worse than a world where women don’t feel safe to come forward? Women have had to endure the pain and trauma of being silenced after being violated. All it took was one failed attempt at blowing up a plane with a shoe bomb for us to completely change the process of airport security. We can grasp the concept that creating safer environments sometimes requires that people be subjected to processes that are uncomfortable. That’s what I believe is at the heart of BELIEVE WOMEN. 

If men were to be subjected to more false accusations against their character as a result of society course correcting, that’d be a tax I think we should be less afraid to face. What’s truly ailing us in regards to sexual misconduct is bad behavior, not bad accusations.  I’d say we pay that tax so that the next generation of women live in world where their claims can be taken at face value without the burden of interrogation or disbelief. I know that being falsely accused of sexual bad behavior can ruin families, careers, and reputations. I’m not making light of that. I’ve heard stories of false claims that ruined lives, but I’ve heard far more stories of people who have lived their whole lives suffering injustice in trembling silence. As I shared this with my own wife, there was tension. She as a wife to a loving husband and sister to stalwart brothers, is disturbed by the idea of having any of us falsely accused. There aren’t simple solutions. I think we as a society should wrestle with what it looks like to change the current climate more than we go back and forth about whether a new world would be scarier for men. 

I know that there are women in the world who have deceitfully made accusations for personal gain or to be spiteful. I don’t think anyone is arguing that’s not the case. I would respectfully ask for that to be a separate conversation. That conversation in the midst of a movement to liberate women from being shamed for admitting they were victimized is insensitive and ill-timed. It’s like when a spouse is upset with their partner for not coming home when they said they would, and they pivot to a conversation about how hard they work to contribute to the household. The hard work is valid, and if they feel under-appreciated for the work they do, they should talk about it – after hearing the beef of their partner about not coming home when they said they would.

Showing love and compassion to people who need it often opens us up to being taken advantage of. The risk is worth it to take steps forward to becoming more just in how we treat victims of sexual misconduct.

 

How can you contribute to making the world safer for women to come forward?

 

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