Last week I asked people on my FB page if they believed that the conversation about race was picking up steam in American religious circles. In the dialog that followed I promised a friend I would share a theory I have about the race conversation in America. Often when I’m sharing I ask myself the following question… “Is this BY me or ABOUT me?” Today what I write is a little of both.
I have to admit upfront that I have a severe case of “FOMO”. If I’m not careful I can spend hours on social media gazing at where other people are and what they are doing. When I see people doing things I enjoy doing and believe I do better, I can get in my feelings. I was this way as an artist, and I’ve continued to wrestle with the same issue as an outspoken social activist. It’s hard to watch people who have been silent on issues of race suddenly become an expert on the subject. That is how what I’m about to share is partially “about me”. How’s that for vulnerability?
In a previous blog about MLK I wrote about how revolutionary leaders are rarely celebrated in their lifetime. I believe it’s because their voices are saying something that most people don’t want to hear, but their persistence and the truth of what they are saying make the message they carry irresistible. People can’t argue with the validity of the issues that pioneers raise, but the truth can make humans extremely uncomfortable. That feeling of discomfort typically has 3 outcomes.
- Seeking shelter by ignoring the issue altogether, and thereby muting the voices that are saying uncomfortable things.
- Combating the legitimacy of the message or the messenger.
- Finding a kinder, gentler, more palatable version of the message from someone they are more comfortable listening to.
The latter is what I believe is happening today with the recent, slight increase of conversations about racism within Evangelical organizations. Voices like Shaun King, Michael and Ben McBride, Eric Reid, Colin Kaepernick, Shane Claiborne, Bree Newsome, and Andre Henry make the noise about racial injusticerelentlessly. People like them are deemed “far left extremist”, but the issues they raise cannot be ignored.
The race conversation continues day after day because people like them are driving the conversation. They endure insults from low key racists trying to belittle them with name calling and arguments against their stances and comments, while other leaders who agree with there principles remain silent.
Eventually, once the noise gets so loud it can’t be ignored, some of those less outspoken “right leaning conservative” leaders are asked to give their take about “diversity”. They are positioned in such a way as to be celebrated because they were given permission to speak on the subject. They were asked to speak about injustice and therefore the message was delivered the “right way”. People applaud, share their words, and say things like “you gotta hear what… said at… conference.”
I understand that hard words are easier to hear in the context of relationship, so I’m not lamenting the process. It’s been around for many moons. Every Martin needs a Malcolm as they say, and John the Baptist was a wild man in the desert saying the same things Jesus was saying in houses with tax collectors and religious leaders. I suppose that’s just how social change works. Some voices scare us, and others saying the same words make us feel safe enough to hear them out.
It’s fine that we praise the voices we respect and resonate with. We all have a preference of style and tone, but I’d ask that we re-think how little credit we give the voices that were brave enough to start and stay in the conversation daily. They’re the ones in the fight on a daily basis, and putting their livelihood and reputations on the line to move us forward toward a more just society.
For those of you wondering, I do consider myself a voice crying out in the wilderness about social issues. Yes, I have been in my feelings watching people I’ve never heard talking about racism before become overnight experts on the subject. However, once I’ve taken my emotional elevator to the top floor of my consciousness, I’m thrilled that the conversation is happening. I pray it continues on every platform and in every venue possible until we have made every change we can make in our lifetime.
What voices on social change have you listened to the most?
Do you believe the conversation about racial injustice would be where it is today without people like the ones mentioned in this blog?