No one in the history of humankind was born to be a person who speaks out about race. I’ve never heard a first grader say that they want to be an activist when they grow up. People admire revolutionaries like Dr. King, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Malcolm X, but no one wants to BE them.
When I was in elementary school I wanted to be a doctor, and by the time I got to high school, I just wanted to grow up and be rich. As a junior in High School I knew that I was supposed to be a public servant of some sort. In my Christian tradition we would say I got the “call” to ministry. I knew I was destined to share good news with the world about the benevolent nature of Divinity, but I also didn’t want to be poor. Little did I know that some day clergy would be some of the richest people in the world. Go figure.
Even though I knew I was uniquely wired for being a religious leader, I would never have imagined that I would be in reality or perception – an activist.
I’m not sure there is a day that goes by that I don’t have at least one conversation about race or racism, and I wouldn’t say that’s an enjoyable place to be. Perhaps you’re thinking: “Why don’t you just stop talking about it?” That seems simple enough. I could choose to not bring up race at all in conversation, in my podcasts, or in my writings, and that would….
Wait… what would that do? Would it eliminate race from being a topic of discussion for me? Let’s see… If I stopped talking about race today…
I would still have people asking me about race and racism. I would still have friends, family, or otherwise cracking jokes about me being the “radical race guy.” I would still have black children who come home and share their exhaustion with being black in the suburbs. Lastly, I myself would still be a black man in America. The luxury of being insulated from race conversation is simply not afforded to me.
Talk to any activist, civil rights leader, or clergy person of color about why they are outspoken about race, and they will tell you that they have no other choice. The bell can’t be un-rung. What has been seen cannot be unseen. Racism/Injustice is a menace to society. We who recognize it as such know that it is not only an existential threat to us people of color, but it is a threat to all human beings – privileged or not.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – Dr King
There are lots of reasons I started and continue to talk about race and racial injustice. Here are three of them.
- We still live on unjust soil.
If I were to sneak into your house in the middle of the night, take the only pictures you have of your parents off your walls, eat all your food, and dump all the medicine in your medicine cabinets in the toilet – leaving you sick and one of your children dead, how often would you talk about that? How often would your surviving children? How would you feel when you saw me or my children healthy and thriving out and about?
America’s most vile racist acts of injustice are not in the ancient past. People who are alive today witnessed and experienced lynchings, segregation, and state-sanctioned assassinations of Black leaders. These actions happened here on American soil, on the streets we live on, in the hallways of the schools our children attend, and at the hands of people still alive today.
- Society screams “White Power”
I’ve talked with several black people who work in corporate America. Every one of them has told me that they are the only black person in the room over 90 percent of the time that they are in high level leadership meetings. Each of them face micro-aggressions. Each of them have felt that they had to work twice as hard due to being black. Each has been passed over for promotions by less qualified white people with lesser performance ratings.
Think about the wealthiest, most influential, and powerful people in the world. Are most of the names you’re thinking: Bob, Bill, Mike, Chris, Steve, Rich, Don, Frank…? Why is that? Do you believe that is coincidence? Is it a benign happenstance of natural selection?
I would argue it’s the result of an intentional strategy that has been successfully doing its thing for generations. And, as long as we have the construct of white power, none of us will live in a just society.
- The source material for my faith is justice themed.
Evangelical churches don’t talk about race that often. You might be hard pressed to find an evangelical church that talks about justice. I sat in, volunteered in and worked for many an evangelical church not realizing that justice was the central theme of the Bible. I thought that when the church talked about a social issue like race, even tho I am in fact black, the church was diverting from the Bible to talk about society.
It wasn’t until I went on about a 3-year journey into the context and history of Biblical texts and narratives that I began to realize how central justice is to the ideas, poetry, stories, and principles of Biblical literature.
After realizing that the Bible has a historical context and that that context has strong political, social, and ethnic implications, I began to feel like I had Divine backing to engage in social conversations. And not only did I have backing – I had a moral obligation to use my platforms to lift up the plight of the marginalized in society.
I guess you could say I’m fulfilling my “calling” after all. It is exhausting to talk about race and racism. It is not fun. It does not often feel very rewarding, but those of us who talk about it know that if we stop, future generations will suffer for it.
I wish we lived in a world where racism wasn’t a systemic issue that plagues the primary structures of our communities. I would love to live to see a time where no one talks about it because there is no need, and I’m doing my part to get us there – one conversation at a time.