Racial Reconciliation: Humility, Listening, and Clear Communication

Sammy Mallow, a sophomore at Wheaton College in IL, spoke about racial reconciliation when I interviewed him for an article this past weekend. His words were simple yet deep, profound and refreshing. I’d like to share some of it here since it does not all fit in The Wheaton Record.

Mallow shared the story of racial reconciliation between him and his former RA and now dear friend, Joseph McGann. Mallow grew up as a half Cambodian, half American missionary kid. He spent four years in Cambodia, one in the United States, back and forth and back and forth, for most of his life. McGann was socialized in New York, did home school and went to a Christian private school, and never left the country. “We learned a lot from each other,” Mallow said.

Mallow said, “I basically learned to appreciate more growing up in America like the way he did.” Mallow said he learned that he can still have a lot of fun with people who are different than himself, adding, “I can still connect with them and be understood by them and enjoy their company.”

On the other hand, Mallow said, “(McGann) learned that there’s a lot to the world.” He elaborated, “Different cultures are immensely important to learn about and to appreciate.”

Mallow continued with some solid advice. He said, “It’s important to be careful and be patient with people. When you’re trying to build a relationship with someone who is different than you — this applies to everything, but especially racial issues — you have to be careful to listen to what the other person is perceiving from you. Also, (you have to be careful about) what you are intending to communicate.” I believe that by “careful,” Mallow meant perceptive in listening and clear in speaking.

From Sammy Mallow, from the Solidarity procession about which I was writing when I interviewed him, and from my friend Mark Andersen, I have been reminded to listen to other people’s stories. How have our brothers and sisters of various skin colors or facial structures been hurt by comments that were allegedly jokes? What words have bad connotations or are degrading? Avoid those terms. Learn from those who are different than you. Their stories are important, and their experiences are valid. Affirm your brothers and sisters. Apologize if need be.

Jesus embodied ultimate humility and reconciled mankind to God so that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish but have eternal life. As Jesus did, so we must do. We must be humble before our powerful God and before our fellow humans. If we understand who God is and what He has done for us through His great love, there is nothing else we can do! We must reconcile with each other; in this case, we must reconcile the wrongs done by racial prejudice and discrimination.

Why is this important? We must practice racial reconciliation because together we comprise the church, the body of Christ. We need each other. Furthermore, God is glorified before all mankind when all His people unite to follow Jesus.

As you go on with your daily lives, I pray that you will take this to heart. You ought not to be reconciled because I say so or because Mallow said so or for any other reason besides its importance to Christ Jesus. What I have said in this blog post is based in the Bible, and it has massive implications on the real world in which we live. Please read the following passage from God’s Word as you prepare to return to your school work, cleaning, job, parenting, web surfing, or whatever it is you were doing.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5 verses16-21, Paul wrote, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (ESV).

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Embracing My Whiteness

I have always wanted to be Black. I have tried to tan as much as is naturally possible, and I can get pretty dark, but I am still clearly a white person. I have contemplated the texture of my hair, which is curly, half smooth and half kinky. When a friend told me it seemed like mixed hair, I was delighted, but I am normally the one to point out its potential blackness, not others. I have hoped against hope that I have some Black relative a few generations back so that I might be Black. Only recently did I realize that even if this was so, I do not look Black, I am not perceived as Black, and I am not culturally Black. I am White, and I cannot escape it.

The blacker I have tried to appear, the more I realize I am White. For example, I have braids right now. My dear friend Layla spent six hours braiding my head, in fact, and it looks good, but it does not look Black. Although my hair is partly kinky, it is not curly enough to have the braids stay without ponytails, rubber bands, moños, whatever you would like to call them. I am White, and even my poofy, curly hair is White.

This past year, I had gotten it into my head that being White is bad. Structural racism is caused by the white supremacy underlying Western society, and I do not want to be a part of that injustice. However, this line of thought led me to subconsciously generalize that being White is bad. This is not logical because people do not choose what color they are born, but it is still how I thought for many months.

Everyone knows the phrase “Black is beautiful,” right? But I had forgotten that Whites are beautiful, too. I had forgotten that White does not equal evil. Everyone has something unique to offer, everyone can walk hand in hand with God if they follow Jesus, and everyone was made by the Creator God. God does not distinguish between races.

God’s love extends equally to Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, et cetera. This does not mean that He loves minorities more than Whites in order to achieve justice on earth. No, God loves Whites just as much as He loves minorities. I do not know that many people have the same problem I do where their head is reversed to see Blacks as more valuable. Most people have the opposite problem, although it may be well hidden, and that is why the United States is still segregated and full of racism. But my attitude has been wrong. I have mentally degraded Whites and myself in an attempt to elevate Blacks from their lower position in society.

At All School Communion on Wednesday, I was contemplating my race. I did not see myself as beautiful, but God had been working in me for a long while to show me His view of humanity. As usual, He spoke through the music at All School. “Beautiful Things” by Gungor played just after I realized that I am indeed beautiful as a White person.

I am not beautiful even though I am White or despite being White, and I am not beautiful simply because I am White. I am beautiful regardless of my Whiteness. As the chapel band played the opening chords of “Beautiful Things,” I smiled broadly, having just realized that my whiteness is beautiful. Although I love dark skin, my pale skin is beautiful. But as I began to sing along, I realized that the song is not at all about physical beauty; “Beautiful Things” speaks of the inner beauty God creates.

God does not care what race or ethnicity you and I are. Yes, it certainly shapes us, but race truly is socially constructed. It does not have to define us. Race and ethnicity do not actually matter to God, for He has allowed everyone who trusts Jesus to be brought to Him.

In the Bible days, the big social divide was between the Jews and the Gentiles, who were otherwise known as Greeks. As their name implies, the Jews had grown up in Jewish religion, and they read the Scriptures about the coming Messiah, the Christ; the Greeks were the non-Jews. Many Jews were arrogant about “their” Savior, the Christ, after they became Christians. They wanted to impose their Jewish traditions upon the Greeks, and they basically thought they were more deserving than the Greeks. But when Jesus Christ came to earth about two thousand years ago, He actually did something shocking that the new Messianic Jews did not realize at first: He made both the Jews and the Gentiles become one through His sacrifice.

Just as these two social groups were unified in Jesus Christ and stood equal before God, so minorities and Whites stand equal before God. We all disobey Him. This sin is what separates us from God, not our color. But Jesus died for us all, should we believe in Him, and this is what bridges the gap between God and us. We can come to the Father God because of Jesus Christ alone.

The Ethiopian with whom the Biblical character Phillip shared the Gospel and baptized–this Black man will be in Heaven someday with Jesus, who was born as an Arab. White supremacy is not found anywhere in the Bible, but equal standing before God is found throughout the entire book.

I, too, stand before the God who cares about what is inside people and not about their outward appearances. I am White. I am beautiful. I have value. You may not be White, yet you are beautiful and valuable. We are valuable because God loves our souls and had Jesus Christ, His Son, give up everything to redeem them.

The first day I met Layla, the friend who braided my hair and one of my future roomies, I told her I wanted to be Black. She was quite surprised and encouraged me that God made me White for a reason.

Over half a year later, I now realize that I can use my whiteness for God’s glory. If I was born Black, would I have had the same desire to unify races and ethnicities? Maybe, but I likely would not have had the same ability to do so. Let’s face it: in the States, we live in a racist society. But because I am White, I have more voice, and I can use it to speak up for those whose voices go unheard.

This year has included the long process of becoming more racially aware, overcoming prejudices by God’s grace, desiring to be something God did not create me to be, learning to accept my whiteness, and finally embracing it. If I merely accept that I am White, I will not rejoice in who I am; I will still desire to be Black but merely realize its impossibility. Thus, I am still on that last step of embracing my race, for then I can use that socially constructed identity to fulfill God’s Biblical command of justice.

I must allow God to continually remind me of who I am in Him. Remember, it is our insides that matter! Yet because I am White, and I can reach out both to minorities and to other Whites to listen, understand, and bring greater unity among God’s “very good” creation. I am White, and I am White for a reason.picture026

Modernist Literature and the Cross

I’m currently taking American Literature: Realism through Modernism, and in it we have recently been discussing modernist poetry. Fragmentation within poems has been a common and thought-provoking topic as we discuss how breaking apart objects can reveal reality better, ignoring the romanticized symbolism that people have attached to objects for centuries, but last week I became frustrated with this style of poetry. The poems seemed abstract; breaking down objects into their parts to describe them in a fuller way seemed confusing and purposeless that day.

We began discussing how Christianity can be manifested in fragmentation, and a couple of my classmates had insightful comments about fragmentation revealing the reality of Christian life. They said it shows that things are not always perfect. They said the words and format of the modernist poems reflect how we do not always understand what is happening. In other words, fragmentation shows the broken reality of life.

This is valid, but it is not always enough. Where is the hope? In class that day, I voiced that I just wanted to proclaim the gospel in a poem, the full gospel. I couldn’t stand the purposeless poems any longer. Maybe part of why I wanted to look at the bigger picture was because I’m a sociology major. Overall, I believe the urge came because I wanted to make my faith in Jesus known to everyone.

I see the value of fragmentation, and I would actually like to try writing some similar poems myself to break out of the mold in which we commonly think. Yet I do not want to become so focused on individual objects that I ignore the bigger picture of hope and redemption that Jesus has made for us, thanks be to God.

Because of these thoughts and beliefs, I scribbled the following poem in my notes as class ended. While it does not explain in detail the good news of Jesus Christ giving up His Heavenly home to become human, feel pain, be compassionate, and ultimately die an unspeakably agonizing death to take the punishment we all deserve for ignoring, disobeying, and rebelling against God–while the poem does not  go into details of Jesus’s doing this out of God’s great love and His coming back to life and conquering death once and for all out of God’s sacred power, it gives a better glimpse than many other short poems I’ve read lately. It has more purpose than a poem describing the common but unnoticed beauty of a vase, and it’s the starting place of hope.

Here’s to my God, the Saviour of all on this earth who believe in Him, who is living in His people through His Spirit until His return!

 

A Cross:

Splintered wood,

Agony.

I wince.

Hands, gaping

Chest, heaving–

A cross

That is everything;

that is all.