As a millennial African American leader, the past couple of months I have been fortunate to share meals with friends and associates who are white church leaders, missiologists, or ordinary good people. The conversations for most of these engagements were centered on the racial tensions that are evident throughout America. Most of my white friends and associates were thoughtful enough to ask me to help them understand the black experience and how they can help. Therefore, I am writing this article to briefly help White church leaders and good people in general to understand the black experience, and offer a few suggestions on how to engage the black community.
Here is the setting: imagine all of us are in a coffee shop talking. Someone is drinking hot chocolate mocha, another person is drinking Jasmine green tea, and I am drinking a smoothie (because I am trying to continue to be healthy). We are having a frank conversation, and I begin by discussing the Black Experience in America. (Please note that this article is not designed to be a robust guide, but to introduce some to this important reality.)
The Black Experience in America
When some White people arrived in America, they arrived with a sense confidence and momentum which eventually led them to have power and control. This power and control has been passed down from generation to generation. White people have always had power in America and continue to have the majority of the power. Therefore, the way White people see the world is through the lens of power and privilege.
When some Black people arrived in America, they arrived oppressed, robbed of their dignity and culture, and were taught that they are not fully human. This experience and ideology has been passed down from generation to generation. From Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman to Malcolm X to Marcus Garvey to Dr. James Cone to Louis Farrakhan, Blacks have has always been on the pursuit to not only fight against White Supremacy, but to find who we really are as a people. Therefore, the way Black people see the world is through the lens of the oppressed and a constant fight for dignity and freedom. When Whites think of terrorism, they think about Isis, but when Blacks think of terrorism, they think about White supremacy and those who are working for them.
From the very rich White folks, to 43 presidents, to corporations, to the police officers, Blacks have consistently experienced various forms of discrimination and injustice. Some White people would say, “Things have changed; at least you’re not a slave anymore,” but in the minds of some Blacks, we’re thinking, “Yeah, we’re not slaves, but it is practically the same experience with a different face and system.”
Advice for White Leaders
If you are a White leader and you want to find ways to engage this current racial crisis, here is some advice:
Listen. As a counselor, I have learned that one of the best ways to help my clients think through their current situation is by offering a listening ear. Listening is a powerful instrument that we can offer to those who feel mistreated and marginalized. White leaders, you may not understand the abbreviated black experience that I have shared or the robust explanation that one may share with you verbally, but if you are courageous enough to sit and listen, even if it births various emotions, and even if the speaker is yelling, cursing, and expressing various forms of emotions, your listening ear is significantly important in the healing process and in the change that needs to happen in America.
Take off your boots. A common ideology that has been promoted vastly throughout America is this notion of “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” This ideology has helped White America to be the powerful country that it is today. This ideology has been used to advise Blacks to apply themselves in order to rise above the systemic structure that is purposed to prevent them from excelling. To my White leaders, if you want to engage the black community, take off your boots and put on our shoes. Spend time in our communities, become a member or a frequent attender of a black church, live in our neighborhoods, and/or send your children to predominantly black schools to experience what Blacks have been raising awareness for, for many years.
Speak up for me. To the White leaders who have an understanding of the struggle that Blacks are living through in America, my last introductory advise is for you to speak up for us to your white family and friends who do not understand our struggle. Although I am an educated, respectable person, the color of my skin continues to invalidate my voice and perspective in society. Therefore, I need my white friends who say they love me or who are honest with the Black reality to speak up on my behalf.
In conclusion, thank you for listening to me at the coffee shop. Again, this is a brief introduction to the reality of the Black experience in America and ways you can partner with freedom fighters. I am open to dialogue and working towards reconciliation. Please feel free to email me at [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you all soon.
Before I address this bonus, let me first say that I am a young black Christian pastor who was born and raised in the ghettos of New York City who, with the grace of Jesus, has been saved. I left New York City, earned a few degrees (mostly from predominantly White Universities), and now I am Spiritual Formation Pastor with a wife and son. (We do not have a dog and a picket fence yet.) I say all of this to say that I am an imperfect person who is striving to live a positive Christian life.
That said, the Black Lives Matter movement is not a domestic terrorist group. We are a movement that seeks to raise awareness of the realities of the minority experience, and to promote solutions that will help the minority experience. Please note that this brief definition of the Black Lives Matter movement is coming from a young black Christian. Email me if you would like more information regarding the movement.