We are where we are in part because of our actions. Doctors treat patients because they underwent years of rigorous training. Small business owners achieve success because they pour into their work. CEOs move up the corporate ladder through initiative, effort and intelligence. To a large extent, a place at the table is earned.
On the flip side, those who take no initiative, make poor decisions and refuse to work hard find themselves in poor economic and social positions. In either situation, our actions play a significant role in our circumstance.
To lay all the credit, or blame, for our reality at the feet of our actions assigns too much agency to us. Hoarding accolades or failures ignores outside factors. When it comes to achievement, opportunity and race, multi-layered variables play a greater role than many account for.
Our actions play a role in our standing, but so do the situations we were born into. Many successful people have come on the heels of generations of challenge, rising from poor, working-class, obstacle-ridden families. These families however, while economically challenged, often were consistently hardworking, shrewd, thrifty and sharp. Over the course of time, wealth accumulated and was passed down to children and grandchildren in the form of physical assets and well-invested money. Farmers became barbers who became business owners who became doctors. Many have opportunities, in large part, because they stand on the shoulders of generations that poured blood, sweat and tears into our future. It’s a timeless story we tell to reinforce traditional American values of hard work and intuition.
Many have had less obstacles simply because they were white.
It is willfully ignorant - or naive - to think the opportunities many had, the ones I have had, would have been the same if I were born black.
This isn’t an indictment. It’s not a lament on privilege or a criticism of generations of hard-working individuals. It’s a fact. Race plays a significant role in our circumstance. Denying or acknowledging it as such doesn’t change the reality. It can, however, impact the path forward.
The tremors of racism have shaken through the fabric of this country since its inception. They have grown fainter, but are still felt today. Sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly. Understanding the history of those tremors and the complex consequences society faces as a result is a tall order.
David French, Harvard-educated former lawyer, laid out the following in a June 2020 post. “I believe the following things to be true: 1. Slavery was legal and defended morally and (ultimately) militarily from 1619 to 1865. 2. After slavery, racial discrimination was lawful and defended morally (and often violently) from 1865 to 1964. 3. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not end illegal discrimination or racism, it mainly gave black Americans the legal tools to fight back against legal injustices. 4. It is unreasonable to believe that social structures and cultural attitudes that were constructed over a period of 345 years will disappear in 56. 5. Moreover, the consequences of 345 years of legal and cultural discrimination, are going to be dire, deep-seated, complex, and extraordinarily difficult to comprehensively ameliorate.”
This last year has served to open the eyes of the white church in many ways. We have seen horrendous, racially-charged events and have been forced to reckon with external and internal demons many would have preferred left unknown or unacknowledged. We have seen outcry, we have seen retaliation, we have seen compassion. We have seen the full gamut of emotional response, and as with every human event, the responses on every side have often been flawed.
In moments of turmoil, it is crucial to remember the desired outcome. For the church, this is unity in Christ resulting in unity on mission. We long for harmony with Him and anticipate the day when all is new. A day all divisions melt away. We yearn for a cohesive body moving as a singular family. We must work toward that end.
‘Working toward that end’ is a lifelong mandate. It is a hard walk along a good path.
I live for forward movement. However, moving forward from a moment of significant turmoil cannot happen until the events that led to the moment are reconciled. For the white church, this includes recognizing the role racism has played in the recipe that has baked this country. It involves turning from any type of continuation. It implies walking toward our ultimate God-given direction in humility and unity with our whole family. Jesus is still calling, “who will go with me from here to where I am going?”
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” 1 Peter 3:8