Talking about race

Anti-racism protests are taking place across the world, following the death of George Floyd two weeks ago. His sickening killing is horrific, with his cry “I can’t breathe” treated with such casual disdain. It has also provided an allegory of wider racial injustice: people of colour have too long and too much endured discrimination whilst their voice has fallen on deaf ears.

As Christians, and as a church, what do we need to hear and learn from these times? It was with this question in mind that this afternoon I read “We need to talk about race – understanding the black experience in white majority churches” by Ben Lindsay. It’s currently on offer at the SPCK website – only 99p for download as an eBook.

It is a very helpful book. At times uncomfortable to read, but clearly written with a desire to help and encourage the white majority church to love people of colour better, and to go beyond words when it comes to gospel diversity.

Rather than give a comprehensive book review, here are some points and quotes that the book makes which I found particularly striking, and which I hope will give you an appetite to read it:

  • He has a diagram titled the “White supremacy iceberg”. Overt racism (all socially unacceptable) is the tip of the iceberg – and most would look at its examples and say, “I’m not racist”. However, underneath are examples of covert racism (at an individual or society scale) which we can be guilty of: stereotyping, disproportional stop and search, and denial of white privilege to name just three.
  • Churches can often champion and pursue diversity, but not inclusion. One quote is “diversity is about bodies; inclusion is about culture”. A church which has people of colour within the congregation is not necessarily expressing the all‑nations life of the gospel. The culture of the church may still be a white majority one to which others have had to assimilate.
  • “Many white people see ‘colour-blindness’ as a strength. Many people of colour see it as a profound weakness.”
  • He calls churches to “demonstrate radical solidarity with the minority culture in your church”. How do we respond to injustice, and to the news headlines?
  • He warns about the dangers of tokenism: “tokenism is nothing but a plaster over the gunshot wound of racism”
  • He challenges churches which seem to care more for black people in Africa than those on their doorstep: “As a black person, I struggle with the continued fascination with and fetishization of black children in Africa, but the lack of interest in black children suffering in the UK.”
  • “Generally, in the black church, you learn about Jesus through Moses. Evangelicals learn about Jesus through Paul.” (he explains this as meaning that black churches make more of the gospel themes of justice, redemption from slavery, and community renewal).
  • He ends with a call for us to see racial injustice as a spiritual battle, and to remember (from Acts 10) that we have a God who shows no partiality.

Has that whetted your appetite? “We need to talk about race” – and this is a great place to start.

Ed Pennington

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