The Well Blog

What You Need to Know Before Talking About Race Part 2

March 19, 2018
Andrew Feil
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Hearing Multiple Perspectives

Coming from a very safe, comfortable white middle class evangelical culture, when I first heard people of color talk about race, privilege, American history (told from a very different vantage point), and even theological worldviews and pastors, I of course was put off, defensive, and even pushed back. How dare they! But as I have grown and learned from those who have been on this journey for years, what I realized is that listening to other perspectives is the starting place for this work. White folks, we have to learn to listen. If we cannot listen, we cannot learn. If we cannot learn, we cannot do racial justice and racial reconciliation.

Why is listening to different perspectives so hard? I believe our beliefs about matters of faith, politics, and generally how the world works become our identity. When someone questions and pokes on those fundamental beliefs, they are questioning and poking on our identity. What is the posture to being attacked? We either tune out or attack back.

But we must keep ourselves open to listen and learn from a variety of perspectives and worldviews. To not be willing to learn from other perspectives is to worship the idols of belief, and we are greater than the sum of our beliefs.

The hard and necessary shift to begin to listen is recognizing that our truth is not everyone else’s truth. Our experience is not everyone else's experience.

We are also not defined solely by what we believe. These things are important, but if we hold them as our identity, they become idols, and when we engage conversations around race we can never move forward because of our idols.

A question I can hear someone ask is, “Aren’t you just relativizing everything?" No. The saying, “Walk a mile someone’s shoes" is just that. You know what it feels like to walk. You have walked this road before, but until you put yourself in someone else’s place, you have no idea what their life is like. In order to be a reconciler who seeks justice, you have to learn to accept that the way you see the world is limited and shaped by your social and cultural factors.

So how can you learn to hear multiple perspectives without tuning out or attacking?

Recommendations on Hearing Multiple Perspectives
  1. Reject the sprint. Embrace the journey.

    If you think this is about arriving at some sort of final destination, you will close yourself off to change. To change course in a sprint would be to lose. But if you see justice and reconciliation work as a journey, you never know where it will take you. You will be a different human being by the time you meet your Maker, and you and others will be better for it. Embracing the journey mentality means you will inevitably grow and change as a person. You will never arrive, but you will have learned many lessons along the way.

    John Bradshaw explains, “Richard Bandler suggested that one of the major blocks (is the)...feeling of knowing you are right. When we think we are absolutely right, we stop seeking new information. To be right is to be certain, and to be certain stops us from being curious. Curiosity and wonder are at the heart of all learning. Plato said that all philosophy begins in wonder. So the feeling of absolute certainty and righteousness causes us to stop seeking and learning.”[1]

    This is inherently how we are asked to think about faith in Christ and discipleship. As Christians, we come to understand and believe the gospel at a moment in time, but that gospel message needs to be understood and applied on a daily and moment-by-moment basis. The depths and understanding of that gospel message will inevitably grow and take on new meaning for you in different seasons. We hold to the gospel, but we also need to reaffirm it on a regular basis in our lives.

    Think about the disciples over and over throughout the Gospels. They knew Jesus. They proclaimed to follow Him. Yet they often missed His mission entirely. He has to remind them over and over that He is going to be a radically different Messiah than they were imagining. Throughout the journey they are shown as not having “gotten it.” That is part of their evolution. Who Jesus was and what it means to follow Him only clicked after the resurrection and after Jesus sat down to explain everything again. So it will be with us. One day Jesus will sit us down and explain and make it all clear. Until then, we are in process and on the journey.

  2. Reflect often.

    As you engage new ideas, hard topics and challenging people, take time to be reflective. If something someone said causes you to react, here are some questions to ask yourself:

    • Why did you react the way you did?
    • What does your reaction say about what you value?
    • Why does it feel like you were just attacked? Why are you defensive? Was it what was said or the tone in which it was said that caused you to react?
    • How could you respond differently next time? What does love (Jesus) ask in this situation?
    • What did you learn about yourself or others from this situation?
  3. Embrace the phrase, “Well, it is complicated.”

    In order to not waste mental brain space, our brains want simple and easy boxes to put everything in. This is not only human, but necessary. What ends up happening is that we create nice and clean boundaries for things that are inherently complicated. We have to reject the either/or, us/them mentality our brains crave. Issues of justice and reconciliation are always more nuanced and complex than we give them space for.

    If we settle for Twitter- and Facebook-level conversations, we can never explore the full range of facts or opinions. We have to listen and read widely. We have to find news and facts from various sources. We have to train ourselves to say, “There has got to be another side to this story.” Ask yourself what the other side would say about this issue. If you don’t know, ask someone.

In all this, I do not believe you are going to come to some harmonious utopia of agreement with every person or idea you interact with, but if you can learn to separate yourself from your ideas, you will be further down the road of pursuing a life of racial justice and racial reconciliation. You will be pushed and challenged in your beliefs, and that is important. Good luck on the journey, and may you learn to listen well!

Learn more about what you need to know before talking about race in Part 3: Proximity and Race.

  1. Bradshaw, John. Healing the Shame that Binds You (Recovery Classics) (Kindle Locations 641-644). Faith Communications. Kindle Edition.
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