6 Pitfalls to Avoid During a Sacred Conversation on Race: Old First E-pistle 03.20.15

6 Pitfalls to Avoid During a Sacred Conversation on Race: Old First E-pistle 03.20.15

As part of our Lenten series on Faith and Race, this Sunday (3/22/15, in the Social Hall after worship) and next Wednesday (3/25/15), at 7pm in folks’ homes across the city) the Sacred Conversations on Race team will host and facilitate our second of two house meetings where we will attempt to have a spirit-filled conversation on the sin of racism.

If you’d like to attend (even if you weren’t able to attend the previous meeting!!!), please sign up using this link, or get in touch with Michael J. (his contact info is available in our REALM on-line directory or from the church office).

They have treated the wound of my people carelessly, saying,
“Peace, peace,” 
when there is no peace. –Jeremiah 8:11

Perhaps by now you’ve heard about the new Starbucks campaign #RaceTogether. The idea is simple, to have Starbucks baristas across the country write the words #RaceTogether on random cups as a way to initiate a conversation on race in America. Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, claims that the campaign was inspired by the aftermath of the Ferguson movement, the tenuous relationship between law-enforcement and people of color, and his experience growing up in a racially diverse housing project in Brooklyn.

However, since learning about the #RaceTogether campaign, some people have been extremely critical of the cringe-worthy notion that race relations in America can be healed one latte at a time.

The Starbucks dilemma highlights several pitfalls that hinder sacred conversations on race from being substantive, transformative, and reconciling. What follows is a listicle that identifies some of those pitfalls, articulates why they are so, and at times offers suggestions on how to avoid them.

Don’t be careless — Even if sincere, the Starbuck #RaceTogether campaign is nonetheless a careless response. It assumes that the most horrible sin in the history of our country, racism, can be remedied through a lot of 5 minute casual conversations on the topic.

During our Sacred Conversations on Race, we must avoid being careless about our assertions and assumptions. This is not to say that we should avoid saying what we really believe and fall back on the safe-zone of overly sterile politically correct language. That would be insincere and insulting. Ultimately, carelessness makes light of the issue, and thus makes light of the wounds of shame, pain, anguish, horror, and humiliation that torment our brothers and sisters. If we love our brothers and sisters, we must take care not to deepen these wounds.

Re-examine your assumptions — Some of what you were taught to believe growing up is probably outdated. Use our Sacred Conversations on Race as an opportunity to critically examine your beliefs and views on race, paying close attention to how they possibly differ from what you were brought up to believe. None of us have it all figured out, and so we all stand to learn from one another something more about ourselves.

Be in relationship with the people you’re talking to -– When you are in relationship with the people you’re talking to, a Sacred Conversation on Race becomes a personal conversation and not merely an issue conversation. “Why am I having this conversation? Not merely because I care about the issue, but because I care about the person I’m talking to. I care about that person’s salvation, and how the humanity of that person might be diminished as a result of their experience with racism.” Although not impossible, it is much more difficult to have a conversation of such depth without first being in relationship with that person.

Put differently, if you’re interested in the negative experiences of racism, but not interested in being in relationship with those people who have encountered the negative experiences of racism, that should be a red flag that something is off.

The Sacred Conversation on Race is not a debate –- I love debating the issue of racism in America with folk. When someone says something like “It’s not race, it’s class,” I pounce like a hungry rhetorical lion in search of spurious, conceptual prey.

However, during Sacred Conversations on Race, I quell this desire. Why? Because Sacred Conversations on Race are about people, people I care about, their experiences, their lives, their stories, their burdens, and so on. While the issue might be debatable, the way in which people experience racism is not. We need to make space for people to share their experiences without fear that they need to defend their position. An experience is not an argument, and should not be up for debate.

Don’t have this conversation as a mere obligation -– A Sacred Conversation on Race is good for the society and for the soul, but it should not be approached with the same obligatory disposition that one has when eating their peas, or being forced to exercise.

Again, it’s about concern for our brothers and sisters. If your concern for me comes from some sort of obligation to a Christian edict, I will have a hard time taking your concern seriously. Although Sacred Conversations on Race can be difficult, the difficulty is not akin to the difficulty associated with spiritual disciplines, or other arduous requisites that Christians take up out of a sense of duty, obligation, and desire to serve God.

White people: don’t opt out as if you don’t have anything to offer to the convo — White people are just as affected by racism as black people, just in a profoundly different way. It is important to remember that racism was created to justify and perpetuate white domination and supremacy. Therefore, white people necessarily benefit from racism. White privilege is the other side of the race conversation and deserves a place during the conversation.

If we only talk about the ways race negatively effects black and brown people, we are only having half of the conversation. Furthermore, constructing a conversation in this manner creates the condition for white people to view the conversation on race as optional, or non-applicable to them individually. If we recognized that racism is a sin which we are all bound by, we expand the conversation to include more of what racism really is and how it operates in our societies and in our souls. So white people who decide to opt-out of the conversation are indirectly acknowledging that white privilege is okay, normal, natural, and in no way up connected to the evil that is racism.


Michael J.

(During our Lenten focus on Faith and Race, Michael C. has invited members of the Sacred Conversation on Race Ministry Team to contribute E-pistles on their experience or thoughts on race, racism and our congregation’s Sacred Conversation on Race. He and the whole church thank our contributors.)