Racism- A Leadership Opportunity

I normally write on Fridays. However,  I pondered on this blog post, but here it is!

Last week I wrote about diversity and the sister to it, tolerance. I have watched with a sad heart the dialogue, or lack thereof, concerning the NFL player protests.  Whatever side of the fence one is on, there is a deep divide. This extends to the body of Christ.

It is a time for our leaders to seize the opportunity to bring healing, rather than to exacerbate the divide.

Issues that Divide

Issues of race, sexuality etc. are always challenging subjects to discuss as they can be deeply personal.  The issue that spurred the NFL protests is the data from various studies that studies found that black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by the police than a white American. This needs addressing.  It should be a concern to all of us because the Police represent the State.  The State should treat all citizens fairly.

Racial issues have been a part of the landscape in many countries for a significant period of time.  Racism occurs in every race as the movie “Crash” showed.  Some argue that movie let ‘White privilege’ off the hook, because it did not speak about the ‘other issues’. None-the-less, it depicted the truth that no one race has the monopoly on racism. I believe that was important to highlight.  Of course racism perpetrated by minorities on the majority does not have the same impact, but it’s no lesss abhorrent.

Racism at two levels?

Racism, when embedded in a system leads to Institutional racism.  The U.K. MacPherson Report which considered the issue in the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence murder defined it:

“Institutional racism is that which, covertly or overtly, resides in the policies, procedures, operations and culture of public or private institutions – reinforcing individual prejudices and being reinforced by them in turn.”

I my opinion Institutional racism, goes further than ‘re-inforcing people’s prejudices’. When it resides in our Governance structures the aim, as was the case with black people in the slave trade, or Apartheid in South Africa, is about developing and retaining economic  power.

Racism at the individual level is often perpetuated because of a fear of the unknown and lack of understanding. In the absence of that understanding we make assumptions, and, draw erroneous conclusions (prejudices) about those who are different to us. It is in this space that there is opportunity. Opportunity to educate rather than to be offended.

For example, I went to University in a predominantly White area.  Many people I interacted with  had never met a black person before. I remember one evening, as the girls were ‘hanging out’ one girl  said- I;, so amazed that you are black yet the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet (I was barefoot) are white.  Is there anywhere else on your body like that?   could have chosen to be highly offended- but instead I recognized this girl had never met a black person, much less sen them naked and she was curious.   I simply  said no, here is no-where else on my body that is like that.

Accepting the realities

The original NFL protester, Colin Kaepernick sought to highlight the problem of  the disproportionate number of blacken being shot by police, than their white counterparts.  The intent was to start a dialogue.  His protest was in 2016 under a Black President.  These issues did not arise since the change of leadership in Nov 2016.

Just as was said of the Crash movies failings, in not addressing the ‘other issues’, many of us (black and white) also do not want to address the other issues.  One such issue is black on black crime.  To acknowledge these other issues does not take away from the disproportionate numbers of black men shot by police officers.  However, we need to stop assuming that every white person who raises these other issues are ‘racists simply deflecting the truth’, or if a back person they are labelled an “Uncle Tom”.  That is not the way to real dialogue that is solution focused. In my role as an Advisor to Government’s, including on policy issues such as immigration and crime, I know that the issues our societies are facing are complex.  There is no one factor that is to blame and education is critical.

An Attitude of forgiveness

The name calling and unwillingness to consider the issues holistically shows there is an need for  healing in our nations.  This can only come through an ‘attitude of forgiveness’.  That is starting from the point of saying I will forgive another, and not harbor my hurt and let it turn to bitterness.  I will release it and trust God to set things right.  That’s difficult when we feel we’ve been wronged, especially if there was no repentance.  However, being a disciple of Christ is tough and we are commanded to forgive, see Ephes 4:32 and Col 3:13. .

Some in the body do not believe we are compelled to forgive where there is no repentance.  I believe we are commanded to forgive, irrespective of whether a person repents.  It’s hard to love someone who you haven’t forgiven and we are to love people unconditionally. In any event, forgiveness benefits us. When we release others we don’t become bitter or lose our perspective on issues.  Forgiveness and reconciliation are different. We don’t have to reconcile with someone who is unrepentant.

Our countries badly need reconciliation if Racism is to stop!   If we  forgive we at least start that journey.

A Leadership Opportunity

What is happening is a result of the culture we have supported or allowed in our societies.  So we must all take responsibility for finding a solution.  However, it presents a special opportunity for our leaders, including those in the church.

I applaud those leaders who are engaging in this debate. That’s what purposed leadership is about. They serve others using their influence for the greater good.

It’s has been disappointing to see leaders, especially in our churches, adopt the narrow view. Even engaging in name calling.   It takes courage as a leader to do and say what’s right, when you know your followers would not want to hear it.  It is time leaders, both within and outside the Church stop ‘playing to the crowd’.

The goal of leaders should be to address the problem, not to apportion blame. We need solutions and that requires a holistic, and frankly, a forensic approach.  Rejecting the whole truth (in the form of other pertinent data) means we are holding on to our hurt, seeking not to forgive.  This can never produce a solution.  Leaders must have courage and help those they have the privilege to influence, look at  all the issues, including the other indicators that are present in Police shootings.  They also need to look at systemic issues such as poor housing, education and crime.

I urge leaders within our churches to provide healthy, safe environments for people to discuss these issues.  Where there are racist views, take the time to ‘reason together’ so all perspectives are understood.  Prayerfully asking the Lord to help us know his truth and so have the right attitudes and beliefs, not those we have adopted from our cultures. That is the role of the leader, and it takes courage.

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