I am a ghost. I am not a wraith, but I haunt America’s popular opinion. I am in your church, I am on your social media feed, and I am sitting in the cubicle next to you at work, holding back tears.
Pastor, I see you surround yourself with men who simply reinforce your narrative, some of them look like me.
Friend, I see you debate the reality of my marginalization on your Facebook feed in a cavalier way, as if your conclusions won’t determine how all those you know consider my pain. Friend, my history and marginalization seems to just be an interesting talking point to you.
Co-worker, I hear you chat with others about the illusion of my suffering and how people who look like me have simply embraced an ideology of victimhood. Though my skin is black or brown, you would think it was transparent the way you allow me to haunt your spaces. Reason would suggest that since I can be seen, your words and thoughts would be considerate. One would assume there would be some kind of filter in the way you dialogue about my reality in my presence. Maybe you don’t see me. Maybe you think I lack the intellectual capabilities to engage. Maybe, you just simply don’t care what I have to say. You continually talk about the things that concern me, but you never invite me into those conversations. So here I am haunting your spaces.
One of the greatest lies our country has embraced is the idea that white supremacy is a demon with swastikas as horns. The truth is, white supremacy looks like a pretty southern antebellum woman. It looks like a refined pastor calling a black man a liberal agitator for insisting that his life matters. White supremacy looks like a white washed seminary curriculum, and an American history class taught only from the perspective of those with power. Finally, white supremacy looks like well-meaning white people ignoring or dismissing black voices. Over this past weekend, I have seen white supremacy on full display through a multitude of expressions and visuals.
As I reflect on this past week, I have seen the residue of white supremacy coating the words of many as they seek to tell black people how they should feel about Confederate monuments. The residue of white supremacy coats the words of those who seek to police the intellect, feelings, or reason of black people as they process racism and white supremacy. As a Christian preacher, I am compelled to encourage and teach God’s people on how to most effectively abound in love. In that spirit, I would like to offer some suggestions to my white brothers and sisters on how to best love black people in light of recent events, especially in how they discuss the issue of Confederate monuments and white supremacy.
1. If a white person truly desires to abound in love, it begins by not seeking to tell black people how they should feel about monuments to white supremacy.
2. It requires white people to actually ask black people their thoughts about issues of white supremacy not from a posture of a teacher, but of a posture of a student. As it relates to Confederate monuments, this means asking black people what they actually think and how they feel about the monuments.
3. White people must begin to truly begin pursuing reconciliation. This means truly seeking to listen and learn regarding ways they can contribute to the end of white supremacy.
I recognize the immediate response to my third suggestion is to say, “I am pursuing reconciliation!” Well, in reconciliation, the offended party is not responsible for carrying the burden of restitution, the offender is. It is the duty of the offender to pursue the offended and to seek whatever restitution is necessary for the offended to receive and forgive the offender. This is a basic principle of forgiveness and reconciliation. Yet, it is often the most violated, which is why many attempts at reconciliation fail. This is not a mystery, the burden of reconciliation always falls on the offender and not the offended. This is why the Gospel is so glorious. Paul says in Romans 5:8, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We were the offending party and yet God pursued us. The church operates out of a similar principle.
In Matthew 18, Christians are told to pursue the person that has offended them. This is not a contradiction to what I am saying. God initiated reconciliation through the Gospel by declaring us wicked and in need of his forgiveness. Yet, we are told to pursue reconciliation through repentance, faith, and discipleship. We are also commanded to be baptized as a sign that we are sincere in the reconciliation work. Jesus tells us in go to an offender and tell them they did something wrong, but the expectation is that the offender will listen to their fault and seek forgiveness and reconciliation. This truth is demonstrated several chapters earlier in Matthew 5:23-24, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” We see in Matthew 5 that the burden to reconcile is on the offender once they knew there is a need for reconciliation.
In racial reconciliation, despite what many in the majority culture would like to believe, the burden for reconciliation falls not on people of color, but on those and the systems in place that perpetuates the known offense. The offense has already been made known, it has been made known over and over because the offenders refuse to listen. Black people have made the offense clear and have throughout history shown a posture that is willing to receive forgiveness. Any attempt, as a society, to place any further burden of pursuit and restitution on the backs of black people is at worse disingenuous and, at best, misinformed. It is reconciliation coated in the grime of white supremacy because it seeks to make the victim take on the posture of the victimizer. It also seeks to make the people and systems who perpetuate offense the victims, which is a key component to white supremacy psychology.
Therefore, any discussion about monuments that minimizes or dismisses the voice of the black community collective is disingenuous. I use the term “collective” intentionally because if I don’t, many will seek out a voice of color that will simply reinforce their narrative. So what should we do with Confederate monuments? Listen, read, and study black voices with a spirit of true reconciliation and see. Let’s be honest, most pro-Confederate monument white people in this country already know exactly how the majority of black people feel about it. The issue isn’t a lack of knowledge of black voices— the issue is a lack of caring about what they have said. Most are content with us simply being ghosts.
We may be ghosts to you, but I want you to know we are here. I am here. We will not leave, and we will not stop speaking. We will persist, and as time goes by, more and more of you will finally see us. Eventually, our voices will not be considered voices in the wind or creepy noises in the room that should simply be dismissed. We will cry out in the wilderness until we are accepted into your world and offered shelter. We have value, our voices matter. We will be heard in this life. Your dismissal of us will haunt you for eternity.
You can follow me on Twitter @KyleJamesHoward. Also, check out my podcast “Coram Deo Podcast” which focuses on issues concerning Biblical Counseling and Practical Theology. You can search for podcast on any major podcast catcher, listen on the web here, follow updates @CoramDeoPodcast, or just click the artwork below.