Toward Racial Reconciliation: Reflection & Practice

Last week I took part in my first-ever Google Hangout — #MennoNerds on Race, Mutuality, and Anabaptist Community.

I was initially nervous because race is such a sensitive topic, and the technology and other panelists were relatively new to me, but I was actually able to enjoy myself, nerves and all! Thanks to fellow panelists Drew Hart, Katelin Hansen, Osheta Moore, Tim Nafziger, moderator Tyler Tully, and to Chris Lenshyn, Robert Martin and Ryan Robinson for your support behind the scenes. Thanks, Everyone, for making this such a great experience!

For me, this conversation was healing, in part because it wasn’t all talk. In planning for the panel and participating together, it seemed to me that we were also working at some of the essential practices of racial reconciliation. We were trying to walk the talk, trying to practice what we would preach. If you’d like to watch, please see the video at the end of this post. In the meantime, here are some of the practices that support racial reconciliation that were part of this experience:

1. Listening

When we listen, it might not look like we’re doing much, but listening is active engagement and not to be underestimated in creating shalom as Osheta points out in the course of the panel. I sensed that we were trying to listen well to one another both in our planning and on the panel itself.

2. Being deliberate

As the panel was being formed, care was taken so that the dominant white culture was not the dominant voice on the panel. Tyler was also deliberate in his preparation as moderator so that the panelists would have roughly the same number of questions.

3. Yielding to one another

For our Google Hangout, in addition to what was happening on-screen, there was a group chat, a q&a feed, plus questions being submitted from Twitter. At one point, while another panelist was talking, I commented in the group chat that I’d like to add something too, but with so much to keep track of, I guess Tyler didn’t see it, and he moved on to direct the next question to Tim. But Tim noticed, and instead of answering the next question, he said he wanted to think about it and would first yield to me since I had something to say. That was a wonderfully practical example of what we had just been talking about, of those in the majority making room for those in the minority even to the point of turning down opportunities.

4. Speaking up

On addressing microaggressions, the question was put to me as a church leader, and I responded with a story about addressing one example; however, I realize that it’s not always possible to address these when they occur — those in the minority may not always have the opportunity, resources, energy, will, or power to address such microaggressions and to keep on addressing them. That can be exhausting and frustrating. Those in the majority also have a responsibility as Katelin points out — not speaking over or taking over, but working together as partners.

5. Don’t assume you already know

One small example is that Tyler asked me ahead of time how to pronounce my name so he could get it right. On a larger scale, as Drew points out, there is diversity within black culture so it’s important not to make assumptions. Instead of assuming you already know, take on a posture of learning.

6. Reading Scripture

There was one question about Scripture that I didn’t respond to since I had just talked about racial reconciliation and the whole sweep of Scripture from creation to the example of Jesus and the coming together of Jew and Gentile in the early church. I felt like putting quote marks around all of that and moving it to answer this other question too — racial reconciliation isn’t about just one verse or story, but it’s part of the whole sweep of Scripture.

7. Taking time

Our conversation was wide-ranging and two hours long, so we did spend some time with one another. But I also found that sometimes the conversation moved more quickly than I was ready to answer — that was helpful to keep dead air time to a minimum, but it also meant not much time to think before speaking or to respond as fully as we might have otherwise. That’s why I’m glad our conversation is continuing through blogging and other means.

8. Realizing that structural change takes more than one conversation.

On a personal level, I have often come away changed by a single conversation, but social and structural change requires patient and persistent community (re-)building over time. One leadership principle that has been formative for me is this ancient Chinese proverb: With a good leader, the people say, “What a good leader.” With a great leader, the people say, “We did it ourselves.” I like the longer version that Osheta quoted from the Christian Community Development Association: “Go to the people, Live among them, Learn from them, Love them, Start with what they know, Build on what they have, but of the best leaders when their task is done, the people will remark, “We have done it ourselves.”

9. Praying and relying on the Holy Spirit

On air, we talked about relying on the Holy Spirit, and prayer is an essential part of that. Off air, I led in prayer before we started, and I felt our time was bathed in prayer. In the work of racial reconciliation, we need prayer and discernment to know when to be silent and simply listen; when to speak up, and how to do that without speaking over; how to act as partners instead of ignoring or lording it over one another; how to read Scripture and to submit to one another as Scripture teaches, to be led by God and sustained by the Spirit.

10. ________________________.

The practices listed here are just a beginning, drawn from and illustrated by my experience on this panel. They’re not complete. They’re not a step-by-step plan to follow. I list them here as one way of describing what racial reconciliation looks like in one specific context. Living these out in multiple ways in many other contexts is part of what it means to work at racial reconciliation.

Writing/Reflection Prompt: What other practices would you add to this list? How are you being led to work at racial reconciliation in your context?


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4 thoughts on “Toward Racial Reconciliation: Reflection & Practice

  1. What a fascinating and important project! I really like the steps you list in this blog, and think they would also work well when we’re trying to discern our way forward on difficult topics in the church.

    1. Thanks, Elsie – I was also fascinated by the process, and you’re right that these basic elements can apply to other situations as well. In this case, I think there was substantial agreement among us as panelists even though we may not have known one another well and some of us have never met in person. In situations where there is significant disagreement, listening, learning, etc. become more challenging.

  2. I really appreciate this, and especially #6 jumps out at me too. All of it is good food for thought.
    Something I have learned personally is that the term “black” is offensive to some people. Where I lived in the States, the Afro-Americans simply referred to themselves as “black”, but I learned more recently that not everyone feels the same about it. I can have a poor memory and I’m not fantastic at thoroughly processing my words before saying them (I’m a verbal processor), but I really want to de-program the term from my vocabulary. Not making assumptions is a great point you made. Cultures vary so much. Learning a general posture of listening and communicating carefully is such an important skill to develop, whomever I may be talking to.
    I find there are different cultures even within a culture; I feel very aware of that, being an artist and knowing how different the artist’s way can be sometimes.

    1. In the video I comment that race is a fairly broad category, since I share your understanding that there are different cultures within the same race/group. And in addition to race and culture, there are differences in age, gender, etc. that may tend to separate us from one another, yet I believe are intended to enrich our community together.

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