Reconciliation 101

Two Easy Starters for a Healthy Black History Conversation

I grew up in the deep south, and after moving to the Midwest, I’ve been asked about black-white relations in the South. Pastor C.L Bryant, maker of the film Runaway Slave (2012), told me that in his travels, he’d found that people outside the South think we southerners are still stuck in racial tension. “We’ve moved on,” he said. But they don’t know that.

Obviously, that’s a generalization, but I’m inclined to believe him. If you want to cut through perceived racial tension and cultivate relationships across racial lines, here are two simple questions you can use to prompt a rewarding discussion:

What do you prefer to be called? So far, the answer I’ve heard most is not “African American” but “black.” “When the whole African American thing came out,” Samantha told me, “I was like, ‘Where’d that come from?’ I’ve never even been to Africa! You’re white and I’m black. What’s the difference? Call me Sam.” It made me laugh just to hear her say that, but it also set me at ease. Race does not have to hinder relationships, and it won’t if we don’t let it.

Have you experienced prejudice? A paramedic, Sam has had some hurtful incidents. One time a patient wanted anyone but her to take her blood pressure. Another time, she had to come to the aid of an injured man covered in Neo-Nazi tattoos. When things like this happen, she says, it does make her job more difficult. She carries out her professional duties anyway, but it helps to talk it over with colleagues or friends afterwards. Pastor Bryant told me that when he was little, he and his family could only go to the state fair on Negro Day. “And somehow,” he added, “it always seemed to rain on Negro Day.”

Dr. Williams Holmes Borders, a pastor and civil rights leader in Atlanta, Georgia, once told this story:

[A Negro] had been denied an education [and] political and economic opportunity, and was forced to beg for food. He rang the front doorbell of a southern mansion and the owner of the house answered.

“I’m hungry,” the Negro said.

“Go around to the back door,” he was told. Food was prepared, and the owner of the house brought it to the Negro. “First we will bless the food,” the white man said. “Now you repeat after me, ‘Our Father …’”

The Negro said, “Your Father …”

“Why do you insist upon saying, ‘Your Father,’ when I keep telling you to say, ‘Our Father’?” the white man asked.

The Negro beggar replied, “Well, boss, if I say, ‘Our Father,’ that would make you and me brothers, and I’m ‘fraid the Lord wouldn’t like it, you makin’ your brother come to the back porch to get a piece of bread.”

No one uses the word “Negro” anymore, but don’t let cancel culture prevent you from hearing this story in the context in which it was written and seeing the man in it for what he is – a wiser, larger, more shrewd and more noble man than the white owner of the mansion attempting to “lead” him in prayer. I think we can also say he was more in tune with the character of God. Perhaps he should have been the one leading the prayer.

Many blacks in American history have fit this description. Pastor Bryant said his parents and grandparents could have chosen anger and bitterness in response to their circumstances, but they didn’t. They chose instead to go on about the business of life – working hard, raising their families, and serving their God. His grandfather could not read, not even his own name, Pastor Bryant said, but he was “a great man.” His son, Pastor Bryant’s father, taught himself to read, and now here he is, their descendent – educated, a public figure in a position of leadership, and thriving in America.

“If black folks really looked at the whole picture,” he continued, “they would see that they are the greatest success story among American people that the country has produced.” Slavery in America was horrible, he said, but the very fact that he, a descendent of that brutish system, is now a free citizen, empowered to speak his mind through his own film, is evidence of this great triumph.

Of course, it’s true that America has a history of race-based oppression, but listening to the stories of people who have suffered without returning evil for evil has given me a deep appreciation for their character and persevering strength. Those who have chosen faith over rebellion, grace over bitterness, and (SJWs, please take note) humility over pridefulness, have much to teach the rest of us about cultivating godly character. As you have opportunity, reach out to your black fellow Americans, especially those who profess faith in Christ. Invite them to talk about their life’s experiences. Then just sit back and listen. You may find yourself inspired, humbled, and a better person yourself for having done so.

Related:

**Dr. Borders’s story taken from Handyman of the Lord, by James W. English (1967), quoted in the CSB Worldview Study Bible.

has a BS in Computer Science and worked as a software engineer with IBM until she hopped off the career track to be a full-time mom. She lives in Indianapolis, IN, and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.

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