A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend an interfaith service and dinner with the Jewish student group on campus called MN Hillel. This is an annual event hosted by Hillel in which they invite students from Christian groups across campus to come learn about them and their practices, and share a meal and service together to build inter-campus community among faith groups who may not normally interact.
I’ve felt a heaviness on campus this year, more than in previous ones.
Now that it is finally December, I look back on November with a heavy heart. In a month I normally associate with Thanksgiving and love, I was instead filled with remorse for the hatred and anger in the world. As Christians, we are called to confront injustice and acknowledge the hurt in order to improve the world. Right now, there seems to be so much injustice… how can we as Christians possibly confront all of it?
Back in November, we came together for a conversation about where our faith meets racial justice in this new age of racial tension. While we had had this event planned for months, it ended up being eerily timely with the many recent terrorist attacks, including Paris, and the death of Jamar Clark, right here, in Minneapolis.
This semester, the LCM leaders have been discussing how to tackle racial injustice. Now this may not come as a shock, but the leadership of the Lutheran Campus Ministry in Minnesota is primarily white. Being able to come out of our small group of white people and have an inter-racial conversation about race is something I find really important, and it doesn’t happen very often.
Why don’t these important conversations happen frequently? Well, maybe because it’s hard. It takes a lot of vulnerability to talk to somebody who had experienced life differently from you and be aware of any biases you may bring with you.
Initially, it was silly to hear myself and other white students try to avoid referring to people as “black” while black students tried to avoid referring to people as “white”. Here we were to talk about race… and we were too bashful to use race indicators in conversation! But once we got past the preliminary discomfort, we had built a level of trust necessary for being honest about how race affects our lives. My status as a white person gives me the ability to ignore race issues if I want to. As a white woman, I have the option to avoid these hard conversations entirely. While people of color have to face racial injustice whether they like it or not, I don’t. I can choose to not care.
This is what privilege looks like.
Talking about race is tough. It involves active displays of vulnerability and honesty and humility and empathy. But is this not what God wants for us? Aren’t we called to meet our neighbor in their hurt, and walk alongside them? Aren’t we called to stand up against all kinds of oppression? How do we call ourselves Christians if we hear cries of injustice and ignore them, because it makes us uncomfortable? And how do we, as white Christians, expect to tackle racial injustice if we don’t talk about race with people of different colors and backgrounds?
Spending an evening engaging in these questions was spectacular. But that was November. Now it’s December, and the conversation isn’t over. If I took away anything from our discussion about race, it is that not only is racial injustice real, but it is constant. If we want to see an end to the division and discrimination, we need to continue to fight for it. We cannot let the hard conversations end while the injustice continues.