Communicating Across the Racial Divide

Dying to Self

In recent years, we have seen the emergence of Black Lives Matter, a group fighting for issues that concern blacks. In response, some whites began to push the ideas of All Lives Matter to emphasize a colorblind approach to racial issues. These two groups represent contrasting ideas that whites and blacks have on solving the racial problems in this nation. Both of these efforts to heal race relations will not accomplish the goal of racial reconciliation.

These groups amplify the chasm between how whites and non-whites approach solving racial problems. Whites tend to see racial issues as a result of individual sin, while people of color see that institutional issues as also a major part of the problem. Inevitably, each group will consistently tear down the efforts of the other group and miss each other completely.

This tearing down of others unlike us is innate in humankind no matter the ethnicity and exposes the reality of human depravity. The way whites approach racial issues often results in a self-serving outcome, and the same can be true for people of color. To solve problems created by racism, we cannot trust any single group or individual to provide solutions for us. We have to learn to engage in healthy dialogue and talk with one another in order to move beyond our own human depravity and work toward compromised solutions that benefit everybody.

The church should be one of the primary places by which we have these challenging discussions on racism and reconciliation. In fact, because of our understanding of human depravity and God’s love for all the nations, the church should be one of the best places for discussing racial issues.

The church understands the fallen human nature and should be able to offer the grace necessary for this dialog to take place. However, since we still tend to worship among our own race, we miss out on exposure to other ideas and views.  But even in multiracial churches we often, like the rest of the world, have a strong propensity to prioritize our own racial interest over the interest of our larger, diverse Christian community. Rather than seeking to be served or agreed with, we should spur one another on to embrace the attitude of a disciple of Christ and “die to self”.  The current climate and culture provide the church with an opportunity to reflect the glory of God in and through hard conversations and difficult challenges.

Active Listening

A healthier, more effective approach is for us to purposefully move to embrace a humble attitude whereby we listen to one another and willingly work towards compromise. Indeed, striving to reach this sort of compromise in recognition of the nature of human depravity is the more scripturally based approach to dealing with racism as opposed to ideologies found in groups pushing an agenda. To this end, we need to intentionally engage in active listening.

Active listening is when we listen to each other so that we understand why an individual has certain perceptions. We often listen to figure out how to counter the argument of the person we are speaking with, but that is not active listening.

When we engage in active listening we free ourselves from the burden of having to agree with the speaker. We only seek to discover and understand.

There is a simple technique that illustrates whether we have engaged in active listening. After you have heard someone speak their mind, then put their ideas in your own words. If you can accurately restate the thoughts to the satisfaction of the speaker, then you have heard them. You still may not agree with them, but at least you truly understand their point of view and what they are saying. If they say that your restatement is inaccurate, then humbly ask for clarification and insight.  Then, restate again what you have heard them say. Only when the person you are talking with tells you that you have captured their ideas can you lay claim to have engaged in active listening.

The power of gaining the status of an active listener is not in your hands, but in the hands of those you are communicating with at the time.

Images and Stereotypes

It is distressing when people describe those who disagree with them in very dehumanizing terms. One of the more malicious statements said about activists of color is that they do not care if people of color murder each other.  This creates an image of activists accepting murder as long as people of color are doing the murdering. Such a callous image is far from reality and completely distorts the desires of people of color.

On the other hand, there has also been a claim that white conservatives want to advocate an ideology of white supremacy.  This distortion puts forth an image of whites as supporters of the KKK. This too is a callous image that is far from reality and allows those people of color to dismiss the concerns of those whites. These are the sort of images and stereotypes that help to maintain the racial alienation, but these images do not survive honest attempts at active listening.

Would it not be meaningful if in the church we can create an environment where we learn how engage in healthy cross-racial communications?

First, as a Christian and second as a scholar, I have put myself in a position to listen to very conservative whites and very radical people of color. I know how we speak past each other rather than work together to find solutions for everyone. We in the church should work toward finding those solutions through active listening.

We have engaged in racial combat since the founding of this country. It should come as no surprise that we are still steeped in racial alienation. Trying to beat down those we disagree with on racial issues has not worked. No one is pleased with the outcome of such attempts, and we keep doing the same thing over and over again. Let us look to active listening as a way to create compromised solutions and racial understanding that continues to elude us. With some work, we can make such a process a standard way in which Christians begin to communicate across the racial divide. Then we will have the moral authority to speak convincingly about the racial alienation that continues to plague us. Just imagine what a powerful witness that will give the Church.

 

 

 

George Yancey
Author

George Yancey is Professor of sociology at the University of North Texas. He has published numerous peer review academic articles and books dealing with racial reconciliation, multiracial churches, racial identity, and interracial romance. He has also written "Transcending Racial Barriers" and "Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias."

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