A third way to antiracism?
I loved Osheta Moore’s Dear White Peacemakers. Osheta writes a beautiful and powerful book, and I deeply recommend it to anyone who thinks of themselves as a white peacemaker. She forges a new way toward antiracism, between grit and grace, which she calls a “third way.” She’s committed to nonviolent antiracism and has felt dissatisfied between structural antiracism activism and academics, and the personal reconciliation of Evangelical institutions. To her, both approaches failed her. Here’s how she says it:
“The either/or thinking of white supremacy culture influenced my anti-racism work as I struggled on both sides of the spectrum:
Offering too much grace to White people that did not require them to change or grow.
Offering too much grit toward White people, expecting them to work for change but not offering any space of healing or empathy.
It was time for me to forge a new way.”
She calls this way the “peacemaking” way. She’ll go on:
“Peacemaking, however, is a nonviolent third-way response rooted in three things:
The kingdom of God’s exposure of the kingdoms of this world.
The honoring of the image of God in all people.
The forging of the community of God that creates eternal flourishing.
Love is the reason we offer each other grace and dream of reconciliation, but love is also the reason we relentlessly pursue justice and equity. Both… with grit and grace.”
Osheta’s perspective challenged me, and sometimes made me uncomfortable or angry. At times, I even outright disagreed. Then it struck me, she isn’t talking to a Brown man like me. She’s talking to White folks. And with that in mind, I could understand where she’s coming from. And all of a sudden her perspective informed my own leadership, which is primarily toward white people. Osheta’s book is full of grace and grit, so by the end of it, I felt like she really understood where I was coming from, and that was rewarding.
Before I go on, I want to add an important note that Osheta does at the end of her book. Osheta is aware that her work and her gracious approach can be abused by white folks to shame people of color and control how they lead and share. She appropriately writes:
“These stories and approaches to anti-racism are mine and mine alone. Not every Black person feels the same commitment to White Peacemakers I do, and not every Black Christian is obligated to interpret Scriptures the way I do… not all Black Christian thinkers agree with me, and that’s completely okay. There’s a particular strategy of divide and conquer that occurs when White people compare Black thinkers, and I’m going to ask you to be really careful about that.”
That point is so essential. So before you, as a white person, use Osheta’s perspective to talk about why certain antiracism activists are bad or hostile to the Gospel, consider that you may be aiding white supremacy and deluding yourself into thinking you’re advancing the Gospel.
When nonviolence feels violent
I have shared a perspective like Osheta’s for a long time (see here and here), but have been still been called divisive or unwelcoming, so it all felt like a waste to me. I extend the grace, but the grit of the work is still rejected.
And that’s when I realized that a nonviolent approach to racism is not an approach without a cost. Too often white people think that the discomfort that they feel when they do the work of antiracism is violence. Or they consider the exposure to the harm they’ve caused judgmental or condemning. Even when victims of racism are simply sharing their lived experience.
But that’s how power works. Race isn’t about skin color. Race is about power. It’s about power assigned to skin color. And that power is hard to observe. It’s so woven into our society and our bodies, that when it’s challenged it might feel like violence. Worse, when it’s observed, it might feel made up. The lived experience of people of color showcases that white power is a real thing. But the lived experience of white people hides that power. That’s why Critical Race Theory is all the rage in conservative circles right now. When antiracists name white power as a danger to peace, white folks can be defensive, and claim that they are being taught to hate their skin color. Do not be afraid to call this overreaction a bad faith one and dust your heels. Our work is with softened hearts; Jesus is looking for those.
Almost regardless of approach, antiracism is bound to cost white people something that will feel uncomfortable. That may bring tears. That may bring anger. That doesn’t make it any more violent, it just showcases white people’s addiction to their power. That power isn’t just located in their bodies, it’s located in the systems they occupy and around them. It is both structural and personal, so we need a spiritual solution to it, one that addresses both the things inside of us and outside of us.
Racism is hatred, antiracism is love
Love is the answer to that. If you are committed to love and to loving victims of racism, be prepared to carry your cross. Be prepared for discipleship to have a cost. Be prepared for real repentance to happen. If all you want is feel-good reconciliation, you must not love your brown siblings. Racism is woven into the fabric of our beings, our systems, and our society. Things need to change for all of us. If you think you are fully sanctified of racism, then Christianity, let alone antiracism, may not be for you. Christianity is for people who are ready to turn around and follow Jesus.
Jesus summarizes the entire law as loving God and loving others. In a racist world, our love is incomplete, and it won’t be complete until we conquer racism. That conquest may come in the age to come, but that it is assured to us should motivate us now to do something about it. The hope of the future, the promise of Jesus, gives us the energy and capacity to do something now.
If love is the means and ends of our antiracism, we need to really confront the hatred that motivates racism. And let’s not mince words. Hatred is the issue here. You don’t need to be holding a Tiki torch and yelling “Blood and Soil” to be complicit in white supremacy and hate of people of color. Only the most explicit forms of racism manifest themselves in these ways. Racism is far more insidious than that. It hides itself in ordinary things. It seems “normal.” So the key to understanding how racism has invaded our institutions is to, one, assume it has, and two, listen to the experts, which is to say those who experience it in your life and institutions. If you don’t listen to them, you are bound to continue harming them. People of color are the key to seeing racism where it hides.
If you are doubtful that your church, institution, or yourself has racism in it, then research the history of racism in the United States. See how it’s woven into the U.S. Constitution, see how white supremacy has woven itself into our churches (read Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby). It is so clearly a part of everything in our society that if you aren’t actively fighting racism, you are going to be actively aiding it.
You can expect it to sting, but take heart, that means you’re doing it
You cannot be nonviolent without being antiracist. You cannot love without being antiracist. And you can’t follow Jesus without being antiracist. When you feel the invariable discomfort of this work, take comfort in knowing that you are actually getting there. The pain of divesting from racism shouldn’t be glorified though. More pain doesn’t mean more success. So treat yourself with grace too, not so you can stop doing the work, but so you can continue to do it.
One final thought: some people will have more stamina to journey with you in your discomfort than others, so don’t judge those who can’t or won’t. We all have different roles to play in this body. And some people are going to be more adept at relating to white folks, while others need to use their prophetic voice to call out injustice, or their pastoral energy to care for the victims of racism. And even you, as a white person, will have a role to play.