Learn to Defend

Kara Walker, Gone, 1994

As a white woman in America, I am privileged. I am granted advantages simply because the color of my skin is the same as that of the majority in power. Some of these advantages I have recognized and many I have not, which is an effect of that privilege. 

So as people begin to share their opinions about systemic racism in America, I wonder where my place is in the conversation. What have I experienced that could lend insight? Is my opinion even valid? And is believing I do have a place another example of entitlement? 

As I’ve been grappling with these questions, a large part of me is tempted to hide in the shadows and keep quiet, mainly for fear that my views could spark arguments, whether with strangers or loved ones. But Scripture commands us to “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; [and] plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17 NIV). 

So in obedience to God’s word, I’ve decided to join this conversation, without offense or insult, to add one humble perspective from a young, white, Christian, American woman.  

It is my observation that being catered to and represented in all walks of life has prevented a vast majority of people in my community from either recognizing the disparities that exist for non-white people or simply not working to change them because we do not experience these issues on a regular basis. This is not to say the vast majority of white people don’t care about the racial inequalities in this country and even feel shame over it, including white police officers I know and love. But going beyond a shake of the head, a social media post, and saying a prayer, I don’t see enough action being taken to actually change the system of racism that exists. And I’ll admit, I am guilty of this inaction myself.

As a white teacher of predominately white students, I do my best to incorporate the works and voices of multicultural authors and perspectives, facilitate conversations about race and inequality, and challenge my students to form opinions based on facts and research instead of bias and hearsay. I exercise my right to vote in a responsible way by researching candidates’ policies and voting for those I feel best represent equality and equity. But that’s just my small space, and it’s minimal in the grand scheme of 250+ years of American racial injustice. Because it is not only policing and our justice system that needs to be changed. It is our community development, education, employment, health care, news media, and other institutions I’m probably not even aware of. 

But let’s be honest. Nothing will change unless my community changes our perspectives on race and privilege and truly empathizes with oppressed minorities. And if we don’t, we will continue to find our country in the same situation time and again. As human rights activist and author Samantha Power claims, “America’s nonresponse to the horrors [of race murder] establishes patterns that [will] be repeated” (A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, 2002). 

So how do we respond? How do we “learn to do right” and “defend the oppressed” to break this pattern? A white friend recently shared an article that offers “75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice”. These practical, easily accessible suggestions are a great start. But after we read and learn, we must act, we must defend.

Because if we continue to stay silent while our brothers and sisters suffer, what will we have to say for ourselves on Judgment Day? Let us remember what Jesus tells us in Matthew 25: 31-46 (NLT).  

““But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. 

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”

 ““Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”

“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

Matthew 25: 31-36 (NLT)

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