I was recently watching a television show where the host, a white woman, was discussing the topic of Black Lives Matter with a guest. The host was a proponent for the Black Lives Matter movement, and I was happy to see her using her platform to help other people understand more about racial inequality. At one point in the show, the host was encouraging other white people to gain more understanding about the topic through books and relationships with black people. In the middle of her encouragement she self corrected herself and said something like “but you shouldn’t go looking for black friends just to learn about what it’s like to be black, nor should you expect your black friends to be responsible for teaching you about their black experiences.” While I understood that she was trying not to put a greater burden on black people to be responsible for white people's ignorance, I disagree with the idea that black people or any other minority should shy away from sharing their life experiences with white people to intentionally educate them.
As a black man I definitely understand that minorities don’t want to be brought into relationships to be someone’s token friend. I, like everyone else, want to be valued in life and especially friendships, for who I am, not what I look like. However, I know and other people of color should recognize, that who we are has largely been connected with what we look like. A great deal of our experiences in life have been influenced by our race. Where we live, our family dynamics, the food we eat, our struggles, accomplishments, and even the way we speak is connected in one way or another to our race. So the desire to be valued for who we are is inseparable from our looks; I am who I am because I am black. As a result, I have no issue with a white person wanting to be my friend because they desire to learn about my life as a black man. In fact, I don’t think it would be much of a friendship if they didn’t want to know about me.
I teach a class about racial reconciliation in the church. The class is based on a book called Multiethnic Conversations by Oneya Okuwobi and Mark Demaz. As part of the class I encourage people to intentionally make friends with people who are different from themselves. While the encouragement is for the whole group, the people who are usually most in need of diverse relationships are the white people in the class. Because of the United States’ history of racism and by virtue of being the majority, white people have the opportunity to live in an almost exclusively white environment for the majority of their lives. Without making any effort, they may never have a need for non-white relationships. As a result, they often live segregated lives without really even knowing it. Minorities on the other hand must develop relationships with white people in order to navigate through the U.S. Minorities also tend to seek each other out when in majority white environments and therefore develop more cross racial relationships. Because of these realities, white people often have to be very intentional about making cross racial friendships while minorities do not. If they are not intentional they will never learn about the life experiences of other races. And if non-white people are not willing to befriend white people who have a desire to learn, then ignorance persists and no progress is made. Yes, they can read a book and learn some history, but we all know that a personal story is more impactful than a history lesson.
I believe that this is extremely important for those of us in the church. We stand on a foundation that is more significant than our race or our personal preferences. If white people are not intentional about seeking cross racial friendships and minorities are not open to being that friend, then the church will remain segregated and our witness will continue to wreak of hypocrisy. For the cause of the gospel, white people need to take on the primary responsibility of intentionally seeking these relationships. They must do so recognizing that they will be uncomfortable and are possibly subjecting themselves to rejection. I believe their faith can stand up to someone not wanting to be their black friend. And for the same gospel, minorities should be willing to accept these sincere friendship requests. Perhaps Christ will be glorified, and a real friendship will result from the awkward one that began as you being their black friend.