Tired of having conversations about racial tensions? Me too

We had just finished a discussion about the diversity section of our textbook. The conversation had been lively and respectful, but it was clear it had become slightly uncomfortable for at least a couple of folk in the class as we discussed nuances of class, race, and privilege. There were a few white participants who genuinely wanted to understand some of the distinctions that were being made in our exchanges. They had never thought about some of the subject matter content. After our hour was up there was still a lot that remained unsaid, yet it had definitely been a productive class. As we walked to our cars in the parking lot, my blond haired, blue eyed classmate and I reflected on the dialogue. It appeared from her contributions that she had spent a good amount of time educating herself about some of the topics we were discussing. She had eloquently articulated the differences between racism and prejudice. She understood systematic oppression and power differentials. She spoke up when there were misunderstandings. She was one I would undoubtedly call an ally. "Wow. That was emotionally intense!” she mused. I agreed. "I haven't thought about some of that for a while", she continued, "I feel so drained after that, I need to go home and decompress!” she chuckled. My immediate thought was, "It must be nice…"

Unfortunately, there are many of us who don't have the luxury to "forget" about and "decompress" from racial issues – it’spart of our constant reality. Regardless of being "weary", "fed up", or "emotionally drained", there is no option to not think about how race pervades interpersonal interactions. Often I hear people who live a majority experience lament, "I'm so tired of hearing about racial tensions!" You're tired? Try living it! I'd love to never have to have another conversation or write yet another commentary about this subject. Unfortunately, this isn't just a quaint academic exercise. For some of us, the confrontation of these issues is part and parcel of life. We don’t get to walk away and not care.

I've heard complaints from colleagues and acquaintances about not being able to say whatever one wants to say, and having to "walk on eggshells" because saying the wrong thing might lead to being unfairly labeled. Really? That's what minorities have to do every day! Code switching – even when expressing innocuous views – is not merely an inconvenience, but a matter of survival. Because neglecting to do so may result in consequences more detrimental than merely having someone label you: that label may lead to a lack of opportunity or several other undesirable end-products resulting from the reinforcement of someone's stereotypes. The need to learn to move in dual spheres was eloquently described by WEB DuBois in 1897 as "double consciousness".

And as a minority, one has to recognize that dangerous stereotypes can be triggered even before a word is ever spoken. This was demonstrated clearly when Corey Johnson preached at last week's SAU vespers. His sermon wasn't the flashpoint. After all, his point was the most uncontroversial of premises, so much so that we even sing about it! It was essentially, Red, Brown, Yellow, Black and White all are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world! No, he was criticized for his appearance and his audacity to be Black in a traditionally White space. Time and time again, it has been demonstrated that by merely existing, moving through the world as a physically identifiable "non White" person can trigger those biases. Just by your appearance – forget about clothes or demeanor: just your skin or hair – you can be judged unjustly. This can happen to White people too, but it's also undeniable that, as a systemic issue, for minorities this is has far more profound repercussions than an individual just "not liking you". That is, someone's biases can lead minorities to being judged more harshly, looked at with suspicion, reprimanded more often, harassed by authorities, or even killed more often than for White people. In fact, it starts even prior to visual contact. Just having a name that is ethically identifiable will result in fewer call backs for jobs and rental inquiries.

Someone will say, "I don't believe it! Prove it!" And although I ordinarily link to references when I write, in this instance I decline because 1 – examples are ubiquitous. Google is your friend. That's why when I read letters to the editor[1] written by young adults educated in our colleges, that clearly "don't get it ", it's hard to imagine that this is not evidence of simple willful ignorance. And, 2 – I’m tired too. Tired of having to "prove" my experience and justify my feelings. I honestly can't think of any minority adult who doesn't have at least one story of similar experiences, regardless of their education, "attitude", body language, or neighborhood. I'm vicariously tired for them having to explain themselves too. And truly, no matter how many research conclusions, statistics, or anecdotes are noted, those who want to stay unconvinced will remain so.

Did I mention that I'm tired too? I'm tired of our church ignoring, and at times perpetuating, these tensions. While it's valiant that there are students on college campuses trying to start productive conversations, it has to be more than that. The efforts led by collegiates[2] and administrators on Southern's campus are admirable. But I'd love if we were proactive instead of reactive. And by "we", I am challenging more than our tertiary institutions. College students stay in their academic bubbles for 4, 5, or 6 years (perhaps a bit longer if they choose). But the majority of them came from presumably Christian homes and Adventist congregations. And after their matriculation they will go back to them. Are the conversations happening there? I can say that these discussions happen repeatedly in predominantly black congregations out of necessity, for reasons expressed above. Do they happen in White congregations? This isn't an accusation, but a question for contemplation. And even when these topics are addressed in minority settings, how many times are these dialogues WITH White people and not only insular conversations? Again, food for thought.

Last year both Allegheny East Conference[3] and Andrews University[4] made attempts to address the commentary surrounding regional and state conferences. But this isn't just about organizational structures. People hearing about the controversy at Southern demanded to know what the GC was going to do. But this isn't a top down issue. These tensions need to be addressed at the local level. These ideas about biases and understanding have to be spoken about in our churches, in our homes, around our dinner tables.

Criticism is sometimes leveled at this publication for focusing too often on exclusively American topics. But let's not pretend that these challenges are isolated to North America. Our church is infected with divisive biases in Trinidad (between the Indians, Douglas, and Africans), in Greece (between the Greeks and the Xenos), in Australia (between the Aboriginals, Islanders, and non indigenous), and the list could go on. Globally, we need a heart change! The solution does not lie in ignoring these tensions or in ignoring our diversity. It is about coming together and collectively seeking God's Will. It's about my pastoral colleagues taking the initiative in preaching about these challenges – even if they don't affect you personally. It's about parents from all backgrounds teaching their children about equal worth – not just in their words, but by their examples. It's about our churches talking, serving, and playing with one another – not remaining exclusively in our enclaves. It's about facing the difficult stuff head on. It's all of these things being initiated by all of us. It's a long process. It's about being encouraged by Galatians 6:9: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." In the draining moments, reflect on Isaiah 40:31: "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."

Remember these words to strengthen you, because admittedly, you may get tired along the way. Me too.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7353

I am a minority, though, not black. Sometimes, I wonder if we can better accentuate the things we have in common, and if attention needs to be placed on things that differentiate us, let’s see how those differences can be used for the betterment of the church/society/school/self rather than how it makes us different from each other.

Perhaps, I am fortunate, because while I do, sometimes feel the negativity of racial tension, it has never overcome me. It just makes me stronger to achieve more . . . because, yes, I am tired of having conversations about racial tensions. There is so much more to do to achieve great things for God.

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American centric racial issues are tiring to hear of as this is so much bigger than U.S. based ‘black and white’. I am glad the last paragraph broadens the topic. As a ‘white’ American doing mission work in Asia for eight years I am in the minority here and I guarantee that the tensions within good old Adventist enclaves is intense from a racial (discriminatory) point of view towards westerners. Why is it so hard for people to understand that the picture of heaven includes everyone?

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Very well-written, articulate piece. Thank you so much for the time and attention you have shown to urge us towards taking a much-needed look at how we are expanding and embracing this conversation, both individually and collectively as a church community.

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America’s way of doing things is based on a white European culture, by and large. That is a fact, and white culture is different from black culture. In another post, an individual noted that whites don’t really like going to a church to be yelled at for an hour. And many blacks would be just bored at a white service.

So, white culture has various norms and conventions that black culture does not. They are different. Now since the white culture is the dominant one, sometimes submission to its norms are what are required to succeed. American white culture has made many adjustments to black culture, and has done much to help the previous slaves. Whites even died for them. Does that excuse Jim Crow,and other short comings? No, but to condemn all of white culture because it does not adjust to black culture in many ways does mean it is racist, just different.

I was running a nomination committee and the office of head elder came up. The best candidate was a black woman. I supported her for the position, but two black members of the committee felt that a woman should not be head elder, as that was not allowed in their culture. She did not get the job, and felt it was best not to push the issue. Should I have berated them for their cultural norms?

The author mentions that even having an ethnic name can lead to fewer opportunities. It is true! So, why do it? If you feel it is important to give your children such a moniker, then there might be consequences. Paul and Timothy circumcised for Jewish cultural reasons.

I lived in Africa for 8 yrs. I had to adjust to how they did things there, not them to my way of doing things. Yet my American way of doing things did help them in many ways. But it was not always the best for their circumstances.

I remember how a missionary criticized the “extended family” culture there as inhibiting ambition, which it did. But it was an excellent way to address the problem of social security. And it worked, even though there might be a trade off for what a white American might see as a short-coming.

There is no freer richer group of blacks in the world than the blacks in America. If you don’t think so, go to Africa and see the limited amount of freedom and opportunity there. The difference is profound. They are coming out of it. But the reason is partly because they are adopting some western ideas from white culture.

I had a young black come to me about a job. He had been colpourtering in the summer, and had thought he might be interested in doing it during the school year, as he had graduated. I asked about his earnings. He said he had done OK, but then I asked who had earned the most. He said it was a attractive white girl who had done the best. And I knew he was right, and that he was at a disadvantage. Male and black. He was a husky fellow as well, but gentle as could be.

But he has moved on and gotten himself some jobs that will work for him. He COULD bemoan the racism of this country (or the sexism, as a young attractive woman will always do better than a man, and little children will do even better). Or he could go out and do as good as he could . Bemoaning an issue will not usually make for success.

The author seems to have at least a small chip on his shoulder. Racist! you will say to such a statement. Some blacks at the university in Missouri even told the whites that they could not meet with them because they were white and their skin made the blacks uncomfortable. Hmmmm. That did not seem a step in the right direction to me.

There is a certain sense that the author has completely internalized white culture. Criticism of the country or its leaders is often not allowed in Africa without repercussions. He is not going to face any such repercussions here. He is free and protected.

There are no immediate answers to all the problems we have. But they are small problems compared to what other nations face. This is the most integrated country in the world. Now that may lead to blacks seeing what COULD be achieved. But sometimes it is good to consider the fact that this is the best place in the world for a black to be (the Africans sure thought it was, as they all wanted to come here). The author has it better than blacks anywhere else in the world. It might be well to think on that once in a while.


I think you hit the nail squarely on the head. The more we continue to focus on our differences someone is going to feel alienated, attacked, left out and/or bad.

Why not instead focus on our commonalities instead? We’re Christians, that’s at least one big thing we have in common. And the more we talk, I’ll bet we find other things too.

Isn’t that how Jesus would do it?


It seems to me that this is a systemic issue. Adventism has implicit and explicit racial attitudes that are rooted in its history, its belief system and its organizational structure.

A lot of intergenerational trauma has accumulated over the decades, and I’m not sure talk, however well-intentioned, will heal this. This kind of stress becomes part of peoples’ physiology, and impacts choices over generations.

Has Adventism ever been willing to face the fact that it harms people?

Until this is seen as something deeper than behavior problems that need to be controlled, the tensions will keep accumulating and come out in explosions because the feelings were never validated, the attitudes were never faced, the 19th century writings cannot be questioned, and responsibility for the damage done therefore cannot ever be taken.

Where are the academics in Adventism specializing in healing transgenerational trauma caused by racist institutions and attitudes?

Perhaps Spectrum could run some articles by scholars on what is known about transgenerational racial trauma, and talk about what could be done at the grassroots levels to facilitate unraveling and healing this legacy of racism.

This critical situation requires more than goodwill, it also requires knowledge and skills, it seems to me. Surely the Adventist church has academic resources that could be brought to bear.

I understand “tired.” But it’s more than “tired,” it’s ongoing traumatic damage in the face of indifference. You wouldn’t be talking about it in your churches if it weren’t real and ongoing. I’m sure there are stories.

Canada seems to be trying to address the cumulative trauma of racism on First Nations peoples.


Racism must be understood as something that is lived; it is experienced,
by individuals, families, communities, and nations through interactions and
structures of the everyday world.

The truth is that the ideologies, social prejudices and words upon which race and racism are built do a great deal of damage.

In fact, racism infects the lives of individuals and institutions – sometimes quietly, sometimes covertly, sometimes immediately, and sometimes over long periods of time, but always unjustly.


Canada’s First Nations: A Legacy of Institutional Racism

Intergenerational Trauma: Convergence of Multiple Processes among First Nations
peoples in Canada

Stressful events may have immediate effects on well-being, and by influencing appraisal
processes, coping methods, life styles, parental behaviours, as well as behavioural and neuronal
reactivity, may also have long lasting repercussions on physical and psychological health.

In addition, through these and similar processes, traumatic experiences may have adverse
intergenerational consequences.

Given the lengthy and traumatic history of stressors experienced by Aboriginal peoples, it might be expected that such intergenerational effects may be particularly notable.

In the present review we outline some of the behavioural disturbances associated with stressful/traumatic experiences (e.g., depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and substance abuse disorder), and describe the influence of several variables (age, sex, early life or other experiences, appraisals, coping strategies, as well as stressor chronicity, controllability, predictability and ambiguity) on vulnerability to pathology.

Moreover, we suggest that trauma may dispose individuals to further stressors, and increase the response to these stressors.

It is further argued that the shared collective experiences of trauma experienced
by First Nations peoples, coupled with related collective memories, and persistent sociocultural
disadvantages, have acted to increase vulnerability to the transmission and expression of
intergenerational trauma effects.


I pray this will happen. The issues are so deeply entrenched, it will be chaotic for awhile, if people try, I imagine.

All the best.

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[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:10510”]
I honestly can’t think of any minority adult who doesn’t have at least one story of similar experiences, regardless of their education, “attitude”, body language, or neighborhood. I’m vicariously tired for them having to explain themselves too. [/quote]

Well, I’m one. I live among people of a different ethnicity, and I am the only one of my color that see most every day. Occasionally, I see someone in passing of the same skin color as I have, but we rarely have a chance to talk. Guess what? I do not while away my time thinking about it. Yes, in some ways I can justifiably claim “victim” status for the way I am treated here. I just do not think of it in those terms. Why should I see myself that way? To do so only invites a vicious cycle in terms of my own personal perspective, because people tend to see in life what they expect to see.


You might also say that America is a sunday-worshipping Christian culture, so people who are Sabbatarians should just get used to it and adjust.

But African Americans have been here for more than 400 years. At this point, they’re far more connected to America than to Africa.

Americans love to distinguish themselves from Europeans. Part of this distinction is that for better or worse, America is more diverse.

White Americans have it better than white people anywhere else in the world. If the biggest price they have to pay is occasionally listening to Black people complain, well, perhaps they should be grateful. I hear Russia isn’t a very wonderful place to live.

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As of the 2015 census 74.5 million blacks live in the US.
Holmes county Miss. is 85% black as is Humphreys country, Coahoma County and Tunica county Miss.
In fact the deep south has the highest percentages nationally.

Each of those counties has Black Sheriffs and office personnel. All public services have approximately the same percentages.
Certainly those counties in Mississippi for sure and the deep south in general but be a little slice of heaven experiencing little if any Racism because of the homogeneous nature of the population.
All the data points to the fact that environments where there is little or few whites do not result in happier or more prosperous black populations.
Perhaps that is why blacks living outside majority black populations dont move there. Evidently they feel their lives are better outside black majority populations despite what they perceive as constant “racial tensions.”

But if you research the statistics the rates of violent crime are 25% higher than the national average. Here is one for example.

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Thanks, ajshep.

a) Why is “the white culture” “the dominant one”?

In other words, what were all of the behaviors—thought, speech, and action—in which white people engaged in order to make sure that “the white culture [became] the dominant one”?

b) Why does this continue?

In other words, what are all of the behaviors—thought, speech, and action—in which white people engage in order to make sure that “the white culture [remains] the dominant one”?


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[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:10510”]

is there evidence, anywhere, that racial integration can be sustainable over the long term…perhaps the solution to racial tensions is to not have them, rather than constantly attempt to deal with them…if racial segregation were encouraged and consistently practiced, would we see more racial tension, or less…do we know…has it ever been seriously tried…

i know that south africa’s apartheid policy was heavily criticized because the separate but equal mantra was manifestly not equal…but what if it had been…what if the problem with apartheid was not segregation, but the clear inequality…what if a multi-racial parliament had taken pains to ensure that communities divided by race were equally invested in in terms of housing, healthcare, education and every other measurable parameter…do racially separate communities, with truly equal opportunities, have racial problems…i don’t think we can know the answer to that question until it’s been seriously tried…

It is not race but poverty where more physical violent crimes occur.