Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World (InterVarsity Press) is a book full of insights for White Christians who want to understand and counter racism in our country and in our world. The authors are White Christians who want to help other White Christians who are concerned about racial reconciliation. The book is structured around five steps on a journey toward becoming a White person who can be an effective counter to racism in its various forms. These are the steps: 1) encounter, 2) friendship, 3) displacement (entering into spaces where Whites are not dominant), 4) reconsidering your White identity, and 5) becoming an advocate for justice (and creating a just community). If you read these steps and find them to be intimidating or beyond your current reach, do not worry. This book could still be for you. Just focus on where you are now and on the next step, and see where God leads you. The reader does not need to progress through all five steps in order to become a more effective advocate for racial understanding and racial reconciliation. This journey is a step by step process and we all have to start somewhere and then continue to grow.
Encounter Leads to Friendship
In this post, we will look at steps 1 to 3. Encountering a person of another race (and culture) is the first step toward friendship (steps 1 and 2). Friendships that cross race and culture can be exciting and interesting at first (see chapter 2, and especially the helpful self-examination questions on pp. 40-41). Those that develop and deepen over time will often encounter misunderstandings, disagreements, and conflicts (chapters 3 and 4). Even the first apostles encountered cross-cultural conflicts that arose within the Jerusalem church (see Acts 6:1-6, for example; pp. 27-28). When conflicts come, what should we do? We should 1) listen to understand, 2) share our perspective, 3) ask for forgiveness, and 4) offer forgiveness (pp. 54-55).
Conflicts in relationships is not easy; conflict in cross-cultural relationships can pose unique challenges. Those who persevere in relationships with people of a different race (and culture) can learn a lot. In my experience, it can be difficult to initiate conversations about race and culture, even with close friends. The careful reader of Being White will encounter many pieces of wisdom to help them progress down the road of having productive and enlightening conversations about race. God designed us to communicate with one another. One natural step toward racial reconciliation involves friendships, and the closer the better.
Displacement (Immersion Experiences): A Next Step in Encounter
The authors call step 3 in the journey displacement, but most books about crossing cultures would call it immersion (full or partial). Step 3 may seem difficult to accomplish, but can be accomplished by large or small steps. An experience of immersion can range from full immersion to partial immersion. The authors provide examples of both. For example, Doug recalls joining an African-American church after the Los Angeles race riots (summer of 1993) (chapter 6). This is a good example of partial immersion.
I have experienced the tremendous value of partial immersion by serving in various churches, including Chinese-American, African-American, and Hispanic. Partial immersion over a long period of time is more valuable than full immersion for a couple of weeks (like a short-term mission trip). Why not choose to venture into a church that will help you to cross cultures and help you to find friends of a different race and culture? I have found that such adventures have enriched my life, and have equipped me to be more effective at racial reconciliation (at the same time).
As you read the New Testament, notice the cross-cultural encounters of Paul and the other apostles. Many of these show up in Being White. This is an element of the New Testament that you may have missed and another helpful aspect of this book!
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