Another Article by Chris Jacobs
Those of us who are white and love our brothers and sisters of color want to learn to love better. I believe that. More and more of us are taking to time to read about race issues, watch videos and movies about the subject, and most importantly, engage in honest discussions with those of other races. I am one of those. Chris Jacobs is another, whose excellent article, “It’s Really About Love,” was posted on this blogsite last week (Blog 39). Today I am happy to post a second article by Chris, one that I would almost pay people of my skin color to read. It is a great read, a vital read, a spiritual read – and I literally beg you to read it! Please!
As I said in introducing his first article, Chris is an elder in our Denver church and a highly respected brother in both professional and spiritual circles. Like me, his heart has been touched by God to delve into this sensitive area of racially related issues. The story he tells in this new article is quite a captivating one, one that helped my heart. It will help yours as well. Read and prepare to be blessed!
Help Us, Chris!
Who are they anyway? If you are reading this, I suspect you have a picture in your mind. You may be saying to yourself, “It’s about time we talk about that question and it is high time someone tells them to get over it! Or you may just be wondering why it is so hard for them to “get over it.” Or you may simply ponder why people would ask that question in the first place.
48 He [Jesus] replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)
At the outset, I must confess this is a question I asked myself and did not understand until a few years ago. Probably the biggest reason I did not understand was that I had not engaged them as to reasons why it was so difficult to get over their history. I hope this can help those, who like me, want to grow in compassion and love.
Compelled to Write
I felt compelled to write this article, following a conversation that I shared about in a recent article entitled, “It’s Really About Love.” In it, I described a white sister having asked a black couple, “Why don’t they just get over it?” I shared that conversation with the ICOC diversity group in a devotional time, with the theme of loving one another deeply. After I shared the story, one of the black brothers inquired with a desire for understanding, “Why would someone ask that?” The white brothers on the call tried to explain, and as we did, it struck me how wide the chasm of perception is on these kinds of questions between our black brothers and sisters and the rest of the family. In this article, I’ll try to address this profound question.
I grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Miami, Florida in the 1950’s and 1960’s. As baby-boomers, we lived in the long shadow of World War II, during which some six million Jews were killed at the hands of the Nazis, led by the infamous Adolph Hitler. As a child, I perceived Hitler to be universally regarded with the greatest disdain and unyielding condemnation, and characterized as the personification of evil, a madman and the single source for the massive destruction and loss on the European continent. Even today, I cannot think of any individual in recent history whose name brings a greater sense of revulsion than Hitler’s. Even more so in the Jewish community.
In our neighborhood, my brothers and I were the token Gentiles of our group of friends, not that any of that mattered to us. The subject of the Holocaust did not come up in conversation very often, but when it did, it was spoken of in reverent tones, with eyes cast downward until the uncomfortable silence passed. There was a respect, a sorrow, an understanding that some of our own had suffered unjustly in ways we knew we could not fully comprehend. One of my friend’s parents were both survivors of the holocaust; I recall seeing their identification numbers clearly etched on their arms, a silent, painful and permanent reminder of the unspeakable horrors they experienced. My friend confided that his parents had never spoken a word about this part of their lives to him or his sister. We tacitly understood that the memories were too horrible to express aloud, especially to their children.
The Jewish people, our spiritual ancestors, have historically suffered a great deal of persecution and discrimination. Even in America, there was and is a certain amount of prejudice and bigotry toward Jews as there are toward other ethnic groups. But when I reflect back on those years and even up to now, I cannot recall even once, someone saying to one of my Jewish friends, “Why don’t they just get over it?” In fact, the very thought of it seems absurd. Following the war, many Jewish people expressed their anger and outrage toward the Germans in various ways. Some, by actions as simple as refusing to purchase German made products, while others devoted their lives to a relentless pursuit of former war criminals. Whether or not we agreed with individuals’ responses, we understood, respected, and acknowledged their need to protest.
An Example from Abroad
I lived in Japan for ten wonderful years with my wife and three children. We love the people, the culture, the food and were inspired by the courageous faith of those calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in a land where he is not known. Japan also has a history as one of the instigators of World War II, as well as perpetrator of heinous war crimes throughout Asia. As Americans, most of us are very familiar with the bombing of Pearl Harbor because that was a direct act against our nation.
However, many are not as familiar with the millions of civilian deaths throughout Asia at the hands of Japanese soldiers, the utilization of women as sex slaves and a plethora of other inhumane acts against their enemies. Today, many Japanese know very little about the war crimes; their government approved history books tread very lightly on the subject and from our perspective, they live in world of denial. As Americans, we were critical and somewhat appalled at their unwillingness to face the truth, which naturally leads to an absence of remorse and an inability to learn from their history. Those Japanese! Of course, we Americans would never do that.
We moved back to America in 2001 and I can recall being proud of how far we’d come as a nation in regard to racial equality. It seemed to me that opportunities for black Americans had increased significantly from the days of segregation, when discriminatory practices were accepted by the white majority with little challenge. Seven years later America would elect its first black President and would re-elect him again in 2012. In short, I thought America was post-racial; that we had grown beyond the need to confront racial issues.
Our Learning Curve in Denver
Our church in Denver is multi-racial and we are committed to the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” For the most part, we enjoyed wonderful fellowship and close relationships among diverse ethnic groups. When there were major events in the news, involving blacks who were tragically killed, our unity was tested. Names like Travon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others prompted strong emotions in many of our black brothers and sisters – anger, fear, discouragement, frustration, exasperation, indignation, feelings of vulnerability, among others.
Many came to church seeking comfort and encouragement from leaders like me, but to be honest, I did not understand this need at the time. I pondered, “Why are they so upset?” I and many others of our non-black leaders felt badly about what happened, but it was not something we wanted to address in church. This lack of attention on our parts caused a divide between us and our brothers and sisters of color. How could our reactions be so different? After all, we are all Christians; we all love the Lord and desire to be unified. These conflicts have now resulted in much greater understanding and love among us as we’ve discussed these things at length, which has led to tears and the expression of many other emotions. We formed a multi-racial team to address these things in the church and there has been much healing.
Back to the Question
But I digress a bit from the central theme – Why don’t they just get over it? Before considering that question, I’d like to address the question asked on our conference call by one of the black brothers, “Why would someone ask that question?” Gordon Ferguson and Michael Burns were the only other two white brothers on the call and they, along with me, tried to offer some perspective.
One reason people ask this question is that they believe whatever it was that black people imagine they have to complain about happened a long time ago and in fact, they now have advantages over white people as a result of programs like Affirmative Action and racial quotas. White people are now the victims of reverse discrimination, which is why black people are getting all the good jobs. What do they want? Or so, the argument goes as off-base as it may be.
Secondly, some people are offended by the idea that hard work and effort are not sufficient to get ahead in America, the land of opportunity, where all men are created equal and have the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Their value system is based on the idea that if you work hard enough, you will be able to succeed, and their own experience has borne this out. So, when people complain about discrimination, bias or unequal treatment, which has caused them harm, it is dismissed as mere complaints by people who are lazy and eager to find an excuse for their lack of success.
Thirdly, people ask this question due to an ignorance of the vast meaning of “it.” Why don’t they just get over it? What is “it”? You mean slavery? Didn’t that end in 1865? God bless Abraham Lincoln (or was it George Washington? – many of us are pretty ignorant of our own basic history). And what about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Don’t we have a holiday in his honor? Our education system takes a subject that is an historical blight on this nation, the size of the sun, and reduces it down to a few pages in our U.S. history books, as if it were a footnote.
I’m a fairly well educated American and yet I knew precious little about this part of our history until the past few years during which time I’ve pursued gaining knowledge on my own. I’ve done so because I have many dear friends whose heritage traces back to the slave ships, to Jim Crow, to lynchings, to systemic discrimination and to daily reminders of the past.
So, Why Don’t They Just Get Over It?
As discussed above, it is important to understand just what “it” is. If someone insults me and hurts my feelings on a particular occasion, it might be appropriate to say, “just get over it.” You might quote Proverbs 12:16, “Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult,” and it would be helpful to me. But if you encounter someone who has suffered physical, emotional or sexual abuse over a period of years, it would not helpful to say, “just get over it.” The latter example is a complex issue, which affects every aspect of a person’s life and requires a deeper level of understanding and compassion to help them.
I don’t have space here to adequately cover the topic but will try to give a brief historical sketch to enrich your understanding. Legalized slavery existed in America for 246 years from 1619 to 1865 – two and a half centuries of government sponsored and enforced treatment of people, who happened to have dark skin, as property. These poor souls were originally transported from Africa in horribly inhumane conditions by ship in what has been termed the “Middle Passage.” Conditions were so bad that it is estimated that over two million people lost their lives during the journey.
An excellent, inspiring, yet disturbing movie to watch on this subject is “Amazing Grace” (2006), which focuses on the fight to outlaw slavery in England, led by William Wilberforce. This estimate of two million only counts those who lost their lives during the journey, not those who died while enslaved in America. Men, women and children were purchased at auction, rented out to other owners and had little to no chance of gaining their freedom without risking their lives to escape. Women were routinely raped by their owners with no recourse, men and women were beaten into submission, children were often taken from their parents and sold and working conditions were frequently inhumane. I can think of no greater acts of indignity toward a human being. An excellent, short, but revealing book on the subject is, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.”
When Freedom Isn’t Freedom
We fast forward to 1865, when after the bloodiest of all American wars, the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution outlawed slavery. Slaves were freed, initially with a promise of “40 acres and a mule,” to provide an opportunity for the former slaves to provide for their families and begin to restore a modicum of dignity to their lives – dignity that had been stolen from them for centuries. That promise by the U.S government was quickly broken, and these former slaves were left with very little ability to earn a living. In many slave states, it had been illegal to teach a slave to read or receive any education.
The attitudes, mores and culture in which former slaves were living had not changed. Blacks were still considered inferior and hated by many white Americans and were still not considered worthy of being citizens with full rights. And thus began the era of “Jim Crow,” where America existed as an apartheid state for 100 years. In many cases, blacks were denied the right to vote, denied the right to eat in restaurants, denied quality education, denied good jobs; once again every attempt was made to deny them dignity. A book I recommend that provides a good picture of this period is Gail Buckley’s, “The Black Calhouns.”
Every small bit of progress was earned through struggles in the courts, protests in the streets and various other conflicts, sometimes with the loss of human life. As I have read the history, it is clear to me that the white power structure did not give an inch without an incredible amount of opposition. It is important to note that both in the pre-war period and the period that followed, there were many white Americans who stood shoulder to shoulder with their black brothers and sisters, some even sacrificing their very lives. An example of the struggle is found when the Supreme Court, after years of expensive court battles, declared segregated education illegal in 1954 in the famous Brown vs. Board of Education decision.
In the years that followed, not much changed. Governors and other officials in places like Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas blocked integration of their schools, despite the court’s decision, and it took the national guard with tanks and heavy armor to allow young black girls and boys to enter the schools. There are far too many examples to cite in this short article, but it is good to consider the question, “Why has it been so hard for our black citizens to obtain even the most basic rights as citizens?” Is it any wonder that some are a bit guarded when it comes to the way they are treated? Is it any wonder that some struggle with anger or distrust?
Still a Long Way to Go
Okay, okay! I get it; things were bad up until 1965, but with the passing of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Right Acts, aren’t we past all that? Can’t we just forgive and forget and move on? That’s an important and difficult question and one that black people with whom I’ve spoken deal with in various ways, so there is no one right answer. It is my opinion that there have been significant positive changes in opportunities for our black citizens in the past 50 years, but that we still have a long way to go.
Even if one’s position were that the past 50 years have been perfectly equal for black citizens (and there are not many who believe that), does that negate the previous 350 years? Many black people with whom I’ve spoken have painful memories of personal experiences as a result of systemic racism. Others grew up with parents who suffered in these ways. I am thankful that many younger black people with whom I’ve spoken have less painful experiences to share, which gives me hope that perhaps 50 years from now, this article will no longer be needed. May God make it so.!
For me, the best answer to this question that I’ve heard came from the lips of one of my dearest and long-time friends, Carlos Clarke. It was a simple nine-word answer. Carlos is black man, who grew up in the Jim Crow south, a strong, wise Christian and loving husband and father. One day I was speaking with him about this question that some people are asking, “Why don’t they just get over it?” – not really looking for an answer, but rather trying to empathize with him. He looked at me, dead in the eye and spoke with probably more emotion than he intended, and said, “Because you won’t let me get it over it.”
I was a bit taken aback at first, thinking and hoping that he was talking about you (plural), as in white society, and not me in particular. As we spoke more, and as I’ve spoken with other black people, I’ve come to understand that they desperately, achingly, yearn for the day when they can feel secure to be judged not by the color of their skin, but rather the content of their character (adapted MLK). They would love to leave their painful memories in the past, but like a scab that is repeatedly ripped off, their daily lives make it impossible for them to fully heal.
I’ve known people who were victims of abuse as children (or adults), and their reactions to things that are said or done to them are sometimes difficult to understand. There are times when they seem to be overly sensitive and express emotions that seem out of place for that given situation. When I learn of their past, I am able to be more sympathetic and compassionate. When these souls are able to place a boundary between them and their past and process their thoughts and feelings in a safe place, healing can occur. But if the abuse continues, verbal or otherwise, it is very likely the individual will continually struggle to enjoy complete emotional health.
Put Yourself in Their Place
The blue flashing light appears in your rear-view mirror, again. You don’t think you did anything wrong but can’t be sure. The authority figure, with the gun at his side calls to mind images of slave patrols searching for your ancestors, but you struggle to stay calm, respectful, as your heart races, trying not to focus on the looming revolver. The reason for the stop seems dubious to you.
You get on an elevator to go up to work. There is only one other person on the elevator, a woman. She moves ever so slightly away from you, trying not to reveal it, as she clutches her purse. You sense her fear, searching your mind, “Do I know this woman? Did I do something to her?” “Why is she afraid of me?”
You enter a department store to shop. Security follows you. It’s not a problem really, but why, why, why? What did I do to deserve this?
You get your kids ready for school, praying as you always do, especially for your boys. “God, please keep them safe!” You’ve warned them many times of the dangers, but you know they don’t really understand – yet. You continue your prayer.
Even today in 2018, there are huge disputes over whether or not memorials to the Confederacy’s battle to keep slavery in place should be proudly displayed in public places. What are we trying to honor or celebrate? There are many black people living in places where these memorials stand. What message have we been sending for the past 150 years?
So, Who Are They?
Jesus said, the one who does the will of His Father are his brothers and sisters and mothers. He wasn’t just speaking of his fellow Jews, but all people. They are us and we are them. We are all one in Christ Jesus.
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15)
We need to mourn as family when our brothers and sisters are hurting. We need to hurt with them because we are family and because their pain is our pain. I want to encourage you to regularly speak with someone of another race or culture about their experiences – it will enrich your life and help them to know your love.
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:22-23)