Why you should hire a teacher for your next non-teaching position

teacherIf anyone out there is a public school teacher looking at a career change or someone considering hiring a teacher into a ‘non-teachery’ job, don’t underestimate the soft skills that these teachers bring to the table:

  • tenacity to both smile at and set firm boundaries with a wide cast of characters – especially the ornery and the entitled
  • the ability to direct multiple personalities – all creative, brilliant, and sneaky in their own ways – in a single direction
  • compassion to understand that everyone has their own story that you may or may not know
  • experience making quick decisions and multi-tasking while keeping chaos (mostly) subdued
  • creativity to develop useful resources and meaningful experiences in under-resourced and multifaceted environments
  • resilience in less than ideal situations like eating lunch in 10 minutes, teaching from a cart in multiple classrooms, purchasing supplies with personal funds, fixing rickety copy machines, and lacking frequent access to the restroom
  • wisdom to moderate childish quarrels, soothe adolescent angst, critique political folly, apply administrative directives, and navigate parental helicoptering
  • the ability to explain any concept to any person at any level, and to repeat themselves patiently when that person isn’t listening or doesn’t understand
Posted in Education | 1 Comment

Free ebook on whiteness, race, & faith this weekend only!

PP Cover

Don’t miss out on a FREE copy of the newly released version of Pondering Privilege: Toward a Deeper Understanding of Whiteness, Race, and Faith on Amazon THIS WEEKEND ONLY! It includes updated content and additional chapters.

For many white people, race can be a difficult subject to navigate. Some have never discussed the issue at all and may have no idea where to begin. Others, viewing themselves as colorblind, see no need to think about the issue at all. The topic grows even more difficult within the Christian church where it is no secret that Sunday mornings are often more racially divided more than united. Regardless of white people’s ignorance or inability to discuss racial issues, however, they are not going away.

Rooted in the concept of cultural humility, Pondering Privilege provides white people an opportunity to spend time more deeply reflecting on their personal perspective of and communal role in race relations by exploring why white people don’t talk about race, why they need to talk about race, suggestions for productive ways to discuss race, and how to deal with anger in race relations. Each chapter includes discussion and reflection questions and is ideal for personal or group use.

What people are saying about Pondering Privilege:

“I read this piece as an assignment for an education class. I, like many other people, find that conversations pertaining to race and privilege are a bit scary. As I began reading the text I was immediately captured by Jody Fernando’s honesty and her willingness to embrace cultural humility. Reading this text was liberating for me and allowed me to ponder my own privilege, which was challenging because I was so accustomed to evaluating the privilege of others. I recommend this to everyone and challenge him or her to critically process what [she] has to say.” – Alejandra
“I originally read this material on Jody’s blog and was struck my her insight, honesty, and humility in approaching a topic which can be deeply emotional and divisive. I was thinking through ways to use it in my classroom to create discussion and help guide dialogue, so I am very excited that she’s combined it all into an easy to use resource. The reflection prompts and questions she’s added encourage the readers to dig a bit deeper and really engage with the topic on a personal level. I am looking forward to using it in my class this spring.” – Sara


FREE thru Sunday! 

Posted in Books, Culture & Race | Leave a comment

The problem with over-spiritualizing racism

In the children’s classic Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, an African-American mother attempts to explain the harshness of 1930s Southern racism to her young daughter, Cassie. After offering a brief history of slavery, she describes the historical relationship between white Christian slaveowners and African-American slaves:

“They also said that slavery was good for us because it taught us to be good Christians – like the white people…  But they didn’t teach us Christianity to save our souls, but to teach us obedience. They were afraid of slave revolts and they wanted us to learn the Bible’s teachings about slaves being loyal to their masters.”

It saddens me to think of how slowly some things change. When race comes up in conversations among white Christians, it’s not uncommon to hear responses along these lines:

“This isn’t a race issue. It’s a sin issue.”

“We all belong to one family in Christ. Why can’t we just all get along?”

“We need to be focusing on unity. The topic of racism is too divisive.”

While these responses aren’t exactly what Cassie’s mama encountered from the White-Folk almost a century ago, they still carry whispers of the same sentiments. When we make the above statements, history reinforces that they’re likely to make a wildly different impact than their original intent:

“Quit giving us a hard time. We’re not bad people.”

“It only matters to me that I feel comfortable. If you have a problem, you need to keep it to yourself.”

“Unity is about conforming to the majority. If you don’t fit the majority, you don’t matter.”

Ouch, right? It hurts, I know.

But wait – let’s not allow the pain of this reality to shut the door on it so white people can sneak away from the conversation once again. Let’s press pause on the “unity” button for just a minute. We need to do some sustained reflection on the causes of the “disunity” first.

Thankfully, overt racism is no longer acceptable in much of the country. What makes this change especially challenging, though, is that it leaves white people with the impression that racism no longer exists. As a result, many white Christians begin the race conversation by dismissing racial pain with the hammer of spiritual language. Throwing Bible verses to cover up the realities of racism is essentially the Christianized version of “Shut-the-sam-hell-up. I don’t want to hear what you have to say.”

When the history of race relations in our country includes a story of whites converting blacks for the purpose of subservience, it’s essential to be very, very careful not to use spiritual language to silence pleas to be heard.

So, what do we do instead? 

A Bible verse doesn’t become Christian until it’s actually lived out. It’s the living of these verses that creates deep change, not merely the speaking of them. Phillipians 2 provides an excellent model of humility for white people engaging the race conversation. Let’s consider what this language might look like in everyday actions:

  • Be tender and compassionate = Listen to, learn from, accept, and affirm the shared experiences of people of color. Mourn over the challenges they express and listen closely to the reasons behind their pain.
  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit = seek to understand the realities of a racially privileged system without worrying about feeling ‘blamed’. Sometimes white people get stuck in the conversation because “my family didn’t own slaves.” That’s not the point – acknowledging the bigger picture of systemic injustice is.
  • Value others above yourselves = fill your lives with their stories. Watch movies on the civil rights movement. Read books about its leaders. Move out of comfort zones into a place that feels unsettling. Pause to consider what life might look like through someone else’s eyes. (30 Days of Race is a great place to start this process.)
  • Don’t consider equality something to be used to your own advantage = look for ways to pursue equity over equality so that all people might have better access to privileges that the majority holds. Engage concepts like white privilege and cultural appropriation as a means of valuing and respecting others.
  • Take on the humble nature of a servant = Listen, listen, listen, listen, and then listen some more. When we speak before we understand, too many words grow heavy in the hearts of those with whom we share. Find ways to learn about the perplexing parts of race relations that don’t exacerbate people of color who have borne our ignorance for centuries.

All of these are helpful steps toward meaningful racial reconciliation, but for the (literal) love of God, please stop silencing the voices of people of color through the use of Christian words. It doesn’t cultivate change. It merely silences long-ignored voices, fosters anger, and destroys the very peace Jesus came to bring.

Posted in Culture & Race, Restoration & Reconciliation | 1 Comment



St. Louis bookstore’s amazing response to losing a customer over Black Lives Matter signs by David Harris Gershon.

What I wish I could convey – white person to white person – is that Black Lives Matter does not mean White People are Bad.  It never did.  Saying someone matters does not mean that nobody else matters.  It just says to someone who feels invisible, “I see you and I value you.”

Dear Mr. Graham, Let me introduce you to some friends… by Marilyn Gardner.

I was raised in the country of Pakistan, daughter of Christian missionaries. The call to prayer was my alarm clock, curry was my staple food, and Muslim women and girls were my aunties and my friends. I experienced extraordinary hospitality at the hands of the people of Pakistan. They offered us friendship, safety, and amazing food. Early on in life, my father would take us to see men praying at the large mosque in our city during the Eid celebrations. I would watch as a sea of white-clad men, all with prayer caps on their heads, bowed in unison as the muezzin chanted from the microphone attached to one of the tall minarets. I did not see terrorism, I saw devotion. I did not see anger, I saw zeal.

What I need you to say in response to the Charleston shooting by Osheta Moore.

I almost wrote this post when there were riots in Ferguson and I almost wrote this post when protestors were holding up signs that read, “I can’t breathe”.  This post was very nearly published when black women stood in the street topless, a prophetic picture of both the African American woman’s vulnerability in this broken world and her strength in the face of brutality. Then I saw Dejerria Becton, a black 15 years old wrestled and held to the ground by a white police officer, so I wept and sat at my computer with these words. And now, nine brothers and sisters lost their lives to racism in Charleston last night and I cannot ignore this post anymore.


Africans are crowd sourcing beautiful images of their lives to fight media stereotypes by Sasha Zients.  Check out #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou on Twitter! This topic also bares re-mentioning the MamaHope video series, Stop the Pity, on YouTube. Check out their video Not Your Mama’s Mama.

What happens when a black man and a white woman speak for each other by Darius Simpson and Scout Bosley.

Farewell to the Missionary Hero by Amy Peterson.

There is a place for inspirational and even idealized missionary stories in stirring up passion for God’s glory and justice among the nations. But there are dangers in glamorizing missionary heroes, particularly an overweening confidence in what missionary work can accomplish.


What’s wrong with cultural appropriation? These 9 answers reveal its harm by Maisha Z. Johnson.

Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that’s not their own.

But that’s only the most basic definition.

A deeper understanding of cultural appropriation also refers to a particular power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group.

White fragility: Why it’s so hard to talk to white people about racism by Dr. Robin DiAngelo.

Yes, we will develop strong emotionally laden opinions, but they will not be informed opinions. Our socialization renders us racially illiterate. When you add a lack of humility to that illiteracy (because we don’t know what we don’t know), you get the break-down we so often see when trying to engage white people in meaningful conversations about race.

Are you holding your own daughter back? Here are 5 ways to raise girls to be leaders by Amy Joyce.

Think you’re raising your daughter to be a strong leader? Look more closely: You, and the people around her, may unwittingly be doing just the opposite.

Addy Walker, American Girl: The role of black dolls in American culture by Brit Bennett.

For seventeen years, Addy was the only black historical doll; she was the only nonwhite doll until 1998. If you were a white girl who wanted a historical doll who looked like you, you could imagine yourself in Samantha’s Victorian home or with Kirsten, weathering life on the prairie. If you were a black girl, you could only picture yourself as a runaway slave.


The psychological advantages of strongly identifying as biracial by Lisa Miller.

Multi-racial births are soaring — to 7 percent of all births in the U.S., according to the last Census — a result of more inter-racial coupling and also a broader cultural acceptance of the tag “multi-racial.” … But even as multi-racial people take prominent and visible places in all the nation’s hierarchies — golf, pop music, cinema, finance, and, of course, in the executive branch of the United States government — very little psychological research has been done on what it means to have a multi-racial identity, and how that identity is different from having a “mono-racial” one.

How Minecraft and duct tape wallets prepare our kids for jobs that don’t exist yet by Zach Klein.

It’s difficult to predict which skills will be valuable in the future, and even more challenging to see the connection between our children’s interests and these skills. Nothing illustrates this better than Minecraft, a popular game that might be best described as virtual LEGOs. Calling it a game belies the transformation it has sparked: An entire generation is learning how to create 3D models using a computer. Now, I wonder, what sort of businesses, communication, entertainment or art will be possible?


On being carried by Benjamin Moberg.

I was reminded that my mediocre faith in God does not change God’s deep faith in me. Even when I walk away or lose sight or lose my mind, God doesn’t go. The tether, the anchor, the lifeline that I have been slowly sawing away with my cynicism and fear, my need to break free, that has sent me free-floating out into nowhere, isn’t the whole truth of what’s happened, what’s happening.

Love the church you’re in by Dena Dyer.

In an era when many Christians are leaving church, content editor Dena Dyer writes, “God placed a deep desire for community in every Christian. That’s why the scriptures refer to the ‘body of Christ.’ We were never meant to worship, work, or wrestle alone. In reality, it’s dangerous to try.”


Dear people who live in tiny houses by Kevin Hoth.

Do you actually love living in a fancy tiny house*?

You look so freakin’ happy in that Dwell Magazine article or Buzzfeed post, but c’mon, you can’t tell me that you don’t lie awake at night, your face four inches from the ceiling because the only place your bed fits is above the kitchen sink which also acts as your shower, and think, I’ve made a terrible mistake.

Who stole my metabolism and 15 other thoughts at 39 by Joelle Wisler.

It’s all going very fast. But I’m pretty sure the only reason I would revisit my 20s is so that I could eat some Ben & Jerry’s and not wake up the next day with it sitting in a lumpy little pile on my butt.


The hundred names of love by Annie Lighthart. A poem for parents who don’t get enough sleep.

We call this home – 3 years around the world travel by Walter Chang.

“Everyday is a journey and the journey itself is home.” – Matsuo Batso

Posted in The-best-ones | 2 Comments

The wisdom of elephants


I’m currently enamored with this print that my husband gave me for our 15th wedding anniversary. It will soon grace my new office wall; and I find myself reflecting on the symbolism of the elephants in my new artwork. I love elephants, not only because they turn my mind immediately to the wonders of Africa and Asia that have shaped my heart in so many ways, but also because of the remarkable lessons their lives offer humans:

Remember the past.

Elephants are known for their excellent memories. Scientists believe that their memories help them survive, oftentimes helping them remember long lost water sources, reconnect with old friends, and survive harsh conditions.

Walk with dignity. Lead with wisdom.

Led by matriarchs, elephants choose their leaders based not on aggression, but on wisdom, intelligence, and problem-solving skills. Their most effective leaders are often the oldest in the herd who demonstrate characteristics like strong decision making ability, compassion, and hard work.

Listen well. Stay attuned to potential dangers.

Elephants listen not only with their giant ears, but also by picking up vibrations in the ground through their feet. They listen keenly to stay aware of their surroundings and possible threats to their herd.

Protect the vulnerable.

When threatened by a lion attack, elephants form a circle to protect their young. It is a remarkable and tender event to watch the mama elephants circle their babies as they fiercely defend their young.

Travel together.

Scientists who study elephants note that individual elephants in a group each have their own personalities. Their personality traits impact their relationships within the herd as well as their leadership roles and survival skills. The elephants with the strongest relational skills end up being the more successful members of the herd. The ones who are difficult live more isolated lives.

Be affectionate with loved ones.

Elephants use their trunks to show one another all kinds of affection from love to playfulness to consolation. Mamas use it to guide their babies and babies have even been known to suck on their trunks like thumbs to calm themselves.

Enjoy life.

Who doesn’t love watching an elephant take a bath?!?! If you ever make it to Sri Lanka, top on the list to visit should be bathtime at Pinnewala, an elephant orphanage near Kandy.

Catch a glimpse of the bathing beauties here:

Check out these fascinating articles on elephants:

Posted in Miscellany | 1 Comment

When what you thought would happen doesn’t, part 2

The last time I delved into this topic, it was mostly about when life doesn’t go according to plan in the disappointing-kinds-of-ways. When I wrote that post, it was at the beginning of a year that I desperately didn’t want to have – the kind where I’d opened my tightly clenched fists and reluctantly returned to a place I knew didn’t want to go: public school teaching.

I started the year teaching at a charter school that lived up to all the negative press you see about charter schools and, after only three weeks in, started applying for other jobs. Serendipitously, one of those jobs came through and I moved to a new school a few months into the year. It ended up being the kind of public school that give public schools a good name. I loved the staff, (most of) the students, and the administration. Grateful for an innovative (and sane) work environment with stellar colleagues, I set about convincing myself that I could make high school teaching work for awhile.

But deep down, I longed to return to the university. I was tired of spending all-day-in-the-classroom feeling like a horse-and-pony show for 14 & 15 year olds. I craved a role where I could develop a program, foster one-to-one (instead of one-to-37) relationships, and engage in more intellectually complex work. As the year progressed, it became clear to me that my return to public education wasn’t a long term fit and that I wanted to pursue a return to higher education.

When a job at the local university posted at the end of the school year, friends who knew my story encouraged me to apply. At first I resisted, licking my wounds from previous rejections and lack of other job application responses. Slowly, though, my friends helped me see that this job might actually be a good fit, the thing I was looking for all along. I applied, and long story short, I started the position last week.

I don’t normally share such normal-details-of-life here on Between Worlds, but it felt pertinent to write about it this because this blog is one of the steps along the way that pointed me to this spot. When we moved to California and finding full time work was slow, I filled the empty spaces with writing. It helped me process and heal from the pain of our isolated life in the Midwest, connected me to likeminded people all over the world, and deepened my understanding of the craft. As all of these things happened, my identity as a writer sunk deep. My husband and I would talk about what it might look like to move from an education-focused career to a writing-focused one but couldn’t ever fully connect those dots – that is, until just recently when I accepted a position as the director of a university writing center.

It’s been one of those “when-what-I-thought-would-happen-didn’t” moments – except this time for the better instead of worse. Every so often I find myself feeling like an outsider, looking down just grinning at myself, wondering how all of this happened. While I wouldn’t have dared to dream it even a year ago, it’s a perfect fit for this phase of my life and career – one that I couldn’t have orchestrated myself.


In Madeline L’Engle’s novel Certain Women,  the characters grapple with the harsh realities of the death of a loved one. “The wise old woman said that one road led to a funeral and the other to a wedding,” remembers one woman as she reflects on an old friend’s ability to continually lean toward joy in spite of great tragedy.

The characters ponder the implications of the choice they’ve made more often: the wedding or the funeral. This inevitably leads them to grapple with the imminent death of the loved one that has brought them all together.

“But when Papa dies” – Louis’s voice was choked – “how can we choose the wedding?”

Sophie laughed. “By giving him an enormous great grand glorious funeral at the Cathedral, a real show for all his family and friends and fans. And by going on living, living better because we’ve been part of his life than if we’d never known him.”


In light of my current circumstances, their conversation reminds me that I far too often see my current realities as a funeral instead of a wedding. Those teenagers who made me so-very-tired? They weren’t an end, but merely a door through which I found the next step. The life-giving immigrants at the dysfunctional ESL program? Their perseverance in the throes of a new start shouted resilience amidst tragedy and whispered joy in small things. That blog I wrote when I was brand new and quietly healing? It wasn’t the end destination, but merely a bend in the path pointing me toward the next clearing.

While the clearing opened slowly (3 years, 5 jobs, 13+ interviews, too many tears, and who-knows-how-many-blog-posts later), the view is stunning for the moment and leaves me grateful for the unexpected beauty of the life-lessons that show up when what I thought would happen doesn’t.

Posted in Spiritual Formation | 6 Comments

Where to start when you’re afraid to talk about race

It’s been another turbulent week for racial headlines in the US: yet another incident of police brutality toward black women at a swimming pool, NAACP President Rachel Dolezal is outed as a white person, and 9 African-Americans were shot and killed at a historic black church in Charleston.

Lord, have mercy. It’s only Thursday.

I’ve followed quite a few conversations on these topics and the general reaction (in addition to some shockingly racist comments) is dismay, shock, and sadness. As I’ve listened, I’ve also heard a sentiment from white people of not knowing exactly what to say or do. Blogger Jamie Wright pins down what I suspect many white folks are feeling right about now in her recent Facebook status:

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So, what’s a caucasian to do once this admission has been made? How do we move from “I care. I won’t ignore this.” to actually being part of lasting change? The internet has no shortage of excellent articles with tips on how to understand and respond to white privilege:

I love these articles – they’re incredibly helpful, practical, and get straight to the point. I need reminded and re-reminded of their truths: listen, learn, respect, challenge. As helpful as these tips are, at times I still find myself wrestling with how to handle the privilege I have, especially in light of the recent Rachel Dolezal coverage. Thoughts like these simmer beneath my surface, leaving me both perplexed and speechless in light of racialized headlines:

I have a degree in Multicultural Education, am multilingual, and have taught in communities of color for years. Do I disregard my experiences, my skills, my knowledge because of my privilege?

As a teacher, I still hold a position of power within the many communities of color I have known. Do I shun any association of power because of its association with privilege?

As a mother, wife, friend, and family member, I walk alongside the daily journey of people of color navigating a world of white power. Are these experiences invalidated in the wider world because of the privilege I carry?

Having grown up in a predominately white community and lived as an adult in many communities of color, I frequently see multiple sides to an issue that highlight misunderstanding from many sides. When do I use my voice and when do I keep quiet?

These are not easy questions;  but they’re real ones that churn deep down, rumbling as I go about my days. I read, talk, and think about race on a fairly regular basis, but there are times when I still feel at a complete loss because of the guilt I carry over my privilege. I know I’m not the only white person who feels this way.

While I agree that lying about her race is a poor choice, I also see the situation as far more complex than this. Truth be told, I identify with Rachel’s desire to don a different skin. I’ve often longed for a different appearance to disassociate myself from the harsh history of my race and to legitimize my passion for reconciling racial brokenness. Sometimes it feels like being white disqualifies me from a seat at the racial table. When I whisper this shame-filled admission to those close to me, they remind me that not having a seat at the table is no new feeling to people of color.

Ah, privilege. It blinds even those who want to see.

This conversation isn’t simple. It’s far – both literally and figuratively – from black and white. So where’s a white-person-on-the-sidelines watching all this pain, caring-but-not-experiencing, horrified-and-heartbroken to start?

As I sit with these questions, I find myself contemplating who I need to be in addition to what I should do to live in a culturally humble way. The lists of how-to’s and to-do’s are undeniably helpful, but they’ll go nowhere without a fundamental shift in our way of being.

In light of this, I ask myself harder questions than the initial ones above that were likely born out of defense.

  • How do I cultivate the type of character that consistently acknowledges my privilege and promotes a good greater than myself?
  • Who do I need to become in order to more deeply understand the lives of those who live and think differently than I do?
  • How do I seek understanding when I simply do not understand? 

The answers that surface are less to-do list, more lifelong goals:

1. Be ok with messy. 

I’ve read a lot of coverage on Rachel Dolezel and the one firm conclusion I’ve drawn is that it’s messy. There are good points on conflicting sides and so many speculations on her intent.

  • Could it be that a person who has been immersed in a culture for years would identify more strongly with that culture than with their own? Sure.
  • Does that make that person actually a part of that culture? Not exactly, but third culture kids have struggled with this balance for years. 
  • Is our society brutal in the way we draw lines between the haves and the have-nots, the ins and the outs? Definitely, especially when we only have 140 characters to do so.
  • Do Rachel’s choices exist in a larger social and historical reality of race and power that cause others to respond harshly to her story? For sure.

Voices from all sides throw ‘truth’ at each other without acknowledging that sometimes the truth-in-the-realm-of-people’s-experience is anything but clear. We operate only within our own skin and this limits our ability to understand others.

Heather Plett explains an idea called “holding space” that could close some gaps between these two gaping cultural realities. She explains holding space for another person as a willingness to be present and available in the difficult moments of life. When part of life carries such pain that it’s difficult to imagine the next step, those who hold space for others don’t judge, try to fix, or make them feel inadequate. Instead, they come alongside and offer warm hearts and open ears.

What if this response had been our measuring stick for Rachel Dolezal, the recent police pool beating of young black women, or the riots in Baltimore and Ferguson? How would the conversation shift if instead of jumping to immediate conclusions to label sides as right/wrong, we looked first to where we need to ‘hold space’ for the brokenness that exists on both sides?

2. Lean toward pain.

One way I’ve grown more comfortable with mess is through the practice of walking through pain – both my own and that of others. While it would often feel easier to just close my eyes and turn the other way, digging into the deeper reasons for what causes pain strengthens our ability to understand it. In our broken places, we experience how insincere gestures like offering platitudes or dismissing pain can hurt far more than they help.

Externally, this might look like actively reading on many sides of the headlines or practicing principles offered in the articles I mentioned at the beginning. Internally, however, it means sitting with a whole lot of uncomfortable. Theresa Latini explains this idea further in her article I am a pastor. Here’s why I don’t want you to pray for me:

Please do not pray for me unless you are willing to walk with me.

Know me. Hear the depths of my fear or anguish or whatever it might be and let it affect you.

Then let us bring our (not just my) most profound needs vulnerably before God. Please do not try to escape that vulnerability. Because if you do, you have left me, and that is not prayer. It is not communion with God through Christ by the spirit.

And if you have no words, that is okay — more than okay, in fact. It’s an invitation to sit with me in the awfulness of my predicament and silently wait upon God together.

I would imagine that a whole host of similar prayers are being breathed from the mouths of many in Charleston today. May it remind us of our need to simply walk alongside and hold space for those in pain today.

3. Seek first to understand, and admit when you don’t.

One of Stephen Covey’s classic principles of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,  this notion definitely needs revisited in our short-tempered and knee-jerk Twitter age. Seeking first to understand means that rather than constantly throwing out my own opinions, I ask questions and listen to the opinions of others. It means I don’t quickly dismiss those with whom I disagree but rather look for ways to understand why they might think that way. It means that I spend time reading, listening to, or seeking out perspectives of those with whom I disagree to understanding the what and why of their reasoning.

The hard part about seeking to understand is that sometimes we simply don’t. When someone’s experience extends beyond our ability to grasp it, we’re apt to throw our hands up in frustration and label them idiots. Sometimes, we feel embarrassed by our ignorance so we don’t say anything at all.

When I run into a racial situation I don’t understand, my first response is usually defensive. I like to play devil’s advocate, so it’s easy to dismiss my defensiveness as just being “who I am”. However, I’ve come to recognize that when I grow defensive in race/privilege conversations, it’s usually a sign that I need to stop, reflect on what triggered my anger, and revisit the conversation to listen some more. The phrase “help me understand” comes in really handy at this point because it focuses my attention on something besides my own (strong) desire to be right and maintain control.

4. Acknowledge both single and collective stories.

Many white Americans are accustomed to practicing an individualist perspective. We think about ourselves over the whole, elevating individuals over communities. One way this shows itself in many white churches is their harsher response to individual sins relating to individual sexuality (abortion, pornography, infidelity) than to communal sins like neglect of the poor, consumerism, or gluttony. In contrast, many cultures cultivate a more communal view where individuals consider how their personal actions impact the community as a whole.

In discussing the Rachel Dolezal situation with others, I’ve learned that I see it through an individual lens – she is one individual with specific details that impact her personal choices. In contrast, others see it through a collective lens that include painful realities of repeated power and race abuse through history. Do we both have valid points? Yes, we’re just processing through different lenses.

5. Create space to listen.

The breakneck speed of our culture robs us from time to consider both our place in the world and our impact on those around us. Throw the smartphones-glued-to-our-eyes in the mix and its a wonder any of us think for ourselves at all. Finding spaces to pause and sort through our thoughts, feelings, and experiences is crucial if we want to incorporate any of the above goals effectively.

Pausing looks different for everyone. Some people listen to podcasts or sermons that inspire. Others retreat to nature and quiet space. Some prefer to write, read, or chat over coffee with a friend. Whatever the method, intentionally creating space to allow ourselves to reflect deeply is key to long term and sustained internal change.


“Let him that would move the world first move himself.” -Socrates

May these timeless words remind us of the need to act beyond the horror of the headlines by starting with the one thing we all have the power to change: ourselves.

Further Reading

A relevant and timely place to start listening is this post by Osheta Moore: What I Need You to Say in Response to the Shooting in Charleston and this post by Austin Channing: The Only Logical Concluson.

Here are a few other helpful resources for those seeking deeper racial understand to move beyond “I don’t know what to say, but I care.”:

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