I guess you and I have some difficult things to talk about.
Sometimes, I say things that might make you squirm a little. And other times, they seem to make you downright angry. Yours is a story of dominance, of disrespecting and denying others’ rights and conquering those who are inconvenient to you. I know you well, and imagine that it can’t be easy to carry such a heavy load on your shoulders. You are not alone in your burden. Indeed, others from a variety of cultures and races and histories have told this story sometimes even more brutally than you.
But sadly, you have told it too. Even if others have their faults, this fact does not shift the blame from your shoulders to theirs.
However, this story alone is far too simple a tale. I would be grossly mistaken to suggest you are all the same. You are as varied as the whole world wide, and you have also been very good.
You have been my brother and my father and my grandfather, loving me fiercely and caring for those around you with wisdom and gentleness. You have been Dietrich Bonhofer, William Wilberforce, and Abraham Lincoln, advocates and defenders of justice, fighting to right the world’s wrongs. You have been Dr. Paul Brand, Graham Staines, and Shane Claiborne, offering your lives as a sacrifice to pursue healing for the world’s brokenness. You have been Henri Nouwen, Phillip Yancey, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and N.T. Wright, thinkers and writers who have blown new life into my faith and kept me from walking away when so many others in it looked so damn crazy. You have been countless friends and colleagues and mentors who simply do not fit the stereotype that is portrayed of you.
I am so deeply sorry that you must carry this burden simply due to the color of your skin. Perhaps this experience will help you better understand the feelings of many who have suffered at your hands simply because of the color of their skin.
I do not say this because I hate you, or because I’m angry or arrogant or have a chip on my shoulder that needs fixed.
I say it because I need you, because the world needs you.
These days, things are growing ever more complex and we need every voice available to speak for what is heals and restores and unites. Even with all your historical baggage and brokenness, we need you. Even with your current tales of greed and violence and corruption and misuse of power, we need you. All the people who fall under tales of your oppression – the women, the people with skin colors and cultures different than yours – we still need you.
You are not useless.
You are not throw-away.
Your scars, prominent as they may be, do not leave you without hope.
But we need you to be something different than what the broad strokes that both history and modern culture paint. We don’t need you to deny your burden, or to be angry when we notice its impact on our lives. We don’t need you to be defensive, and try to shift the blame onto someone else. We don’t need you to pretend we don’t exist because you don’t know any other way to respond to our voices asking you to change your ways.
What we need is your voice, not to speak for us, but to speak with us.
We need your minds, not to override our thoughts, but to listen and collaborate with us.
We need your hearts, to love us deeply, and to care about the pain of the burden we must carry.
We need your confidence, not to overpower us, but to care with us, to work for goodness and fight for justice.
We need your courage, not because we don’t have it or yours is stronger, but because great courage in the hands of power changes the course of history.
We need your respect, to view us as more than mere bodies to satisfy your desires and your lusts.
We need your legs to stand with us as we pursue a world that is better for our children, one that loves peace and prevents violence.
We need your ears to listen for and include the voices of everyone, not just your cronies or the people you most easily understand.
We need your vulnerability, to walk through the guilt that overwhelms and into the understanding that gives us all life.
We are human, too, equal in every way to you. We are capable and competent, eager and interested. We need you to acknowledge this, to humbly loosen your grip on the power you hold and actively create ways to share it with us, too.
Please, walk with us – not ahead or over top of us – but simply and humbly alongside us, as partners and companions. We need each other. These burden are much too heavy for any of us to carry alone.
For further reading
White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack by Peggy McIntosh
When rich westerners don’t know they’re being rich westerners by Djibouti Jones