I can remember his words like they were yesterday. He is a black man. He grew up in one of the worst hoods in the South. Now, after receiving the height of academic study (his humility makes calling him “doctor” wholly out of the question), starting a school for underprivileged kids, and toiling in the work of racial reconciliation and urban development, he chooses to love, lead and put up with guys like me – a white guy who has always had a special love and appreciation for the black community.
So we are sitting in my office discussing urban ministry and he says to me something to the effect of, “As much as you love the black community and involve yourself with them, you will never know what its like to be a black man.” Given my obvious “whiteness” you would think that this would have been obvious to me. But it wasn’t. I thought I could study enough black culture, hang out with enough black folks, and listen to enough black music, that I would know what being black is all about. I was wrong. And I love this man for correcting me.
There’s another side to the coin that I am sure this mentor of mine is fully aware of. Likewise, he will never know what it is like to be a white man. There are traits, experiences, cultural idiosyncrasies, tragedies, histories, and influences that are so deeply woven into our “racial fabric” that they are nontransferable. They are things that are a part of my whiteness, and things that are a special part your blackness. You cannot buy them in a store. You cannot download them on iTunes.
In a very real way, it is these things that truly matter. They are the deep things – the things that help us to love one another better; and, unfortunately that provide opportunities for us to hate one another. When they are embraced, we feel deeply loved. When they are rejected, we feel deeply hated. These particular idiosyncrasies carry weight, more weight than the jewelry we may wear, or the music we listen to, or the language we employ. After all, even if I were to dress and talk like a black man, there would be something (other than my skin) quite “un-black” about me. I would not BE black. And that’s okay. Again, the flip side of the coin still applies.
While there are idiosyncrasies that are glorious in nature, I’d like to focus on those that are not-so-glorious. Why go there? Because it is these very things that keep us racially divided. I can’t count how many times I have heard a redneck call a black man a “nigger”, while constantly blaring rap music. The irony is profound, but it only adds weight to my point. The superficial things, like music, clothes and lingo may look like they unify us, but the deep things show our real relational position. Simply put, just because I dress like a black man doesn’t mean that I love the black culture.
Not-so-glorious idiosyncrasies are not prejudiced. They are with us all – white, black, Hispanic, and so on. In short, every culture has these “deep things.” And when we live in relationship with others, especially those who are culturally different than we are, they take on a special name. The Bible calls them burdens.
It is our Christian duty to “bear” the burdens of others, while it is our cultural climate to despise them, or, simply act as if they don’t exist. In other words, if I choose not to bear the burden of my black brother, I will either despise him or I will superficially befriend him. Both are prejudiced. Both are hateful. We must bear one another’s burdens if we are to advance the Kingdom of God together in love. But what does this look like?
Perhaps the best explanation that I have encountered comes from the pen of John Perkins. Any biography that I could give here would do a severe injustice to this mans history, struggle, and contribution to our American society. Look him up. In his book With Justice for All, he writes:
“The duty to “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal 6:2) takes on added meaning in an interracial fellowship. When a white brother comes to the community, he’s bringing all his superiority and all his guilt that society has put on him. I must be able and willing to absorb that if we are to be reconciled. And my white brother in the community must also recognize that I bring my history of being treated inferior, of being told that I am a nobody, a nigger. He must understand that I am trying to claim my worth as a person created in God’s image. So he must bear the burden of all my bitterness and anger that grows out of my past. To be reconciled to each other, then, we must bear the burdens created by each other’s pasts. And to be reconcilers in the world, to bring others together, we must bear the burdens of both the parties we seek to reconcile.”
I have a few black men in my life who have promised me that they will lovingly confront any racial blind-spots that I impose. Should I express superiority or paternalism, they have committed not to “de-friend” me, but to befriend me more. They, out of a love for Christ, have dedicated themselves to bearing my burdens. And, by grace, I have committed myself to do the same for them. Together, we hope to show the watching world that two very different people, with very different backgrounds, can, indeed, love one another in a deep, significant, till-death way. And this “burden bearing” life, we hope, will exemplify and glorify the Lord Christ, who bore our sins on the cross.
You can learn more about Scott Moore here.