“How are you feeling about the George Floyd murder and related events?”
As the cry over his murder reverberates around the world, I’ve been asking that question of so many others recently. My desire has been to play a role (albeit a small one) in creating understanding, in the healing process, in encouraging dialogue. All in all, as a Christian and as a leader, trying to model love and leadership in the face of evil.
However, as I seek to encourage healthy and respectful dialogue, I feel that it’s important that I answer that question for myself too; after all, I am black (or brown as my kids rather correctly say).
I feel a deep outrage, I feel a deep sadness, I feel deeply disturbed by the depth of racial prejudice in our world, both at a conscious and unconscious level. One of the things I’ve come to feel a greater level of outrage about is the silence that has ensued (intentionally and unintentionally) for centuries, especially by those who benefit from the dynamic of supremacy of one group over another.
Many have already quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Protestant theologian who vehemently opposed Hitler and the Nazi regime, but I must do it again…
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Strangely enough, yes, strangely, I haven’t experienced much targeted racial prejudice in my life, personally or professionally. Systemic, Yes. Targeted, No. Perhaps because my family moved to Nigeria from the UK when I was 7 years old and I returned at 17, and during that time I was pretty much surrounded by black people, which meant I never had to worry about feeling inferior, or being a minority, or being the odd one out, or being stopped or harassed by police because of how I looked.
Since coming back to the UK, I have been the target of a few racial comments and had to battle with self-esteem in a way that I didn’t when I was in Nigeria but, overall, even I can’t fully and personally relate to what it’s like to be assaulted and attacked because of the colour of my skin. I only know what it’s like to be made to feel different and out of place. I’ve been made to feel not tall enough, not wealthy enough, not sporty enough, not handsome enough, not smart enough, not white enough, and even not black enough.
Nevertheless, as a black man, I do know what it’s like to be part of a group, a community, that is targeted in many places around the world; a group that has been lynched, dominated, put down and oppressed; a group that has had to fight to earn its place at the table of humanity. A fight that should never have happened in the first place. After all, beneath our different skin colours beat the same coloured hearts. And the same colour of blood courses through our veins.
I’ve had the privilege of working with, training and coaching people and leaders all around the world and I can say with certainty we’re all made of strengths, talents, struggles and weaknesses. We are all human.
Personally, when I look at our world and reflect deeply on my own experiences, I feel the issue is far greater than a ‘black – white’ issue, it’s a human issue.
We can all be dangerously tribal…
I’ve felt the impact of this personally. My family is from the Igbo tribe of Nigeria and my wife is from the Yoruba tribe. When we were dating and then engaged to be married, someone close to us commented, “Are there no nice Yoruba boys in your church? Haven’t you heard that Igbo boys will gladly sell their mothers for money?”
That comment, among many other experiences, reinforced for me the fact that our struggle with racial prejudice goes far deeper than that of colour differences.
Think about it for a minute…
- Consider the Rwandan genocide where evil was perpetrated as black Hutus slaughtered black Tutsis, OR
- Consider the intense fighting between Iraqi Shias and Iraqi Sunnis, OR
- Consider the devastating Holocaust that Bonhoeffer condemned, white Germans against white Jewish Germans (and others).
All that to say, I believe there is a much deeper problem in all of us – a capacity to hate someone simply because they are different to us – different religion, different colour, different tribe, different socio-economic background, even the fact that they support a different sports team.
So, what do I think could help us move forward once and for all? What do I think could help us delve deeper and deal with this problem of racial prejudice and hatred in ways that goes further than we’ve ever gone before?
Truth is, there are many who have a far greater handle on the challenges, the pain, and potential solutions than I ever could but, as someone who knows people, I can think of five things that would help us along the journey and I’m convinced it starts with each of us doing some serious soul-searching as we:
- Acknowledge our capacity for hate – Let’s not pretend we don’t have this problem as human beings. We all need to examine our hearts and accept that there’s something within us that can be threatened by things and people who are different to us and, sadly, that fear can lead to hate. When we can acknowledge that then I think we have a good chance of being able to change and begin to think and behave differently.
- Become more curious – Let’s be curious about others who are different from us. Curious enough to explore the beauty they can bring to our lives, to our communities, to our world. Curious enough to engage in healthy and respectful dialogue. Curious enough to lean into the discomfort of recognising that “different” doesn’t mean “bad”, it simply means… “different”. Let’s even be curious enough to explore this global outrage and pain that many are feeling, especially as it relates to conversations about Black Lives Matter, racial prejudice, white supremacy and the like.
- Channel our capacity for love – I do think this is an important one. I honestly believe that we were created as a human race to love. Sometimes we just forget that. I have so many friends of different backgrounds and colours who I know love me and who I love deeply. We’ve shared life together, laughed together, cried together, and forged ties that have gone beyond the boundary of colour. Many of us know what it’s like to not see the colour of the other person, but simply see them as a person, a fellow human being on this journey called life. It’s who we are. We need to recognise that we’ve got it in us to love those who are different to us and channel that love instead of giving in to an ideology of supremacy of one group over the other.
- Denounce racial prejudice – This is a step that feels so much clearer now than ever before. We can’t simply say that we’re not racist. It’s no longer good enough. As I often say to my 3 boys when they rattle off answers or responses I know they don’t really believe, “that’s simply theory.” This isn’t about concepts or beliefs. It’s about action. We’ve got to DO more. We need to actively denounce racial prejudice, white supremacy, class supremacy, and any form of human supremacy. There is an evil and it’s called hatred. It’s called prejudice. It’s called supremacy. And, if we remain silent, that evil will reign supreme and we will ALL be worse off.
- Endeavour to see that we’re ALL “people of colour” – Perhaps some in the black community won’t like this, but I personally think the phrase “people of colour” as it pertains to blacks and other non-whites is an absolutely terrible term that subtly and unconsciously reinforces the fact that there is a dominant colour. We’re ALL “people of colour” – whether we’re from Africa, Europe, Asia, Middle East, America, Australasia – we’re all either brown, dark brown, light brown, olive, fair, very fair, etc. Let’s stop inadvertently perpetuating the dominance of one colour by excluding it from the mix.
I desperately want my boys to grow up in a world where they’re fighting different battles – perhaps the battle for improved electric car technology, perhaps the battle to overcome terminal diseases, perhaps the battle for sustainable sources of renewable energy, perhaps the battle for…. I don’t know, you fill in the blank, but certainly a different battle to this one.
We can all play our part in making this world a place where every single human being feels an overwhelming sense that we’re in it TOGETHER and we all have something amazing to offer. Where no one feels afraid or deprived or inferior simply because of the colour of their skin. But it means taking radical action and choosing to be committed to love, committed to growth, committed to curiosity, committed to change, committed to upholding the incredible and intrinsic worth of EVERY single person on this planet.
It starts with us. It starts with you. It starts with me.