WORDS BY LETI BERNARD
Do you know that feeling you get when you’re in a dark room for a while and you finally step into the light, only to feel totally discombobulated? You were so used to being in the darkness that your eyes adjusted to the absence of light. When you finally step into a well-lit room, or the sun-drenched outdoors, your eyes take some time to re-adjust. They get blurry, you squint a lot, and you feel lost – desperately wishing your eyes would accept the light flooding into them. Well, that’s how I’ve been feeling lately – not in a literal sense, but in the sense of feeling dazed, confused, and overwhelmed.
I like to consider myself as “woke”: Absent of being willfully ignorant on topics such as minority culture, politics, and race relations. If you are woke, you are aware of how America’s ugly history of racism still permeates our society today. You care about the plights of minorities seeking equality and justice in this nation. You don’t simply believe everything the one-sided news outlets tell you; you investigate for yourself.
I hope to – at least to some degree -- engage in society as woke. Consequently, I like to be in-the-know of news involving social justice and race relations. Ever since the released videos of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile being shot by police took the internet by storm, my desire to be aware has significantly heightened. I want to know about police brutality and whether these police officers were indicted for murder or voluntary manslaughter. I want to be aware of the racist policies and norms that still exist in society today. I want to stay informed. I follow social activists such as Shaun King and Bernice King (Martin Luther King Jr’s daughter) to receive the latest news on race relations and social politics. It’s good to stay informed. But, staying informed has its pitfalls.
I am constantly bombarded with news highlighting racism and hatred in this country, and I would be a liar if I said it didn’t take a toll on me. As a minority woman (my father is Samoan and my mother is black) I care deeply about these issues because they affect me – both directly and indirectly. When I read a tweet about white college students dressing up in blackface with signs that read “nigger,” I get upset. When I watch Facebook videos of men being harassed or shot and killed by police, I get sad.
But it isn’t the tweets, videos or articles I read that affect me the most– it’s the responses and views from people I know personally that show a lack of empathy and understanding.
It’s the comments fellow Christians leave on Facebook statuses: “Why do black people complain about police brutality all the time and never talk about black-on-black crime?” It’s the discussions presented in my college courses by professors who are well-meaning but ignorant: “And if Kaepernick, a multi-million-dollar athlete, wants to kneel and disrespect our flag, he can get out of this country and see how great we have it compared to others.”
In all honesty, it makes me feel invalidated -- as if the issues that break my heart don’t hold merit. It’s as if, to these Christians, black people must prove why our pain is authentic and not simply complaints and victimization.
Christians who challenge the pain of minority Christians are not bearing their burdens as Galatians 6 calls us to do. They are effectively saying, “Try again, and present a new pain that makes more sense to me -- one that I agree with.”
When I constantly see news about racism and injustice, on top of encountering opinions that are undoubtedly opposed to mine, I start to feel dazed, confused, and overwhelmed – like stepping out of a dark room into the light. And I’m still waiting to be able to see clearly.
How do I navigate through these feelings? Most importantly, how do I – as a follower of Christ – relate to others who do not share my same views on race relations? I believe God is teaching me the answer to this question right now in this season of sensory overload and confusion. I most definitely do not have all the answers, but I know where to find them.
I know that my identity is not my ethnicity. My identity is in Christ.
Through Jesus, I am a new creation, a daughter of the Most High King. Because of this, God commands me to live in obedience to his word. I must walk the walk of a person whose identity is now in Jesus.
Although I am a woman of color – I identify as a black and Samoan woman – that should not take precedence over my eternal identity in Christ. That’s a tough pill to swallow sometimes, because issues of race relations hit so close to home. It’s even more difficult when I encounter views on race relations that I deem absurd or ignorant.
And although my identity is in Christ, I still deeply relate to the black community because I am black. I mourn with black mothers whose sons were shot and killed by police officers because that could have been my brother or my cousins.
It’s hard to abstain from feeling “some type of way”, as my sister would say, about people who think “Black Lives Matter” is a hate group. It’s even harder when these people are Christians – fellow brothers and sisters whose identity is also in Christ. But once again, I am a follower of Christ first. That means, instead of viewing fellow Christians with anger or bitterness, I need to love them and extend grace.
Instead of looking for answers in my reservoir of wokeness, I need to look to the Bible as my guide in times of uncertainty. Instead of holding presuppositions about people based on their likes and statuses, I need to realize that disagreement does not equal hate.
I should not allow differing views to deter me from loving, engaging with, and serving alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ. So, as I still wait for my vision to readjust, and as I continually struggle with navigating through uncertainty, I will remember this: Christ comes first.
“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”(Philippians 2:1-4, ESV)