I was called a “n*gger lover” in high school.
Since my best friend was a black teenager, and I honestly enjoyed befriending all types of people, I was often criticized as being one of “them.” My best friend was called an “Oreo” since he was black on the outside but apparently white on the inside. Why? Because his best friend was white, AKA the “n*gger lover.”
While it was often meant as in insult to a white kid growing up in South Carolina, I have to be honest with you: I received it as a compliment.
If being kind to people who looked different from me was wrong, then I didn’t want to be right.
If anything, comments like those cemented my convictions to live differently. The more I read about the atrocities throughout history, the more I got to know people and hear their perspectives, and the more injustice I saw still apparent in an apparently progressive culture, the more I understood I wanted to be a part of the solution rather than just another contributor to the problem.
I have been criticized, slandered, and even threatened by people due to my stances on certain issues.
Filtered in Translation
While my convictions have caused the direction of my life to change in some dramatic ways, I don’t assume to speak on behalf of black people as a white pastor in his thirties. What I do want to attempt to do is to translate to white people what black people are saying, but I think many of our experiences are filtering the message, and it is unfortunately garbled in many ears.
Black people don’t think every white person is racist, but every time a white person defends injustice, it makes their distrust to widen considerably.
In the span of just a few days, media outlets have been forced to cover recent issues and dated issues that had been covered up. One was being arrested, one was bird-watching, and one was jogging. Two died. One was alerted to the police.
I can’t take another hashtag of another African American. It is simply too much.
- Black people don’t assume that every police officer is racist, but when they are denied the right to say that some are, they begin to distrust even more.
- Black people don’t think that every white person is racist, but every time they are told that their feelings are unjustified, they become even more skeptical of the intentions of white people.
- Black people don’t think every system in our country threatens their struggle, but when white people refuse to admit that a struggle exists through generations due to some significant systemic issues, they feel unheard, devalued, and isolated.
A Simple Illustration
It seems hard for some people to understand why these moments provoke such fear. Let me offer you a simple illustration.
Let’s say that a woman has heard multiple friends all recently discovering that their husbands were having affairs. All of them started through a connection over the phone, and it then led to physical relationships. While this woman trusts her husband, it makes her anxious and skeptical. She tells him how overwhelmed she is. She asks if they should maybe have more open access to their phones. He looks shocked. He criticizes her for distrusting him.
Her yellow flags turn to red. What was a concern becomes a danger. She tries to get on his phone when he is out of the room, but he changed his password. When she does get on it one day, things are missing.
Now, let’s say that he isn’t having an affair, but his response makes her more suspicious of his intentions and activity.
I have learned that my response to injustices done to black people is much like this illustration. Even if I don’t have racist intentions in my heart, my reluctance to empathize with concerns causes the distrust to grow.
If you don’t have anything to hide, why are you attempting to restrict desperate people searching for peace?
In Their Shoes
That’s why so many of these situations make feel like they warrant hashtags. That’s why they take out their camera phones on what should be simple scenes. That’s why some travel more often in groups due to fear of the unthinkable, unprovoked happening.
That’s why they have to teach their young kids stereotypical lessons about who they can trust and who they cannot.
Their ancestors were silenced, and any attempt to muzzle them now makes the situation exponentially worse.
- They have the right to speak.
- They have the right to opinions.
- They have the right to their emotions.
- They have the right to their fears.
If you haven’t walked a mile in their shoes or walked beside them on that trek, you do not have the right to tell them that their feet shouldn’t hurt.
When you reply to #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter, you aren’t even in the same conversation with them. I have never had a relationship with a black friend who doesn’t believe that all lives matter, but they are fearful because many don’t think that black lives matter. And when you take their concern and invalidate their fears, you widen the great chasm already present.
If these situations continue to happen, the more they feel the need to raise their voice. And the more that others tell them to quiet down increases the rage and deepen the hurt.
I don’t know what to do about this situation. It’s not an easy fix.
I do know that glossing over a problem will never be a part of the solution.
Listen. Empathize. Show compassion. Stand up against injustice. Stand beside someone fearful.
For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.Romans 10:12
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Distinctive Discipleship. He is married to Amanda and the father of two sons and one daughter. Travis graduated from North Greenville University with a B.A. in Christian Studies and earned his M.Div. and D.Min. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with his doctoral focus on family discipleship.