Confessing Ambiguous Racism

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Confession is important. We read in 1 John that if we confess our sins, we will be forgiven. We read about repentance throughout the Bible. We read how we are to repent of our sins and God will forgive. But what about when the sin is ambiguous? You’re not sure if you’ve truly sinned or not, that it’s in that weird area between there and here? More importantly, how do you confess the sin of the ambiguity of possibly hurting someone else through actions which were absent of malice all together by you? What about if it’s racist or might be? There’s ambiguity in this confession of mine.

The other day I was working alongside a gentleman when something fell. Now, me being who I am, I don’t like to use vulgar language. One of the ways I go about not using vulgar language is using non-sensical words such as “son of a monkey fart.” Silly. Funny. And not vulgar (okay, save for the “fart” part which some might find offense to). And as this item fell I started to say “son of a monkey…” and I stopped. My fellow human was African-American. For a split second I realized what I was saying. Could what I say be racist? Could what I say be offensive to him? Could I truly show myself to be a racist without meaning to be racist? And I stopped myself. I apologized profusely. “It’s cool, it’s cool,” he told me. I still feel horrible.

I want to say that I’m the least racist person I know (though many white people of European decent might say that as well). Aren’t I? When I was in high school I was the only white kid in my apartment complex. Some of my cousins and some of my nieces and nephews are bi-racial. I grew up in a multicultural world. How could I have been racist? Or was I? He did say it was cool. So, I’m good right? Or do I need to confess it?

I don’t know.

One thing I’ve learned is that when we speak, we are speaking to someone else with different life experiences, different ways of interpreting things, different ways of understanding things. What I might say might seem to me to be the size of pebble, but to someone else, it’s a huge boulder rolling behind them as they run for their lives.

That’s the ambiguity of it. You don’t know how it’ll be received. I try to be sensitive. I try to watch what I say and do. But I still catch myself sometimes and wonder if maybe, just maybe, I said something, did something, that was racist or seen as such. How do I confess that?

As a white male in his 40’s, there are many things which I know I don’t see. There’s a privilege I’ve never understood. In fact, there are many things that I don’t understand. I have learned that there’s more ambiguity out there than I once thought.

I do know this: Racism is real—both latent and blatant. We are in a culture that can and has and still does condone and support racism—both latent and blatant. It’s the ambiguous latency of racism which I know I struggle with. It is what many struggle with.

Confession is good. So is contrition. Contrition is asking and seeking forgiveness for sin. We confess even the ambiguous sins and seek contrition, seek forgiveness even if we’re not sure if we’ve offended or hurt someone. This leads to open dialogue to discuss racism openly and allow for a learning opportunity to occur.

In the ambiguity of the sin of racism, confession is good. Confession is important. And being willing to learn from the ambiguity helps build bridges that may not have been there before. This is what I pray for.

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Community Builder

As a follow up, I wanted to point out that this post was written before the horrific events in Charlottesville, VA that happened on the weekend of August 12.

Joshua

Thank you, I agree that the sin can be ambagious.  I especially wonder about racial reconciliation, who reconciles with  who.   Being that we are a confessional community, might integrating remorse and lament over the historic racialization of people be helpful in making us more welcoming to people who have not felt welcome in our midst.

Community Builder

Thank you for your comment. I think you are right that there is a lack of lament as there should be. Many white evangelical Christians struggle with what exactly is racism and how to confess it let alone lament it. I myself am still learning.

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