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Building Racial Stamina

Building Racial Stamina

What makes a good fighter? While crowds will always cheer for quick knockouts and crushing blows, my money is always going on a fighter with the best stamina. A lot goes into stamina, it’s not just conditioning. Fighting into the later rounds also requires strategy and technique. Sometimes the punches you avoid are just as important as the punches you deliver. For many white people who are passionate about issues of race in America, this is the part of the fight that causes the most trouble.

Recently, we’ve seen a lot of really powerful fighters—major companies, popular celebrities, and other leaders—stepping into the race ring, but will they be there passed the first round? Part of white privilege is having the opportunity to jump in and out of the ring in ways that our neighbors of color, for whom the fight consumes their everyday lives, just can’t. Let’s use this privilege to build our racial stamina so we can fight into the later rounds. As Paul says in Galatians, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Here are some ways you can become a better long-term ally.

Follow

Are you a fixer? When a problem presents itself, is your first instinct to start a plan to fix it? Race issues in America are not a new problem. We actually don’t need more fixers. We need more followers. Your first instinct as you started digging into becoming an ally might have been to start something new. Maybe it would be a program to address a systemic problem like education inequality. Does your community need something new in that area? Before you spend the energy and time required to start something new, can you confidently say that nobody else is doing that work currently in your community? Odds are there is someone else leading in that area that you could support financially or physically. A lot of these programs are underfunded and, in a COVID world, understaffed. Do some research online, ask local pastors, or reach out to local social services departments to find out what’s already happening. A lot can be accomplished if you can curb that initial instinct to lead, and instead look for ways to follow.

Foundation

Remember when frosted tips were cool? We really thought the preferred hairstyle of 30%-40% of all boy band members was going to last forever. That’s the problem with trends, they often don’t last. For real change to happen with race in America, we cannot allow it to become trendy, but instead build it into our foundations. Digging into the Old Testament prophets is a great place to start. Hear God’s cries for his people to pursue justice in their community and the world. Allow God’s heart for justice to flow into every area of your life. Being tossed back and forth by the waves of trends can be exhausting, but a consistent foundation of Gospel-rooted justice can keep you moving forward. Don’t let social media movements become your only interaction with the pursuit of an equitable society. Spend justly. Relate justly. Laugh justly. Live justly.

Fail

In the fight for equality and reconciliation, you will fail. There is no way, outside of being Jesus himself, that you will navigate perfectly the deeply intrenched systems of white supremacy in our consciousness and subconsciousness. If we could be perfect, we wouldn’t need Jesus and, to keep fighting this fight, you need Jesus. Failure is embarrassing. It hurts you and others. But soaking in the soothing salve of grace will bring healing. Get into a rhythm of trying, failing, soaking, learning and trying again. Too often, good hearted people get knocked out by failure. Worse yet, many get stuck before stepping in the ring at all as they figure out how to proceed perfectly. There is an energy-producing freedom in knowing that you will fail. Step in, take some hits, and fill your corner with folks that will help you find forgiveness.

Fellowship

Speaking of your corner, you need to find a place where you can let your feelings flow. It is so important to build a community that will give you room to express yourself freely, give some encouragement and instruction, bandage you up, and send you back into the ring. Your corner might need to help alter your strategy. They may need to invite you into some teachable moments. A corner of comfort doesn’t mean you’ll always be comfortable, but it does mean you’ll be cared for. Sometimes you need some peroxide in those wounds while other times you just need a hug. Good fellowship will do both. Start building your team if you haven’t.

Fun

Dealing with the generational sin of white supremacy is not going to be fun. As you peel that onion open layer by systemic layer those fumes will cause more and more tears. The temptation might be to immerse yourself in every documentary, article, march, Facebook comment fight, and Twitter thread you can find, but you have to remember to have fun. For every piece of content that stretches you outside of your comfort zone its ok to find something comfortable to escape into. The conversation around choosing content to consume is probably best for another time, but, initially, for every viewing of “13th or “When They See Us” maybe throw in some episodes of “Parks and Rec” or “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” For every read of “I’m Still Here” or “The Color of Compromise” maybe travel back to Narnia or Middle Earth. For every tough relational exchange with a friend or relative celebrate the amazing things happening in other relationships. Don’t try to sprint through the marathon. It is very likely that it will take time for every influence of white supremacy to leave your worldview, and likely that it will take even longer for society at large. Pace yourself and find content that will help you escape and refuel when you need to.

As you reflect on what you need to care for yourself and maintain your energy in this fight against white supremacy, it’s worth thinking about what it would be like if you couldn’t escape when you needed to. Recognize that the choice you have to be in or out is a privilege. It’s what you do with that privilege that determines what kind of fighter/ally you’ll be. We’ve got to make it passed this season of renewed passion and into the later rounds. We do not want to get deep into the fight, take some damage, and realize it was for nothing. We can make change. We can win. Keep fighting!

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