I should start by giving a disclaimer. I don’t claim to be completely “woke.” In fact, I’m probably far from woke. I’m trying to get woke, hence the title. I simply want other people like myself to try, simply attempt to get woke with me.
I am as white as it gets. Nearly 100% European ancestry, mostly English. I grew up in a mostly white suburb and live in a mostly white town. I’m soon moving to a town that’s probably whiter than the one I live in now. I’m WHITE. I haven’t shielded myself from cultures different my own, but I haven’t exactly immersed myself in them.
However, for probably 10 years, I’ve truly appreciated many pieces of art created by brothers and sisters who do not share my skin color. In my middle school years, the rhymes of African-American and Christian rapper Da’ T.R.U.T.H. filled my headphones. I had little to no understanding of the meanings of said rhymes, but the beats pumped me up and I sensed a true devotion to Jesus in his music.
Da’ T.R.U.T.H. had some dude named Lecrae in a couple of his songs, but it wasn’t until my college years that the latter man burst onto the scene and became easily the most well-known Christian rapper of all time. Lecrae’s music was (is) raw, real and authentic. His carefully crafted words told (tell) of past sins, current struggles and future hopes. Like me, many others found inspiration, motivation and breaths of fresh air in his tunes. I began to appreciate Lecrae, Trip Lee, Propaganda and other African-American rappers because of the truth in their words and the vulnerability of their souls in the face of potential hate.
While I began to truly appreciate the art crafted by my black brothers and sisters (Jackie Hill-Perry, for one) for their pure takes on life, the university environment and my simultaneous maturing process opened my eyes and heart to things going on in the world that were outside myself. I remember hearing the buzz about Trayvon Martin and reading up on the situation. I was mostly confused. I still didn’t quite care. This situation was too far outside of my sphere of influence. Too far for me to care, or to spend serious time thinking about it.
I continued to grow in Christ through the next couple years and my compassion grew for those who didn’t look, act or think like me.
Then came Mike Brown and Ferguson. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Laquan McDonald. I couldn’t turn a blind eye. These news stories haunted my soul… but they were more than news stories. They were the stories of real people, and they sadly became more normal than anomalous.
I didn’t only hear stories, but through the artists I mentioned previously as well as the general voice of the African-American public, I heard the cry of a people in utter pain. I heard the creative voices of Lecrae, Propaganda, Kendrick Lamar. I heard the cry of a suffering people. I watched closely as the commentary from African-American leaders in the church screamed “Black Lives Matter!” These were genuine, Jesus-loving people. Their cries weren’t attempts to advance an ideology. These cries would hopefully find the ears of others who would simply care.
Not to fix. Not to politicize. Not to pity. Definitely not to argue.
To simply care.
I will not mince my words here: it is an absolute disgrace, in fact, a downright abomination that these cries have mostly failed to find listening ears from white people who claim to love Jesus. It’s sickening that these cries are met with arguments and agendas.
In my communications classes, I learned something called the XYZ skill. In conflict, accusing and pointing fingers rarely works or incites progress. It’s much more effective to frame the issue this way: “when you do X, I feel Y, because of Z.”
Why is this effective? Because somebody can’t tell you that you don’t feel a certain way. They’re your feelings. You’re the only one who truly knows them. When the listener understands how you’re feeling, the path to understanding, compassion, and forgiveness grows much wider. Healing begins. It’s still a process, sometimes a long one.
African-Americans are feeling pain because of the systematic racism that exists in this country. To white people who claim to follow Jesus, we are simply asinine if we tell our brothers and sisters they’re in the wrong for feeling a certain way. The feelings may not be verbalized in a way that makes you comfortable, but that probably just reveals their legitimacy even further. You can’t disqualify the feelings of an entire demographic because you don’t agree. At the least, that’s illogical. At most, it’s insane.
But you can pay attention. Better yet, you can listen. You can be educated. There are plenty of resources available to learn the Z behind the Y, the why behind the feeling. The reason for the cries, the purposes for the pain. You can attempt to get woke. That doesn’t mean you’ll always say or do the right things. I’ve probably misused my language somewhere within this post.
But I’m freaking trying, man. Because white Christians NEED TO BE BETTER. The church has to lead the way in tearing down the ugly walls of racism, but our arguments are simply adding bricks.
I’m not above this. I can count my black friends on one hand. That hurts to say. There are parts of my heart and mind that tend toward racism. I have to actively condemn these and ask God to change my wretched heart. It’s the sickness of my sin that causes racism to live inside me… but I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it’s absolutely gasping for breath, until it finally chokes and dies. But I need help. I want to get better.
Do you really believe that African-Americans who believe in Jesus are your own flesh & blood? As unworthy of grace as you are, but as forgiven and redeemed as you are? Made in the same image as you, the image of a God whose color is yet unknown to our eyes? If yes, do your actions follow? We must ask these questions. We must listen. We must converse.
You’ll find that the process of getting woke is much more gratifying than settling for winning an argument.
As Propaganda himself said in Lecrae’s “Gangland,” being right is a distant second to the joy of compassion. A collective step toward compassion is a step on the head of Satan.
In his song Broken, Lecrae says “we all broke together, and if we don’t swallow our pride we gon’ choke together.”
White Christians: we’ve already choked together, now it’s time to get woke together.
*I highly recommend this podcast from The Liturgists, featuring a conversation with Propaganda and worship artist William Matthews, to begin your journey towards getting woke.*
Note: After writing this post, I heard the absolutely sickening news about #AltonSterling. I sobbed after watching the video of his murder. This post is dedicated to him, the memory of his life, and the countless people before him whose lives have been taken unjustly. Alton, I’m sorry this is too late.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15