The Conversation on Race, Story and Justice


Photo Credit: Robert Martinez, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Leroy Barber

The Justice Conference is meant to foster deep conversations on the things that matter to the heart of God. It seems that in today’s world the conversation on race seems to be getting lost and I am not sure this is a good.

In Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow she warns that the idea Americans are past issues of race in our society is a very dangerous position.

So many people among the white majority tell me, that they are tired of talking about race. As an African American man, I find it kind of funny that the folks who are the least threatened by the negative outcomes of racism are most tired.

Why are people tired of discussing race? Is it because we refuse to make the needed changes that would help the problem or do we feel guilty?

Does the anger that comes along with the discussions frighten us?

Are we tired of explaining the same thing again and again? Do we feel misunderstood?

Have you lost too much and the pain of talking about it is too much to deal with?

Where can we go with the conversations? Native Americans still suffer major devastation in a lot of communities. African Americans and mass incarceration is one of the most dire justice issues of our time. Many latinos are intimately connected to immigration and the challenges it brings to families and communities. And Asian communities still have very little voice in many arenas.

We are tired, but we will only drive ourselves further into the morass if we don’t talk.

There is something we can learn here from South Africa. Bishop Tutu and the priority he put on story is a significant lesson that emerged from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission just opened venues for people to tell their stories—no matter how atrocious they were. People were allowed to process them openly for months and they listened to those who were hurt and those who committed the inhumane acts.

Perhaps we need this kind of activity. Maybe we don’t need more debate at this point, but for stories to be told.

Let’s create space for people to talk and for people to listen.

Stories from those who are hurt and stories from those who hurt others are important to tell and to hear.

As Americans we love to solve problems—but race and racism seem to be problems we cant solve. Maybe we have tried too hard to solve problems and we should just stop and let people talk and listen to each other.

Tell your story. We will listen.

Share your pain and we will acknowledge it.

In any case, we cannot sit around and let racism go underground when so many are still hurt everyday by its insidious nature.  There are too many discrepancies in education, housing, job opportunities, and rates of incarceration that play out along racial lines that we can’t be silent.

Neutrality allows the racist to get comfortable is his or her position and actually grow into deeper postures, a little joke here and there eventually turns into beliefs and decisions that hurt people.

The progression is subtle but the repercussions are toxic.

Even though we’re tired we have to keep talking even when it gets uncomfortable. Even when it’s awkward we have to speak up on the little things that can become lethal if they go unchallenged.

I’m excited to be co-hosting the race and reconciliation pre-conference track at The Justice Conference this June in Chicago along with Ken Wytsma. Our goal is to sink deep enough into theology that our understanding of God will shape and form our understanding of everything else—especially when it comes to race, forgiveness, equality, solidarity and reconciliation.

I look forward to having you join us for this much needed conversation on race, story and justice at this poignant moment in history.

For more information on The Justice Conference, visit http://thejusticeconference.com

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Categories: Justice & Culture

Theology and Culture