Building Racial Bridges | Sojourners

Building Racial Bridges

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Jim Wallis' new book America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Order your copy here.

The best way to change that old talk that black parents have with their children is to start a new talk between white and black parents. These conversations will make people uncomfortable, and they should. White parents should ask their black friends who are parents whether they have had “the talk” with their children. What did they say? What did their children say? How did it feel for them to have that conversation with their children? What’s it like not to be able to trust law enforcement in your own community?

Pay attention, read, listen. If you are white and have African American colleagues at work or friends at your church, ask them to talk with you about this, to tell you their stories—then listen. If you don’t have any black people or other people of color in your church, it’s time to ask why. Reach out, and ask your pastor to reach out, to black and Latino churches in your community. We must find safe and authentic ways to hear one another’s stories across the racial boundaries that insulate and separate us from others. Reach out sensitively to black parents at your children’s schools.

Ask to hear their stories. Talk to the black parents of your children’s teammates if they play a sport. Or maybe it’s time to realize that not having children of color at your children’s school or on their teams is a big part of the problem. Parents talking to parents and hearing one another’s stories may be one of the most important ways of moving forward in the church and in the nation. But white Americans must also take responsibility for their self-education and preparation before these talks so as to not put the whole burden of their learning on their colleagues and friends of color.

White people need to stop talking so much—stop defending the systems that protect and serve us and stop saying, “I’m not a racist.” If white people turn a blind eye to systems that are racially biased, we can’t be absolved from the sin of racism. Listen to the people the criminal justice system fails to serve and protect; try to see the world as they do. Loving our neighbors means identifying with their suffering, meeting them in it, and working together to change it. And, for those of us who are parents, loving our neighbors means loving other people’s kids as much as we love our own.

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