“16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
| Second Corinthians 5.16-20, NRSV
Recently, I led a series of workshops on racial reconciliation. I did not choose the title but welcomed the challenge of a conversation with the two words. The attendees saw no conflict between them, at least not at first. I thought it necessary that they be clear of the meanings that they brought to the words. As expected, the definitions were most often the total opposite of each other.
When I asked what words they associated with race, there was nervous silence. After I reminded them that they were in a safe space for which they would not be penalized for learning, they offered words like hatred, division, anger and apathy. It took quite some time before anyone mentioned color or prejudice. And when I asked them what came to mind when I said reconciliation, there was almost a sigh of relief with each answer: apology, love, redemption and unity. It was obvious that they knew and favored reconciliation over race.
The gathering focused on being an ambassador but it was clear that they wanted to get as far away from race as possible. Though participants understood intellectually that race was and is a social construct, socially and emotionally it remained very real. And this is understandable as there are real life consequences and implications for those on the last rung of its social ladder. As we saw recently at a Starbucks in Philadelphia, two African American men socially identified as black were falsely arrested and imprisoned for asking to use the restroom and while waiting for a friend. Not ordering immediately is apparently a crime for some people. These men posed no threat but the perceptions associated with the social coloring of their skin prompted the manager to call the police.
As a result, I have given up my grande, seven pump, extra hot chai with whole milk, no water, no foam. It had been my favorite morning drink for almost ten years. But, when I saw the video and the faces of the men being arrested, I lost my appetite immediately. I need authentic community more than I need caffeine. Race and community simply do not go together.
To be fair, the social construct of race never aimed to unify human beings. It never claimed that it would create community, that after it was finished with American slavery, lynchings, the Black Codes, Jim Crow segregation, redlining and the like that it would bring us back together again. Its purpose was to justify a caste system, which enabled persons socially colored white to oppress and enslave those socially colored black. There is nothing of this relationship that can be reconciled. The two don’t go together. Instead, we should spend our time reconciling the fact that we hate persons who are our siblings.
Reconciling ourselves to race is not apart of this ministry; reconciling ourselves to each other and to God is.