Addressing the “R” words
Race, Reconciliation, Restoration, Restitution, Repentance, Remorse, Rectify, Regret, Relationship
Rapport |raˈpôr; rə-| noun
a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well : she was able to establish a good rapport with the children | there was little rapport between them.
ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: French, from rapporter ‘bring back.’
I find this word facinating! It’s origin is the most astounding of its definition. Today, a “rapport” in French is close to its English definition with a slight twist… a rapport is a close relationship. It’s origin to “bring back”… to restore relationship… Nice.
Disclaimers: Before I even think of addressing this issue, there is a self imposed mandatory and absolutely appropriate disclaimer. I am white, from privileged pedigree. I am educated, and have enjoyed opportunities because of those privileges. I label them such, consciously. I was able to go to good schools because of my economic, and relational advantages, and informal education that gave me aspirations, hopes, confidence to date believe I could obtain and pursue such. I have not regularly or even occasionally been subject to racial discrimination – though I have experienced it in the US and abroad. I am NOT an expert on this topic. I write from the “wrong” side of the fence that either makes me shallow and obtuse to the complexities and challenges, not having lived it, or to white people a bleeding heart liberal who has white guilt. Yet, to remain silent is a sin. I cannot claim to follow the Messiah and not address something so significant, though most white people do not even think it is an issue to address any longer now that we have black generals, supreme court justices and members of congress and of course, a black president.
Yet, living in a metropolitan area with a significant black population, and in the city where 1/2 the population is black or mulatto, I see it differently than most – even suburban New Orleaneans. I live with it daily, have poor black neighborhoods close by, work with poverty advocacy on several levels and have walked with black saints and come to not know a political issue, but the heart issue, the hurt of those with whom I call friends. I have seen the tears, the angst, the frustration and the lingering bitterness at a society that has yet to deal with this in a healing way. So often, we only address this in a “right” and “win” the argument approach – and not in a manner that brings healing, respect and rectifies centuries of US history covered in individual and collective social sin.
Therefore, while not qualified, I stand up to address this issue, I disclose my thoughts, imperfect and incomplete as they are. Yet, I do dare speak to the issue. I speak to the vast majority of people who read this blog: White, Suburban, Affluent on global and American levels, and saints – ambassadors of the Living God to a broken hurting world.
My purpose: To remind and encourage the saints that we are not here to “win” (to be right), nor to “fight” for our rights – but to be Ambassadors of the Living God, Jesus our Messiah and to love this world to Him. How will they understand if we do not go and be “light” [that they see], “salt” [that they taste], “fragrance” [that they smell] – and know that the Lord IS good. So my goal is to truly establish the word “Rapport” as our goal, as the church! In French, this word
All of these words are related. We Caucasians don’t feel comfortable discussing it – ESPECIALLY in the United States. There are many, many reasons for this. Partly due to the perceived and sometimes real reverse discrimination, or perceived retaliation, even bigotry. Many honestly do not own collective responsibility, or guilt. White culture especially – more than any other American sub-cultural group – is very, very individualistic, and to be honest, narcissistic – it’s about me… Our Enlightenment heritage colors us ugly sometimes. Yet, there is a collective issue to address… Finally, there is a reality today where there is still discrimination, still disadvantage and still a fatalistic reality for many African Americans.
First – our perceptions…. we whites sometimes feel a cold shoulder, even reverse discrimination. True or False? Be honest… yes, we do. Sometimes that is real. But, in our “rights” arguments, we never ask the greatest question, “Why?” You see, not only did we buy slaves from the African sellers, we brought them over in horrid conditions, and then bought people – and treated them very poorly… anyone who has that romanticized idea of how well they were treated has bought into the cultural myth perpetuated by the landed gentry of the day, and not read the 1st hand experiences. That is akin to taking the Nazi’s word for how the Jews were treated and ignoring their own accounts. And on the rare cases where they were treated humanely – they were forced labor and slaves. It was wrong.
Adding to this was the decades of not just discriminaiton, prejudice and being economically and socially cornered to uneducated and bottom rung means of subsistence (not professions, but hand to mouth lifestyles), they faced persecution, hatred and severe bigotry. I remember every white child being pulled from the pool when a black child got in… they were thought to pollute the pool and it would need cleaning, more though was the audacity to frequent a place whites did – they were socially trespassing.
Next on this argument… even on the west coast, which believes it is devoid of racial bigotry, I have seen it equal to Alabama or Mississippi – it’s just more sophisticated. There is a difference, a noted awareness when dealing with a black person. There is an expected black face to crime, social decline, etc. It is present and alive prejudice that is real.
I was actually accosted by a woman at a wedding reception on “it was all well and good” until the Yankee liberals came along and ruined it. The blacks were happy and had equal schools to the whites… they forced integration (thus rejecting American Apartheid) and ruined it. In Mississippi almost every small town white child goes to a religious/private school – very few attend public schools with white kids. The cities are a touch different because white kids live around white kids and thus attend schools in their catchment. These schools are N-O-T equal. Yet there are kids, a select few, who do get educations in those environments and succeed… but this complex issue is being weighed daily in the media with all the efforts to help failing schools.
The argument that they don’t succeed, are undisciplined, don’t try… you know, there is some truth to some of that, ugly as it is… it is much more complex than my one phrase above reveals. Yet, no one asks why? Why did the family in black society collapse even more than in white society and yes, our society is collapsing as well… but why did it collapse at such a higher rate? Did we do it? Did well meaning, yet paternal systems in government actually accelerate this? There isn’t space here to address this, but it did. Did we force it in the migration of work from the cities to suburbs and from suburbs overseas? This is incomplete, but we contributed to that.
Even been watched, profiled simply because you are black? The answer by many in cities with large black populations is that “they are the ones doing the crime”… when you look at the bill boards of the most wanted, you see mostly if not ALL black faces. Why? Why might there be something valid in this? Why is there the crime? And, is it all accurate? Why, when the substance abuse rates among whites and blacks is identical, do we see blacks imprisoned at ten times the rates of white? And they also receive harsher sentences from the legal system? From out right discrimination to the privilege to afford lawyers who can argue and afford the time to prepare and mediate their case. A guy from the burbs, educated, connected, with a good job is simply looked upon more favorably when his mom and dad are such pillars in society versus the kid from the hood who’s mom is broke and there is not dad…
Collective Responsibility and Guilt:
There is a collective guilt we face. We don’t like it, but we as white people perpetrated this and we propagate it today in our systemic society, and in our unwitting use of the privilege we have, failure to deal with the education, economic, legal, social systems, that sin and have sinned. They are poor because until very recently an entire people was legally forced into Apartheid, could not get good educations, good jobs, and still today do not have the access to know how to accomplish many of the goals we take for granted such as, connections for good schools, investment know how, mentors and even being raised to believe you can excel and succeed, and the connections for good jobs, internships, etc…
No? Stop and think how your son, or you, your daughter, or your church friends got their professional access to work for the fortune 500? Where did they go to school, from primary through college and grad school? How did they get in to get interviewed with the company or the sweet internship? From where came the courage to even think you might even do this? Who taught you to think through managing money, investments, how to own your own home? We enjoy huge privilege… Need a lawyer? I got a friends, a doctor?
And when you are poor, how do you afford what others never stop and even think about… Most of the nation is now spending 1/3 of their income on healthcare… ONE THIRD! After losing 1/5 to taxes, that’s at fifty percent gone before you spend a dime. Take 1/3 (if you do it right) on housing, and your now down to only 14% of your income left to live, eat, clothe yourself…forget fiscal worship (giving, tithing, whatever), entertainment, car, insurances other than medical, education, retirement savings, etc… wonder why the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?!?!?!?
We are guilty because we set up, our forefathers developed this consuming system and we don’t do anything about it. We don’t try and do anything about it and we don’t even validate it.
I can hear it, through the grinding teeth… “So what now… just how should I change it?”
Simple – know people… They are not faceless masses without hearts, minds, souls. Leave the fortress white castle and engage, join, participate, and care thus changing your life so you actually engage and know black people… or other ethnic groups. I don’t mean study them, I mean know some names, make real friends, eat together, work together, play together… come to understand and go from a faceless mass, to a pair of eyes you know. Once you know them, you’ll be able to actually hear, and therefore with time, understand. With time, you’ll actually care and not just advocate and speak out, but you’ll be motivated to do something – one person at a time.
It’s not just the top-down paternal efforts to change society, though there is plenty to do… bless those who are working from that side of the coin. The greatest impact though isn’t a new program or new law… it’s a set of relationships where we invest in people – not black people, but our friends. Bottom up… relational, incarnational presence …The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.
Pragmatically, join the classroom and read to children, black and white; participate in community athletics and work to help poor black kids involved with your kids… coach and mentor and know and build young men and women, both black and white.
Understand, reconciliation is not just “I’m sorry” – individually or collectively – but working, living, relating anew, afresh. It’s about respect and treating them with the same regard.
Last, this MUST be done as equals – not a paternal “we have the answers and the resources” and we come nobly as caring white people to help you, poor, impoverished black people who “need” us…. That is disrespectful and communicates we are the saviors …after our track record, we should come sobbing, humble, broken, filled with remorse, regret, repentance, and as equals who will stand together and help bring healing.
To my black friends, we can’t fix it. We can’t take it back, we can’t even heal it ourselves. The debt is ours which you hold. Yet, the only healing, change and hope for tomorrow is when we come humbly that you cancel our debt, forgive us, and then together we work for the next 100 years to bring life, healing and hope to our world – and that will only take place following our noble King, not a racial ideology, a political party or some noble idea… but behind the King.
No? Then what’s the hope of tomorrow? Actually, my bottom up exhortation is the fastest way to heal a broken society, white and black. The goal isn’t to be right, to protect my rights, it’s about what Jesus calls us to …Rapport (close relationship made right)….
Peace to you.