Recently, I upgraded my phone from a Pantech slide phone (which is not quite from the Stone Age) to an iPhone 8+. Other than losing the super-cool ability to slide open my phone, I haven’t missed my Pantech too much. In fact, one of my favorite things about my new iPhone is the camera quality. The camera has different modes and lighting settings, and the never ending selection of filters is great too. The camera itself is awesome, but sometimes I struggle with how best to use it. I’ve figured out that being a good photographer is less about having a good quality camera, and more about knowing how to take good pictures.
“That’s all well and good”, you might be thinking, “but what do iPhones have to do with racism?” I’m so glad you asked!
The same way I’ve been trying to figure out how to focus on the right things when I take pictures, I’ve also been figuring out how to focus on the right things in this conversation about racism.
When you look at a picture, there are a couple things you have to know in order to really understand what’s going on and appreciate the story of the moment. I think they also apply to our conversation about racism, so here they are: background, content, and focus.
Background is so important in this conversation. Why? Well, have you ever seen a badly photoshopped image? The lines are often really jagged, and the cropped image looks out of place. Why? Because it’s not in the right background, so it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
The background of this conversation about racism is different for each one of us. Our ethnicity, our family upbringing, and our experiences all shape the personal background we bring to the table. So, we have to understand how our personal backgrounds affect how we interpret and participate in this conversation.
Here’s my personal background: I’m white (*sunburns disregarded*). I grew up in an upper-middle class, small-town family of nine in the Midwest/South. I haven’t ever experienced racism towards me, and for the most part, I haven’t seen racism towards those in my community (at least not in a way I was actually aware of at the time). I have to understand that my personal background profoundly impacts my view of this conversation on racism (especially if I’m not doing anything to actively shape my views).
Just like our upbringing affects our image of racism, our background of why we care about racism also matters. For me, my top reason for caring about racism is that it’s a Gospel issue, and I believe that the Gospel and ways of Jesus are the ultimate truths that bring life to us as people. Secondly, in the past year, I became aware of historical facts and current events that convinced me that racism is alive and is ruthlessly creating division and pain as a scheme of the enemy. That is the bulk (although it was the very brief version) of my background of caring about racism. What’s your why background for caring about racism? Do you have one?
Only you know what your background is, but understanding our upbringing and our “why” for caring about racism is so so important to being able to see the full picture of racism and interacting with it in a healthy way.
Now let’s talk about the second key element of seeing the full picture: content.
When we look at a picture of something, we usually try to figure out what it is we’re looking at. Imagine that I show my friend a picture of me serving a tennis ball. For some people, that content might be very familiar. For others, that content might be foreign, and they might wonder why I had my hand in the air with some kind of paddle-looking object. In order to understand what an image is, we have to understand what’s going on and why. I think racism is really similiar.
If I’m not familiar with racism- with the history of it, of how it affects what’s happening now- it’s going to be really hard for me to understand what’s happening in this conversation and interact accordingly. I can’t understand the forms of racism, or where racism has been systemic or even how racism feels if I don’t know about it. That’s just a logical issue- I can’t really have a helpful conversation with you if I don’t really know what you’re talking about.
If you and I want to have a healthy conversation about racism, we have to know our content.
Jump back to the tennis serve example for a second. If you don’t know what a slice serve is, you could ask me, because I’ve experienced a lot of tennis. Alternatively, if you don’t know many experienced tennis players, you could read articles from highly respected tennis professionals who have lots of expertise. Or you could watch some tennis videos and hope to figure out what’s going on and spot when a slice serve happens. There’s a lot of options, with some being better than others. With racism, we could ask questions about it to people who have experienced it, or we could start reading up on it, or we could pay more attention to what’s happening now to better understand it.
The point is this: asking questions, educating ourselves, and knowing our content is key to seeing the full picture of racism.
Next up is the most important part of an image: focus.
The most important part of any picture is the focus. In some pictures, the focus is on yourself (*cough cough, selfies) or maybe on something you’re doing (drinking coffee shows up a lot in my pics, for example).
So, what should our focus be in this conversation about racism and racial reconciliation?
For me, the focus of having this conversation is pursuing the Father’s heart of love, justice, compassion and redemption. All things are being renewed and redeemed to the way God created them because of the Gospel (especially you & me and how we interact!). I believe that unity and healing can occur if we have this conversation with His will and kingdom as our focus. The focus isn’t someone being right or condemning someone. The focus is becoming like Jesus, following the commands and principles He has set up for our abundant life in Him, and seeing all the earth be redeemed into His kingdom. What we focus on changes the entire outcome of this conversation.
The focus of this conversation isn’t me or you or what we think, it’s Jesus. Just like our phones have a portrait mode, we have to have our focus on His face.
Taking really good pictures is very challenging. Lots of people take pictures with excellent cameras, but those aren’t always good photos. I’ll be the first to admit that I have some badly taken pictures on my phone. And in this conversation about racism, I’ve messed up and haven’t seen the full picture multiple times. I’ve spoken out of anger or bitterness, out of ignorance or condemnation, out of pride or fear. I repent of those moments, and I’m so grateful for the community that called me on it. I also believe that there’s grace in this process and conversation. To get really good photos, it takes effort, thought, work, patience and many do-overs to get it right. The same goes for this discussion on racism and racial reconciliation. At the end of the day, those moments that are captured well are beautiful stories of God’s goodness and love towards us.
As I said earlier, understanding the context for which this conversation takes place in is so key, and our own context is important to understand. Here are a few questions we can ask ourselves about ourselves:
How did my family and people close to me talk about people of other races?
Did my community ever talk about current issues regarding racism? If so, how and with what focus were those talked about?
To what extent have I been in proximity to relationships with and experiences of those of different races?
What are my thoughts surrounding racism?
I would love to hear your answers to those questions and talk about our different experiences as we work to see the context of this conversation, so shoot me an email or direct message!
I really believe that we can see the full picture of racism together. When we see the full picture, we can begin to walk in unity, freedom and reconciliation. If we begin to understand our backgrounds, our content and our focus in this conversation and begin to move forward towards the Father, I believe the beauty of the Gospel will shine like never before. It’s a process, but it’s one I’m willing to work on and be developed in by Him. The Kingdom is coming in this area of racism and racial reconciliation, and I want to be part of the picture. Let’s give it a shot together.
If you have questions, comments or feedback, I would love to hear from you and talk with you! Feel free to DM me on Instagram (@rachel_madden99), Twitter (@rachel_madden11), or Facebook! You can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I can’t wait to connect with you!