Why I no longer want to convince you to be antiracist
In the last two years, so much of my energy as a pastor has been spent trying to help our church move in an antiracist direction. The harm myself and other BIPOC who push against whiteness has yet to subside. In this process, I acknowledge that much of my energy has been spent trying to help people, whether they are white or people of color, understand liberation and antioppression. Because of how I am wired, I usually start this process with theological, political, and philosophical arguments. I have always found that sort of argumentation more convincing than personal stories.
Admittedly, that approach is far more detached than a personal one – but with that comes some protection. It isn’t my body and my experience on the line, but rather an abstract argument. Of course, with this, people will talk about how politics shouldn’t divide us, and all of a sudden antiracism decreases in importance and priority. In my experience, I was derided for sounding smart or using words people couldn’t understand, tools I have used to assimilate to whiteness. People claimed I was too intellectual, dismissed antiracism as classist, and sometimes even supposed it was antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some critics even likened it to leftism and Marxism, and fell down the path of White Christian Nationalism.
My argument was rooted in my bodily experience though. In fact, I wrote a book all about the politics of my body called Jesus Takes A Side. In it, I make a personal and theological argument for the need to make political commitments. My politics aren’t just abstract, it is deeply personal.
In an attempt to de-intellectualize my perspective, I decided to share my own experience. While there has been some success along the way, for the most part, I wasn’t effective. At worst, I’d receive “empathy” for the harm I’ve faced as a person of color, and at worst, I’ve been told directly that the individual “doesn’t believe me.” Sometimes, people suspicious of antiracism claimed sharing my personal experience was an effort to collect power, and other times it was dismissed as merely a psychological phenomenon that could be solved in a therapist’s office (my therapist begged to differ, for what it is worth). Sometimes my experience, though never meant to generalize about the experience of BIPOC, was seen as just my individual experience. In other words, some people felt for me , but my story didn’t have any weight.
Amplifying my experience, though, were many other BIPOC who were in our church and who left. White allies even joined the cause. Sometimes their experience was dismissed, sometimes it was reduced to political pressure or even loyalty to certain leaders. Sometimes BIPOC who experienced less or no harm became obstacles to our antiracist efforts (as I have written about before, this happened to me).
In many ways, I wanted a white church, like many BIPOC want white organizations, to see me and see people with experiences like mine. It is painful when people you have considered family have not and do not do that. It’s heartbreaking. It is discouraging. And it makes me cynical, and even despairing. There are moments where I genuinely asked myself if white churches and organizations can become antiracist at all. I believe it is possible, but it is challenging and difficult work.
But in those moments, I realized that it isn’t my job to convince anyone to love me and love people like me. If my experience of racism isn't enough to convince you, then I can stop spilling my blood, sweat, and tears to try to make it enough. I want to work with those moved by the Holy Spirit. I want to collaborate with folks who have similar goals and convictions. Everyone is free to participate, but no one needs to. If you are moved to defeat the scourge white supremacy, that’s exactly the kind of person I want to work with. We need to work together on common goals, instead of trying to convince or opponents or detractors. I have learned that that is a waste of time.
But that is a hard lesson for a post-Evangelical like me to learn. Pastors have taught me for years that my main job was to advance the Gospel through persuasive arguments. We were to convince people to follow Jesus. Even churches that claimed to “relationally” evangelize, or as my church called it “incarnational evangelism,” the main goal was to get butts in seats and numbers on a page.
Don’t get me wrong, I want people to follow Jesus and in turn be antiracist, but I don’t want to spend my life begging them to be. I don’t want to exploit my personal experience and hope it convinces white people to change their mind and actually offer us dignity. I don’t want to put my body for sale hoping that it results in someone purchasing antiracism, so to speak. We deserve to be believed and listened to. And if you want to do that, there’s room for you at the table. But if you want to deny and divide us, I’d rather dust my heels.
 As a side point, whiteness both required me to become educated and proficient in academics, and it punished me when I did so.