Social media makes it very very hard to communicate the nuance necessary to really dialog well about race. On the other hand, it makes preaching to your own choir easier than ever.
Preaching to the choir is not a bad thing when you need to rally the troops. The momentum of Die-Ins, protests, and rallies in response to the acquittal of Michael Brown and Eric Garners’ killers relied largely on social media.
Social Media and Protests have had Their Moment
But is the full significance of #BlackLivesMatter or #ICan’tBreathe clear when these hashtags stand alone, or within a 140-character tweet? If so, how does one explain the emergence of #AllLivesMatter, or the complaints that similar fervor was not shown to protest the deaths of NYPD Officers Liu and Ramos?
Expecting a blunt instrument like social media to parse the details of these complex issues in a way that fosters understanding may be like expecting a jackhammer to be able to delicately drill out a tooth cavity. Instead, the Pew is pretty certain the internet is making our world more polarized as it enables likeminded people to find each other and ignore everyone else.
And even as protests themselves are an excellent instrument for showing solidarity, organizing like-minded people, and pointing out the need for major change–all early phases in the steps toward peace–they may not be as effective for the later steps.
After all, how many good white people have realized their microaggressions from viewing or even attending a protest? How many police officers will be moved to stop white cars as often or half as aggressively as they stop black or Latino ones?
And on the other hand, how does the rage which so often accompanies mass protests translate into the forbearance, humility, and courage it takes to have real conversations about race? We often see rioting and looting accompany protests; how often do we see mature dialog and reconciliation?
We are no longer battling unjust legislation, or lack of just legislation. The battle lines for the race wars of the 21st century now run through every human heart.
Peace Must be Made, Not Assembled
And so peace must be made in the same impenetrable terrain. Peace, unfortunately, is not like a LACK table from IKEA–with the right pieces and good intentions, eventually most of us can assemble a functional version.
But good intentions do not make peace, and neither do the right people in the right place. Instead, the very need for peace and reconciliation betrays a messy and convoluted history of intentional and–even worse, in certain ways–unintentional hurts and crimes. As Brit Bennett wondered in her weary and widely-read piece linked above, what good are your good intentions if they kill us? Peace, then, is not naive coexistence but comprehensive awareness of the history and needs of one another.
But nor can comprehensive enlightenment about issues of race solve the problem on its own; what good is sensitivity to every nano-aggression if it only fuels additional bitterness? Our problem is not that we’re missing the instruction manual to put together pieces that have fallen apart–rather, the fire of racism has burned some of our hearts so badly that we have little desire to put them back together.
Rather than just assembling pieces, making peace requires that the individual components–the people whose peace is being made–are themselves fundamentally changed into something new and different.
Peace will not be made without the amputation of pride and old hurts on both sides. The path to resolution is paved with tension. As Andy Marin, whose ministry seeks to reconcile conservative evangelicals and the LGBT community, has said: being a bridge means you get walked on by everybody.
Corporate and Personal Peacemaking
I believe I am personally called to be a bridge. But I also think this moment in history presents a particular call to the Christian church.
You don’t have to work hard to persuade even the most privileged Christians to support medical missions or provision of food, shelter, or other types of relief.
But it’s harder as a church to justify the direction of staff and pulpit time toward the pursuit of racial reconciliation–even to be direct and in-your-face about specific demographics of your specific church. But recent events have very clearly shown us that lack of peace and reconciliation can be just as fatal as a lack of food or medicine.
And there is no place better for those conversations than a church, because if the church is healthy, it’s already meant to be a safe space to admit you’re wrong. It’s a safe space to make mistakes, to ask awkward questions, because you know that the people around you are bound to you in covenant–that they can’t, or shouldn’t, just give up when cross-cultural conflict inevitably bubbles to the surface.
I’ve written about how this can practically be done in the past, and I hope to keep writing, keep learning, and most importantly, keep learning to live all this out.
I really believe this moment is crucial. No matter what happens in early December, it seems always to get swallowed by the holidays; the exciting momentum of Battling Injustice in big and brash ways has dwindled. But I really hope that even if we don’t shut down malls or stop traffic or have mass movements, en masse we will all keep making small movements toward peace.