Why Claiming ‘I’m Not a Racist’ Is Not Enough: How to Engage in the Conversation


Hot topics like racism can be intimidating, but regardless, we need to engage. Lives depend on it. So, here are some uncomplicated ways you can engage.

Ahmaud Arbery was jogging when two white men chased and shot him. No charges for his murder were filed for months until the video of the fatal shots to this young, African American man went viral.

Have you ever read a story like Arbery’s and thought, “That’s awful, I’m glad I’m not racist?” Though the thought might not be wrong, it’s not right. This subtle thought is very common in white communities, but it dismisses us as part of the problem. Our African and Latin brothers and sisters deserve more than this. Ahmaud deserved more than this.

The fatal wounds of Arbery speak to the racism of two men, yet the 74 days and public pressure it took before any charges were filed speak to the racism of a whole system. We still have a long way to go—as a nation, as a global society, as the all-too-passive white majority and as a Church.

The harsh truth is that, as a fair-skinned redhead who grew up in a primarily white environment, I have subconscious racist tendencies and white supremacy beliefs UNLESS I actively fight against it. Because we live in a society that has normalized systemic racism for so long, it has affected all of us.

I cannot afford to be passive about this. More is required. Just because I’m not in the same category as the man standing in the bed of a pickup with a handgun pointed to an innocent African American jogger, doesn’t mean that I don’t need to seek ways to change.

Perhaps you have grown up with parents that made racist remarks, or you’ve worked in an environment that’s hostile towards minorities. You might have to unlearn certain stereotypes you’ve grown accustomed to. You may have to reevaluate what you’ve learned in a majority-led educational system. Although you couldn’t decide the starting point of your journey, you are responsible for each step forward.

It takes cultural humility to admit any area where there are still remnants of white supremacy beliefs inside our minds, culture, family, church and friend circles. It requires humility to admit our view of the world is warped to protect our self-image. Proverbs 3:34 speaks of this humility when it states that God, “shows favor to the humble and oppressed.”

Even if you live in a multicultural environment, this doesn’t mean you’re all square. You can’t point at your black and brown friend as exhibit A and B that you are not racist. It doesn’t work like that (and it’s incredibly degrading towards them).

Feeling intimidated by such a complicated, deeply entrenched issue is understandable, but it can’t end there. Passivity may be birthed from feeling overwhelmed, but remaining there is a sign of indifference.

First, let’s educate ourselves like lives depend on it—because they do. Research white supremacy. Ask questions. Listen to personal experiences of racism. Acknowledge them. Don’t brush them aside because you don’t understand how deadly subtle forms of racism can be. Share stories on social media. Use your voice at work, at school, in church.

Staying silent is unacceptable because clearing all remnants of white supremacy is the responsibility of the white community. It’s not okay that the people speaking up about racism are still mainly people of color. They don’t have a choice but to engage, because racism affects their lives, careers, children and futures. The ability to choose whether or not to engage is a perfect example of white privilege. I could close my eyes to it and pretend it’s not there. My African, Latin, Asian and indigenous friends do not have this luxury.

Engage, even when you’re not sure you’ll use the right words. It’s OK if you don’t know what to say!

The fear of being wrong has kept me from active engagement for years, but as a friend pointed out, “Not saying anything because you don’t know what to say is waving a banner of privilege. It is somehow still made about you. It’s about you not wanting to be perceived as ignorant. But guess what? You are ignorant to this—that’s OK.”

You have the power to change a family member’s mind or open a friend’s eyes to this issue, even when you’re stumbling over your words. Sadly, they might not listen to anyone else, so use your unique standpoint to make a difference.

We all have to fight the subtle and subconscious racism inside of us, as well as racism around us. The latter requires that we speak up, quickly and often. When a friend shares that she received a racist remark from the cashier at the grocery store, don’t you wonder why the other people standing in line didn’t say something? Did anyone even notice?

Soon, you will be presented with an opportunity, what will you do with it?

You’ll overhear an innocent-sounding remark that felt like a stab for an African American co-worker. You’ll read a text from a friend making a joke that’s out of line. We can’t sweep this under the rug saying, “That wasn’t my intention.” It’s these unaddressed subtleties that allow the blatant expressions of racism to continue to exist. In both the Old and New Testament we are constantly reminded to, “learn to do good, seek justice and correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17).

Ahmaud Arbery’s murder can’t be reversed; a grief we as American citizens have to bear. Yet I pray his story will inspire millions of privileged whites to stand up, speak up and bring about change. It’s not optional. This is our problem and our responsibility.

To engage further in the conversation, check out this Q and A happening this Saturday at 5 pm EST: