I'm a white woman...what does race have to do with me?
Author: Audrey Durden
Wife, mom, and friend who seeks to live a life glorifying God as she volunteers at church and in the community.
My name is Audrey Durden. I'm a white woman who has been a Christian for many years. I was born and raised in a small Minnesota town where everyone was of northern European descent. I spent most of my adult years living in southern California where my husband and I raised our two daughters. I am very involved in our local church.
Along with so much of the world, my routine was greatly altered during Covid restrictions in the spring of 2020. Then, racial issues came to the forefront beginning with the murder of George Floyd in my home state in late May. Life was confusing and unsettling, especially racial issues. I needed a plan to assist me in my understanding. I felt God led me to focus on four words: Listen, Learn, Lament, and Love.
James 1:19 exhorts us to be quick to listen. As a member of the body of Christ, when one is hurting, we all hurt. I want to show love to my neighbor by listening when they are hurting. Along with my husband, I began an intentional journey of listening. We watched movies that told the stories of the struggles of people of color; most were based on true stories. The Best of Enemies or Twelve Years a Slave are just two of many which we found, watched, and discussed. I read books and stories such as White Awake by Daniel Hill. I even read books intended for children. The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander won a Caldecott Medal for its powerful illustrations. I watched a documentary series called The Color of Compromise which had a powerful impact on me. Emmanuel Acho did a series of talks entitled Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man which I watched on Facebook and are now available in book form. Many of these titles are available in a variety of forms. I discovered that when I was ready to listen, there were many ready to tell their stories.
I also listened to friends and family. Two very wise women who gave input into my understanding were my adult daughters. Their experiences and their insights were different than mine because they had grown up in a different time and place than me.
It is most helpful when I listen for understanding rather than waiting for my opportunity to respond. I need to resist the urge to judge or to form my rebuttal. I hope I became a better listener during this process.
My prayer along this journey was from Psalm 139, "Search me oh God…" Along the way, I slowly began to learn. I understood history and interpreted current events from another perspective. I began to notice how often the Bible repeats the command to love others or to love my neighbor. For example, 1 John 4:7-8 "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." I began to notice how many times the Bible encourages us to reach out to the oppressed and warns us to not oppress others. Perhaps one of the most well-known passages is Micah 6:8, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
Part of the learning was being willing to repent and apologize if possible. I discovered that I tend to not validate the experiences of my friends. I verbally doubt the experience they share with me. I might respond to a story by saying, "Oh, I'm sure he/she didn't mean that" or "It couldn't have been that bad." Because of Covid, one such apology was over Zoom rather than in person. When God placed it on my heart to apologize for a specific action to my dear friend, I wanted to do it right away. It is important for me to acknowledge, "I was wrong…"
I have much more to learn. I want to remain a student, allowing the Holy Spirit to grow the fruit of the Spirit within me.
Lamenting is a new concept for me to learn how to apply to my life. Merriam Webster defines it as "to express sorrow, mourning, or regret for, often demonstratively". I also think of lamenting taking place over a period of time. This just isn't something that we tend to widely practice in white America. We tend to hold back our tears or want our problems solved immediately. When a friend shares a prayer request one week, we want to know how God answered it the next week. We often have the money and the means to solve our problems. We see problems as something to be solved rather than something to be endured.
Ongoing, systemic racism however isn't an easily solved problem. I'm learning how to remain for a long season in this state of mourning and grief; lamenting the cruelty and unfairness of it. When I hear the news of an elderly Asian American who is stabbed or beaten simply because they are Asian, I mourn. When I hear the news of another young black man shot by police, I mourn. When I hear of families seeking asylum at our borders that are separated and placed into terrible living conditions, I mourn. None of it is right. I am a white middle-class American. In many ways, I can ignore it all. However, as a Christian, I feel I can't ignore any of it. The Holy Spirit continues to nudge me to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15).
Love is my motivation for me to continue listening, learning, and lamenting. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves. My natural tendency to be self-centered ends as I die to self. My love needs to expand to include all my neighbors, not just those in the house next door or my immediate family. Counting everyone as family brings a new perspective. I still have so much to learn about how to be as concerned about my neighbor as I am about myself. My prayer is that I would remain available to the Holy Spirit with a teachable attitude. I want to become the woman God has created me to be.