“I need you to help me.” A European American woman said this to me while I was facilitating a dialogue on race and baptismal identity.
It completely changed the conversation for me. Because conversations about race and its progeny are communal and deeply personal — not the work of paid consultants or self-described experts.
Book clubs, reading lists and racial justice certificates will not lead us to a post-racial society. It’s in the water of baptism, where converts to Christianity are all led to die to being self-made by race, capitalism and patriarchy.
I view discipleship as an apprenticeship, a working relationship with Jesus. So, I didn’t have a summary statement for what her personal work and witness against race and its progeny should be.
There is no single answer, no perfectly timed transformative story that warms the heart and changes our minds about each other. No, transcending race does not happen during a single small group discussion.
Deconstructing race and decolonizing our identity is personal and intimate work. It involves examining the stories we have been told about our bodies and the stories we live into once we learn they are colored in (that is beige or mixed race, black, brown, red, yellow and white).
It is also not a single conversation, workshop or diversity, inclusion and equity training. I imagine it is as Paul told the believers at Philippi: “Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence but much more now in my absence, work on your own salvation with fear and trembling” (2:12, NRSV).
The work is not summed up in a series of steps, by taking a mission trip or making your friend look like one. There has also been quite a bit of discussion about what allyship looks like and the call for accomplices to get in “good and necessary trouble,” as the late Congressman John Lewis would often say.
But it is not a photo opportunity, standing next those persons who are known because they do the work, those bridgebuilders whose hands get stepped on more than shaken.
It is often standing alone because you have done your own work. You know the difference that race makes and refuse to go along with it to get along. You know the toll that race, and its progeny takes on the psyche.
It is trauma and traumatic for the African American community every single time there is an alleged case of police brutality. And it takes years to process the pain, and grief is a hamster wheel kind of cycle.
Especially when it takes years to see justice, and when the right thing is not done at the right time, which is always right now. It reduces one’s trust in the justice system but also the human beings who represent them.
In the case of Breonna Taylor, who was murdered during a botched police raid, it took an FBI investigation. Two years later, four Louisville Metro police officers have been charged in the case. And that’s just one case.
For weeks, I went to bed thinking of her. I marched in protest for her. I said her name repeatedly. When I traveled to Louisville, I looked for signs of her on murals and streets.
Breonna was on my mind, and that is how Christians must be when it comes to race.
“We expand our awareness of racism by considering its personal, interpersonal, and systemic dimensions, and we practice a deepening awareness through mindfulness,” writes Rhonda V. Magee in The Inner Work of Racial Justice: Healing Ourselves and Transforming Communities Through Mindfulness.
We should keep it at the forefront of our minds — without being told to and as a body of believers who “grieve with those who grieve” (Romans 12:15).
Because nothing good comes of race. There is no justice in race. The caste system based on physical appearance and, primarily, the social coloring of skin wasn’t created to be fair or equitable.
This is why baptism is so important, though I continue to be astounded by the way baptism and baptismal identity has been watered down.
Its implications were made clear in Galatians 3:27-28: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Still, the power dynamics of race, gender and status remain in place for the church and in society.
Consequently, we don’t need a couple of baptism classes and the ritual followed by a certificate of baptism. The work is not finished. The expert witness to death, burial and resurrection, only Jesus can help us.
Baptized believers, the North American church must be taken back to the water, do justice to its meaning and implications, personally, interpersonally and systemically until we all know the answer.