We need to talk about Biases

by | Jun 30, 2020

15 weeks ago, Ahmaud Arbery went out for a jog and never came home. Two white males saw Arbery running in their neighbourhood in Brunswick, Georgia and decided he was “dangerous” and took it upon their own volition to chase him and shoot him to death. Sadly, this simple narrative of black guilt has played out devastatingly in a pattern of unjustified killings in the US. In the Arbery case, I asked myself – what sort of world must these two white males inhabit to draw to the conclusion that a black man jogging must mean he is guilty of something?

Perhaps these two males existed in a very white world, perhaps they didn’t have any black friends, perhaps they viewed black people as threatening? A survey in the US found that 75 percent of white Americans have “entirely white social networks” [1]. Based on this data, it can be easy to see how these types of homogenous settings can set up the conditions where the archetype of the black person being “dangerous and threatening” is perpetuated.

Love those in front of you

I saw this played out in my own life. When I first introduced my black boyfriend (now my husband) to my parents, they had shared their concerns to him about the safety of their daughter. They feared he would be like many of the “black people” they saw on the BBC news who committed crime.  I don’t doubt my parent’s concern for me but their fear was unfounded and ill-informed.

When we deflect the opportunity to know a person as an individual, we default to stereotypes. We do this by creating caricatures we’ve erroneously extrapolated from a racial subset. We contradict ourselves when we wouldn’t bound the same extrapolations to our own racial group – because we know enough people of our ethnicity to know we consists of rich and varied characters.  Existing in our own social bubbles gives currency to these stereotypes and until we resist the cultural tide and spend quality time with other people from outside our own groups; we won’t see them as an individual – as a fully formed human being with hopes, desire and fears just like us. 

In a moment of unwarranted fear, these two white males shot Ahmaud Arbery. This tragic case displays how insidious thoughts and mindsets can lead to actions. Unchecked and undealt with, can lead to devastating consequences.

Our inner lives matter

As a Christian, what  drew me to the character of Jesus Christ was how he accurately diagnosed our condition. He took a scalpel to our inner lives and exposed the root of our sin. “For it is from within, our of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come. All of these evils come from inside and defile a person”. (Mark 7:21-23). Ill thoughts are first harboured in the heart and mind and until we deal with that, sin becomes malignant and spreads to something more troubling.

I respect the actions of many who bring attention to the injustices coming from the US – protests and petitions have been set up to find justice for Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and other black lives that have been killed carelessly. However, long lasting changes has to run deeper – we need to understand the conditions that set up racism. – As Martin Luther King puts it:

 “We are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be beaten and robbed as they make their journey through life. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring”

What King refers to is more than exonerating our guilt with a coin but collectively having deep paradigm shifts that can change the game. 

Diversity and Inclusion in the Church

I value being part of a diverse church, I also value the fact that my gym is also diverse. It’s sad yet true – that it’s possible to sit with one another at church yet keep one another at a distant. The real litmus test of authentic diversity is who are we allowing in our lives, who do we have meaningful relationships with, who do we confide in, who do we allow to influence us? This is much harder to cultivate, it’s the difference between diversity and inclusion, Verna Myers, a diversity strategist puts it “Diversity is being invited to the dance, Inclusion is being asked to dance”.

I am blessed to be part of a church where my leaders foster an environment where multiple races are represented at the front and in the middle. As a result, I have brothers and sisters from many backgrounds – I truly embrace that and thank God for these rich experiences. Still, I see many homogenised groups existing in our churches. This is problematic particularly in London when there’s no legitimate reasons why that would be so.

Statistics suggests that one third of white Britons have no friends outside their own ethnicities [2] other factors play a role here but data suggests non-white people are more open to friendships outside their own race than caucasians are. It would be interesting to ask the question, how do these separations evolve?

Lets talk about Biases

I celebrate the fact that as a society, there have been huge leaps forward in stamping out overt forms of racism, but as Christians, our convictions and model of love has to be calibrated to the bible. In order to move the dialogue meaningfully – I think we need to talk less in terms of racism, a term that often invokes images of white supremist or racist chanting football fans. A term which we can shirk the label of and tune out hearers. We need to change the script and talk in categories of bias and prejudices which are more prevalent, which as a compromised human being – I feel my own biases.

It’s important to bring into the light, something that operates in its inherent invisibility. Our non-verbal cues to people different from us are just as revealing as our verbal cues, they can signal to someone – I do/don’t want to know you better, I value you (less). This is not about perfection but these things are simply invisible to some of us or that we’ve persisted in these attitudes unchallenged for so long that they’ve become our automatic responses.

It’s a call for self-examination and an awareness of our unconscious biases. By bringing these things into the light – we give them less authority over us and we can make intentional movements towards the way of love. Redressing our biases, developing positive associations with other ethnicities and reshaping our heart and outlook.

The importance of Discipleship

We do ask our leaders to break it down for us, speak incisively into our contexts and to  cultivate a culture where discipling relationships are the norm. This needs to be more than a reactive mandate to stamp out racism but a proactive command to love one another. As our aperture widens with the re-education of black history – our hearts are more visible to the fact that implicit in Jesus’s cornerstone command to love one another is a call to love everyone – Jews and Gentiles, Black, Brown and White, “and by this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another”. John 13:35.

On this side of heaven – I’m realistic that we will never reach perfect love and unity. “When the Perfect comes, the partial shall pass away” (1 Corinthian 13:10). Our identity in Christ is above our ethnic identity, the father declares our ultimate worth and dignity. However, we can’t avoid the chasm, we need to see it and close it as much as possible. It’s a return to discipleship, of being aware of our earthly nature, growing in confession and turning to the redemptive power of Christ and doing our best to walk as Jesus walked.

 [1] https://www.prri.org/research/poll-race-religion-politics-americans-social-networks/

 [2] https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/articles-reports/2018/05/03/one-third-white-britons-dont-have-any-friends-ethn

Written by Ann Ajet

Ann lives in London. She is a major foodie and can often be found in a street food market with her husband and daughter. She writes about the intersection between culture and faith.

 

 

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