I am, more than ever… and I intend to stay that way!
The events of these past few weeks have left me completely exhausted! Any of you who are living through the COVID-19 pandemic (that’s all of us by the way), or who have viewed the actions of Amy Cooper, the senseless killing of Ahmaud Arbery and the public murder of George Floyd will appreciate what I mean. There are also those of us who have successfully navigated the usual micro-aggressions, unconscious bias and plain stupidity of a relatively small number of the many (mainly great) people we get to interact with. The combination of all these events has left me speechless (which for those who know me, is already something of a miracle)! I have wanted to put ‘pen to paper’ many times but there were too many things I wanted to say… Then today a number of things happened in quick succession: firstly, a white guy texted me about wanting to speak out but wasn’t sure if what he had was appropriate; secondly, a white woman reached out to see how I was doing and this time I was frank. Finally, a black woman asked whether I was going to write something because ‘others were waiting to hear from me’. I am grateful to all three of these people because together they have helped me clarify my thoughts about what it takes to be M.A.D. with the world (aka Making A Difference).
There are at least three approaches to being M.A.D. with the world.
1. There are those who are Making A Difference simply by stepping up and speaking out
Even though many of the incidents I’ve mentioned took place in the US, they come as no surprise to the majority of black people here in the UK. Many of us can personally identify with much of what we've seen. In addition, the fact that racism lies at the heart of COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on black and other ‘ethnic minority groups’, is a reminder that our lives depend upon our own willingness to step up, speak out and make our voices heard, even if we suspect we’re not being taken entirely seriously.
Jesus taught each one of his followers to pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ But what does this mean in a racialised world when heaven looks like: every nation, tribe, people and language (Revelation 7:9)? There is no doubt that racism undermines God’s intent and diminishes us all, so we must each play our part in ensuring its demise. And while it disproportionately negatively impacts black people, as is now clear from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (while overwhelmingly benefitting white people), it was never a black invention or a problem demanding the protestations of black and ethnic minority groups alone.
So, I have been greatly encouraged by white sisters and brothers who have already grasped this or who are at least desperately trying to understand the daily realities black people continue to live with. It has been good to see you genuinely moved and appalled by the actions of Amy Cooper, the senseless killing of Ahmaud Arbery and the public murder of George Floyd. It has been good to have you recognise that the UK (and elsewhere) has its own expressions of racism to deal with. It has been good to have you take your place alongside us, while making your voices heard and engaging in what Ben Lindsay calls, “‘going beyond, ‘I’m not racist’ and becoming ‘anti-racist’ in your words and actions.”
Some protests have been rough and ready, others have been more eloquent and well informed, while a few are clearly stepping out for the first time.
When I responded to the lovely guy who messaged me, I wrote something along the following lines: ‘if you step up and speak out, you will undoubtedly make some people uncomfortable, but that simply puts you in good company alongside Jesus and all who truly seek to follow him’. So, stay M.A.D. with the world and keep making a difference!
2. Then there are those who don’t know how to be M.A.D with the world…
Over the last few weeks, there has been silence from those who simply don’t know what to say or how to contribute at a time like this. So, I hope the following helps you to engage.
Sin has both personal and social dimensions, therefore responding to it should have both pastoral and structural implications. In other words, signing declarations and retweeting will only get us so far.
Personally and pastorally speaking, the simple act of making a few direct attempts to contact, connect with or even weep with black ministers in (or outside) your tradition, pastors and church members for whom these past few weeks may have been especially traumatic, goes a long way (I certainly appreciated it). Reaching out won't always be welcomed (as it may come as a shock to some), but at least it will have been tried... Also please don’t expect to be applauded or even responded to, this isn’t about you (hopefully many will be too deluged by attempts at support to get back to you). But make no mistake, direct contact and concern outdoes rhetoric every time…
Also, because sin is both personal and social, we need both transformed people and transformed systems throughout churches and society. Jim Wallis helpfully reminds us that, a gospel message that doesn’t try to change the world only works for those who don’t need the world to change.
There is a lot of welcome 'revolutionary intent' out there right now, and I, for one, am looking forward to what this all looks like in practice going forward. However, I hope white churches, organisations and leaders don’t leave us behind in your bid to make the world a better place for us, or worse come up with strategies and activities that you think will do us good, in the absence of a variety of informed black voices… This has happened far too often in the past and unfortunately the oversight and subsequent imposition... leaves behind the impression that Black Lives (feelings, needs, ideas, convictions, contributions) still don’t really matter all that much to you…
Hopefully this will help you get M.A.D. with the world (making a difference)!
3. Finally, there are those who don’t see the need to be
M.A.D. with the world when it comes to such matters and the silence from them has been deafening and disappointing...
The following statement is often attributed to 18th century statesman Edmund Burke or 19th century John Stuart Mill, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men (and women) to do nothing.” In this moment, I don't really care who said it, I just know it to be true.
If I received a penny every time someone insisted that my experiences or convictions about racism were invalid or simple misperceptions, misinterpretations and misunderstandings, ‘there is no problem here’, ‘I wasn’t being racist’ or who love to cite the most improbable exceptions or assert, ‘we’re all racists!’ I’d be moderately rich by now (as you can see a penny is NOT a lot of money nowadays)!
I used to believe that some Christian brothers and sisters, were simply unaware of the impact and implications of racism (and it transpires that some really are unaware) but I have also reached the conclusion that others are simply unconcerned. They are not concerned enough to do their own reading, research, exploration or even to take the time to listen to black voices. They are not even concerned enough to consider what all this has to do with 'preaching the gospel'. So, I have to confess that these days, unless someone has at least made an attempt to familiarise themselves with matters of race and racism, there are some conversations that do me more harm than they do them good, so I simply don’t have these conversations anymore.
Please don’t misunderstand me, someone needs to have these conversations, it just doesn’t need to be me. As it turns out, these same people can be persuaded by others from their own communities who look and sound like them. So, if you know people who repeat the kind of stuff I’ve just mentioned, I and others like me, need you to get M.A.D. with your world and step up, speak out and challenge them before I have to.
I recognize there are some people I will never convince to be M.A.D. with the world regarding this matter.
But as for me… I have a lot to be M.A.D. with the world about!
If you’re looking for resources, follow the links and/or try some of the following:
youtu.be/mbI3ir12W7M We need to talk about Race
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jun/03/racism-george-floyd-britain-america-uk-black-people?CMP=share_btn_fb&fbclid=IwAR2q9vBndjanTymw3wAVS7xiBtN2xeOpL_w3KWCeYBCtwuNmvZTnI7pdapE The racism that killed George Floyd was built in Britain
https://goodblacknews.org/2016/07/14/editorial-what-i-said-when-my-white-friend-asked-for-my-black-opinion-on-white-privilege/ What I said when my white friend asked for my black opinion on white privilege
https://www.facebook.com/PeoplesMomentum/videos/689491855182448 Racism is not just an American problem
Rev Dr Kate Coleman
Rev Dr Kate Coleman is the founding director of Next Leadership. She has well over 30 years of leadership experience in the church, charity, voluntary and business sectors, and is a mentor and coach to leaders from diverse sectors, backgrounds and communities.
Kate completed a term as Chair of the Evangelical Alliance Council (2012-2014), is a former president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain (2006-2007), and a Baptist Minister.
A popular speaker and lecturer, Kate has gained a reputation as a pioneer, visionary and an inspiration too many. She is a strategic advisor who mentors, coaches and supports leaders and organisations locally, nationally and internationally. Recognised as one of the 20 most influential black Christian women leaders in the UK.
Her network extends across all sectors and church denominations. Kate is the author of 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership. Her media contributions include the mainstream press, radio and TV. Kate is a Certified Stakeholder Centered Coach and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA).