Race is such a taboo topic that will naturally elicit emotion. This article promotes continued discussion that is intended to increase comfort over time, to help make space for our differences, and to acknowledge race and how it impacts relationships. Network leaders are encouraged to facilitate cross-cultural conversations and trainings that aim to bring together the experiences and perspectives of the Whole Church!
The Assignment of CarePortal is to facilitate care connections within the Circles of Care. We carry out this Assignment in the context of a child welfare system that disproportionately impacts children and families of color, especially families experiencing acute poverty. This truth has birthed our We ARE (Achieve Racial Equity) focus with a unifying Whole Church approach to reverse the foster crisis in America. We know from the data and our experience that there will be – must be – care connections across lines of race, class, and culture. In such a divided nation, we embrace this opportunity. While we are not (nor do we hold ourselves out to be) the greatest subject matter experts on racial reconciliation, we want to facilitate care connections that become meaningful connections, with meaningful connections becoming ongoing relationships. We humbly offer the guidance below in this spirit: to acknowledge race and how it impacts emotion and relationships, to make room for differences, and to help improve the quality of care-connections. Our prayer is that through courageous connections, the Holy Spirit will work relational miracles around the Child that no person can orchestrate through mere intellect and effort.
Network Leaders and Church Leaders
- Why Race & Relationships?
- Having Difficult Conversations
- Understanding Your Backstory
- Building Trust
- Interacting with Oppression
Why Race & Relationships?
When attempting to make connections that are meaningful, we want to consider the meaning that is held by both parties. What makes it meaningful? Is it that someone met a need and left an impact? Is it that someone who had a need met felt seen and heard? Is it that there was an extension of friendship? All of these things help define how worthwhile and significant our interactions might be when making connections through CarePortal.
These connections can be brief and yet still extremely impactful. But how do we connect in a way that leads to ongoing relationships -- the type that highlight the value on both ends? These relationships reflect a true interest in the other person, accept all that a person is and brings, and recognize the benefit of having them in our lives. How do we build relationships that demonstrate our need for each other, accounting for the differences and unique strengths and contributions that make up the full body of Christ?
The attention on race is intentionally drawn out in this article because of the weight it carries in our society, which inevitably impacts our relationships with one another. It is one of the barriers that we either feel and don’t acknowledge or we allow it to influence how we approach or interact with those who are of a different race. Some might say they don’t notice it or don't consider it-- that people are people and it’s only an issue because of the attention that we give it. But for those of us who recognize that there is racial division in our society with attached meaning even at the mention of the word, how do we make racial progress without talking about racial things? What does racial progress look like in the context of The Church?
This article is meant to invite you into an ongoing conversation about how race shows up in our relationships through CarePortal. If you don’t feel that race has a place in our work, we ask you to imagine that there are many who are served through CarePortal that might view things differently. So let’s account for those differences by valuing the perspectives and experiences of others.
Having Difficult Conversations
We are taught/socialized to not ask or talk about certain things yet we still hold judgment about them - race is one of those things.
What happens when we acknowledge the elephant in the room?
How might words and acknowledgment impact interaction?
Click here for guidance on navigating difficult conversations within the context of relationships. Remember to give yourself grace to fumble and know that there is always the opportunity to “repair the tear”.
Because we are focusing on relationships, let’s pull out the ideas of Personalization and Camaraderie from the resource linked above. It’s important to know that having a race discussion will likely bring up personal feelings no matter your racial identity. If you tend to see the world through a racial lens, it is easy to feel dismissed when your identity isn’t acknowledged, much less, valued. When you don’t see the world through a racial lens, it could be because you haven’t had to. You haven’t had to consider how you will be treated or accepted just because of how you look. And when race is mentioned with you, it feels like an attack against you as if you are being blamed for someone’s experience that maybe you feel you haven’t contributed to. You might also have a perspective very different from these two views, where you are very much aware of both of the above perspectives, but neither applies to your lived experience. This is commonly the case in children raised in mixed-race settings. Whatever the case may be, your lived experience will bear upon your personal feelings.
As mentioned in the document above, our feelings are an indicator. So, it’s not that we need to ignore feeling disregarded, attacked, or whatever other emotion you recognize as a response. It is important to take note of your feelings while not allowing them to overtake you. This may take some preparation before having conversations that you know will be triggering. Part of the preparation is acknowledging that certain words have meaning and identifying why you react to them the way that you do. When you hear “racial bias”, “privilege”, “racism”, what do those words cause you to feel, and why? The reality is that we carry a lot into conversations and relationships that have nothing to do with the other person. Therefore, when views and opinions are shared within conversations, it is oftentimes not a reflection of the person they are talking to; instead, it is the result of the experiences they’ve had that formed their view of the world and have shaped their response to said view.
The idea of camaraderie encompasses a grace that we typically extend to those we care about. We tend to hear strangers with a more critical ear because we don’t have an understanding of where they are coming from. Camaraderie is an extension of friendship where you are not looking for disagreement. You are looking to align and find commonality. You are in a shared experience together and there is an understanding that you are not each other’s enemy. Therefore, one doesn’t have to be good while the other bad; one doesn’t have to be right while the other wrong. There is a joining of experiences that invites a different perspective for better understanding of the larger view. Once you move past the fear of judgment and no longer see the need to defend your character and explain your position, you are able to show up differently in that conversation and in that relationship.
Understanding Your Backstory
Once we make the decision to have conversations with a curious and friendly posture, we might feel ready to jump into deep waters. But opening your heart to new perspectives doesn’t mean you are able to dive into the personal areas of someone’s life. Relationships aren’t one-sided and we should be careful not to assume someone else’s level of comfort.
When you are entering someone’s life, they are showing up and presenting themselves as the person they want you to see. There may be a past that, even if not traumatic, is kept off limits from you initially or even long-term. It’s important to be led into someone’s space and into their story. Only enter doors they have opened to you (physically and emotionally).
Click here for an overview and suggested approach to someone’s backstory.
You may have begun to notice that the tools provided are tools of self-reflection. Managing your own emotions, behaviors, and reactions are the best way to achieve longevity in relationships. It’s a decision to be committed to showing up in love time after time after time. As the relationship progresses and you are met with challenges, it is a certainty that the other person will fall short of your desires and expectations and there will be times when you don’t feel loved. But if you focus on being loving (on purpose and even through the difficult moments), you start to reflect a love that is unconditional. It’s in those moments when you are stretched and you begin to see God take over in a way that you in your own power can’t. That’s often what it takes to truly love your neighbor.
So, this suggests that the ability to love another person isn’t dependent upon what they do within the relationship. Since the onus is on you to be loving, you have to know what showing love looks like. This is where perception takes a front seat. No matter how much you say that you love someone, if it can’t be seen and felt by another, we have to be open to seeing what love looks like from their point of view. God loves us and He knew that just a mention of that love wouldn’t be enough to comfort and secure us in our darkest hours. There are numerous scriptures that help us to see God’s love defined and demonstrated. Put another way, most people don’t like to simply be preached at, they want to see it alive in your life and relationships. Let your life give validity to your words, it’s how we start to build a sense of trust.
Building trust is essential when forming long-term relationships, and even more so when we are attempting to rectify or address the power dynamics that are at play when we are crossing racial lines. When meeting needs and providing help through CarePortal, it's helpful to consider three main points of trust that each point to building relationships with those served. People are more likely to trust someone when they believe these things are true:
- Will they believe that you have the ability to help?
- Will they believe that you have integrity to help how you said that you would?
- Will they believe that you care?
Click here for more information on how these three questions can help to build trust through the lens of race and relationships.
The take-away here is that trust is built by your capacity (ability to demonstrate the love that you verbally express), your willingness (moral strength to keep showing up and doing the work), and your true value of others. It can be said that the marker of someone who cares about you, not only wants the best for you but is also able to celebrate your happiness and understand your sadness. Are you able to be present with someone in their full experience?
If someone identifies race as an important aspect of themself, and they believe that race impacts their life in a major way, then trust can’t be built without you attempting to empathize and gain more understanding of that experience. While you can relate and connect without it, you will not have a level of trust that creates a space allowing them the vulnerability to express the truest version of themself.
Interacting with Oppressive Power Dynamics
Audre Lorde famously quoted, “It’s not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Different doesn’t mean bad and different doesn't require separation. Sometimes there’s an urge to cater to different groups by outlining a “race sensitivity plan” to establish a new and separate way to engage and acknowledge that group. This can oftentimes work against the intentions to join, collaborate, and bring together equal parts into one whole. It’s important to see how all individuals and all races work together to perpetuate norms, beliefs, and rules, and how this affects both interactions and opportunities. There are systemic effects within our current structure that creates distance and separation as a way to maintain the current structure of power.
It’s true that we all play a part in either upholding or dismantling racism. But while we may not be able to recognize all the ways that we do that (inevitably participating unwillingly), there is something that we can be intentional about and that’s acknowledging the feelings and impact that race has within individuals, families, and communities.
Click here for a more detailed view of oppression and how it impacts relationships.
It is our hope that this article serves as the beginning of many conversations; that we all continue to explore our own feelings and triggers; that we challenge our discomfort; and that we value and find genuine interest in how differences are needed and beneficial to a whole. But we have to see the benefit and care about the contribution rather than focusing on bringing them into our circles just for the optics without the inclusion of the whole person. That means we aren’t reaching out to grow our numbers but we are actually connecting to strengthen our purpose. When we connect cross-racially, we have to understand that the exchange is mutual, the leadership is equal, the influence is reciprocal. That only happens when we honor the differences instead of attempting to change someone else’s ways until they look more like our own.