The recent outcry over The Gospel Coalition publishing, retracting, deleting, and asking for forgiveness for the article’s white author Gaye Clark forced me to ask: What does the Christian concept of grace mean in navigating conversations of race and racism?
To the parent like me who never envisioned her daughter in an interracial marriage, here are 8 things to remember. https://t.co/vSx4ihVtGX
— The Gospel Coalition (@TGC) August 8, 2016
White allies could benefit from a discussion of grace that centers Black lives, and admits that Black people are not afforded the same privilege.
Let me be clear, I’m not writing this for Gaye Clark.
Gaye Clark, realizing the damage her writing caused, has since requested that it be removed from the The Gospel Coalition website.
A controversial article and what we can learn. https://t.co/t87nD4Zuwr
— The Gospel Coalition (@TGC) August 10, 2016
This is not even for The Gospel Coalition, although I have some serious questions about their willingness to publish the article:
This isn’t even for the people who read Gaye Clark’s article and gave her a pat on the back, those who shared it with enthusiasm and maybe a comment about how “this woman has the right idea” or “Praying we all grow to be this open minded” or “now this is the first step to real change in our world”.
There are plenty of people on Twitter who have done the labor of expressing the multiple problems with the piece and with the people who embrace it.
This is what humble repentance and contortion looks like. Gaye owned her sin and is making steps to turn from it. https://t.co/qjjz8k0AOI
— M.DivA (@sista_theology) August 10, 2016
This is for the person who read Gaye Clark’s article, was immediately put off by it, but whose initial reaction was to come to her defense, advocating that we show more grace to Clark, even appreciation for her willingness to be so vulnerable on a national platform.
If this is you: Don’t pat yourself on the back for your immediate outrage if your next reaction was to feel torn and sympathetic. You get no ally points for crediting a white woman for starting race conversations, even if you frown upon the way she did it. I’m not saying those feelings are invalid, or that there is no room for grace and patience for white folks. My only problem with the use of grace and compassion for Gaye Clark is that it comes with no acknowledgement that Christian values like grace, compassion, mercy, and patience aren’t applied equally across racial lines. What am I saying?
In your rush to applaud Gaye Clark for her transparency, and in the midst of claiming that we must offer grace to her, I need white people to acknowledge the immense privilege that lies in being able to just mess up until you get it right- to be problematic on multiple levels and STILL have folks advocating for everyone to see your process and be patient with you- Black folks don’t get that.
In fact, in all of our well-intended conversations on race, have white people ever even MENTIONED the words “grace”, “compassion” or “patience” in regards to Black folks?
If you are truly wanting to be an ally, try centering Black folks in ANY conversation about race, grace, and mercy. Then, instead of your conversations looking like this:
“What must it be like for this woman to be so vulnerable only to be torn apart on social media? She was just being open and honest, why would we fault her for that? That’s why a lot of white people are afraid to speak up. We should show her more grace and compassion”
They might look like this:
“What must it be like for Black people reading this, and other pieces like it? Especially after they take in so much from the media already? I wonder what it must be like for Black people to constantly be told to be patient with white people while we figure this racism thing out. And why do we try so hard to silence their frustration? They were only being open and honest. That’s why a lot of Black people are tempted to give up on us completely. We should show them more grace and compassion.”
Do you see what happens when we CENTER a conversation on race around Black people? Can you imagine if we talked about police brutality not from a lens of “difficult conversation” or “racial tensions”, but one of grace and mercy for Black folks? Could you imagine if Christians from all over demanded that Black folks receive grace, patience, and assumption of their good intentions? Better still, what if we accepted the anger, pain, and frustration of Black folks with the same level of patience and compassion? What if we respected their transparency, and offered them appreciation for trying to articulate the weight of racism as best they could?
And since just yesterday we were so welcoming of transparency in blog posts, let me try my hand at it.
On the 2nd anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, I am finding it VERY difficult to sit with the notion that I must accept Gaye Clark’s words as a “good first step”. That I must find comfort in her effort, even in its extensive flaws, because “at least she’s trying”. It’s funny how we are charged to treat a 53-year-old woman with childlike patience, and yet talk about 18- year old Mike Brown like he was a grown man. And I’m still trying to sit with the reality that grace is something most often offered to White women-while Black women are met with suspicion at best, and outright condemnation at worst.
It’s long past time for us to stop patronizing this serious gap in our hearts with, “well this isn’t going to be easy”, or “how can we ever make progress if we (aka Black people) aren’t willing to listen to other perspectives?” It’s about time we had a real talk about how racism manifests itself in our everyday Christian lives- white people, particularly white women, are seen as infinitely deserving of patience and grace in pretty much all situations, but particularly in regards to facing racism. Whiteness is given extreme latitude for simply being nice. Unfortunately for me, “nice” is not the opposite of “racism”, and the slow turning wheels of white folks’ “efforts” will not set me free.
But in all this, I still understand the need for grace, and will extend it to Gaye and White folks like her. But grace does not promise silence. And grace does not promise that I will accept that this racial gap in “benefit of the doubt” is just an unfortunate, understood circumstance. No. Let’s name it: I am NOT here for calls to show grace to white people for “trying” if there is ZERO acknowledgement that Black folks aren’t treated the same way.
And while I do the self-work of being more gracious to those who would likely not return it, I pray that we work to intentionally give Black folks the same amount of patience, grace, and latitude to make mistakes that we’re demanding Gaye Clark receives.