I don’t know whether you know this, but having an aquarium is easy.
Having an aquarium that’s presentable, and not a green gooey mess is much harder. They take time, study, and intentionality to thrive. Over the years, I have worked on various versions of what the internet mysteriously calls the “No-Maintenance Tank.” Just set it up and sit back and enjoy it forever.
The version I ultimately attempted sought to replace cumbersome water changes with a passive top-off system that would keep a steady, small stream of filtered water going in to the tank at intervals each day to keep it full and would force some old tank water out to the drain to prevent and remove the build-up of nitrates in the water column.
What I quickly learned after dealing with the green gooey mess is that removing half of the water and then putting that same volume of clean water back into the tank is not the same as dripping that same volume of water in over time. What happens is the clean water mixes in so that you reduce your nitrates by 5%, but then the remaining toxins spread to the clean water that was just added, so when you do 5% again, you’ve removed 5% of the 95% that was there (but not accounting for anything else created in the short term). The third time you’re removing 5% of the 95% of the 95% which is only 4.5% of the original total…at that rate your returns continue to diminish and you never overcome the build-up of nitrates and it jeopardizes the ecosystem you’re trying to maintain. Lessons learned….
All that was to say this: Keeping a fish tank is not a passive activity. It requires a lot of careful action and attention to things that easily go unseen, but are right under the surface. You’ve probably figured out that I’m not talking about fish tanks anymore.
I’m not racist. Nobody claims to be racist (ok, very very few people claim to be racist). My understanding of who God is, what God does, my understanding of what it means to be one in the body of Christ, the fact that I am biracial (bilingual even), etc, etc, etc all of those things–lead me (like you too) to believe with absolute conviction that racism is a sin, so I’m not racist. I go out of my way to be open and welcoming to all I meet. I have a diverse group of friends and colleagues that I’m proud to work with. Don’t you dare stop reading here.
And yet, the longer and deeper I search myself, the more I listen to voices of people different than my own, and the more I inventory my own implicit biases, the more I realize that it’s not enough to not be racist, as Robin DiAngelo points out in her book “White Fragility”:
“To continue reproducing racial inequality, the system only needs for white people to be really nice and carry on – to smile at people of color, to go to lunch with them on occasion. To be clear, being nice is generally a better policy than being mean. But niceness does not bring racism to the table and will not keep it on the table when so many of us who are white want it off.”
When I am deeply, brutally honest with myself, I must confess that:
I have actively participated in and turned a blind eye to systems that deny opportunity to people of color because I didn’t want to rock the boat. God forgive me, a sinner.
When I realized that people had been harmed, I failed to speak out. God forgive me, a sinner.
I have raised nothing more than thoughts and prayers for victims of police violence. God forgive me, a sinner.
Depending on different circumstances and situations, I have chosen (because I had the choice) the times and places when I would be hispanic and when I would be white. And overwhelmingly, I have chosen to be white, because it was easier. God forgive me, a sinner.
Nobody claims to be racist. It’s easy to not actively hate people, but not ‘being’ racist doesn’t deal with the reality that the toxic prevalence of racism often goes unseen (by white people), and will keep building up until each of us takes the careful, intentional time to address it in our own lives and communities.
God does not call us to sit back and hope that racism goes away (or that people just stop talking about it). Oneness in the body of Christ demands the kind of righteousness that forges right and just relationships with God and all of our neighbors as Paul writes in Galatians 3: “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.” If all really means all, y’all,’ then we won’t, we can’t get there passively. We don’t wander into perfection. We strive for it, like the Jacob wrestling with God kind of striving.
Therefore, I will keep racism on the table. I will continue to carefully inventory my biases no matter how painful or shameful. I will continue to seek forgiveness for my failures. I will confront racism when I see it, and I will listen to and elevate BIPOC voices (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) to become more aware of the ways that racial identity and racism impact my neighbors, and more aware of the ways that I’ve been racist myself. With God’s help, I pray, that I will put more time and energy into being anti-racist than I put into something as trivial as an aquarium. And I hope you will too. Because I’m kind of racist, but I don’t want to be.