The human condition often keeps us from seeing outside our own perspective and life experiences. It truly can be difficult to imagine a different reality than that which we live. However, there are multitudes of people who have a different reality and different life than me. This time of year, when we celebrate the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and later, Black History Month, all of this comes to the forefront of our minds. But, that too is a symptom of privilege, that we are able to make this topic a seasonal lesson when our black brothers and sisters live out the historical struggle every day of their lives.
God absolutely desires racial reconciliation.
I know that the first step toward racial reconciliation is learning, which leads to understanding. The only way I can truly learn from and even hope to begin understanding someone is to welcome them into my life. How do I welcome those people into my life in an authentic way when the unknown can be downright intimidating? How can I relate to someone whose life is so different than mine? What if I do or say something stupid, or worse yet, something that hurts the other person?
I certainly don’t have all the answers. I’m still a bumbling fool in my effort to understand others. I’m often blind and ignorant to the privilege I enjoy every day as a white American. I don’t often consider the things other people have to be conscious of on a daily basis, nor do I understand the unique struggles that have characterized their lives. But, I can welcome them and learn from them. Here are 5 ways to welcome and interact with people who are different from you, no matter what their race or ethnicity might be.
1) Approach With a Learner’s Perspective.
Everything in life is a potential for learning something new. When you encounter someone who is different from you, it is an amazing and unique opportunity to see the world from a different perspective and to open your eyes to things you have never seen and thoughts you never would have had otherwise. Understand that every person has something to offer—something to teach us.
2) Understand that you have blind spots.
There are certain things you won’t understand about other people and their life experiences, but there are also certain things you won’t understand about yourself. Interacting with people who are different from you will point many of those things out. You may be confronted with your own prejudices and misconceptions. This can become extremely uncomfortable. Be brave. The self-knowledge you will gain is worth it.
3) Welcome the other person’s whole self.
We can’t expect people who aren’t like us to act like us. We have to be willing to embrace the ways they are different from us—even in their talk, behavior, dress, food, etc. Sometimes this can be intimidating, but sometimes it can be fun! Be adventurous and try out different aspects of their culture. But, how do I let people know they can safely be their authentic selves around me?
4) Ask questions!
Nothing tells people that you’re genuinely interested in them like asking them questions about themselves. While I wouldn’t advise treating them like scientific specimens or prying into areas of their lives that are none of your business, asking questions about where they are from and what kinds of traditions their families have are good openers for a friendship and show people that you’re interested in the things that have formed their lives.
5) Be your most authentic self.
Don’t forget to share things about yourself that other people may find interesting. Encourage them to be themselves by being unafraid to be yourself! Invite them into your family and help them explore your traditions as well. Laugh a little, and remember not to take yourself too seriously. Have fun with it.
Most of all, remember that rather than denying our differences (yeah, don’t try to be “colorblind”), true reconciliation is the process of learning about, embracing, and honoring our differences. It is not helpful to minimize people’s legitimate life experiences, strip away their cultures, or deny the heritage with which they identify. To do so is to imply that their personhood is not welcome. To do so is to imply that they must become generic and non-threatening in order to be accepted. That is not reconciliation in its truest form. In order to reconcile with anyone, we must welcome the person’s most authentic and whole self. To reconcile, we must celebrate the ways we are different as well as the things we have in common. Here is what reconciliation looked like for Rev. Dr. King:
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. […] I have a dream that one day, […] right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. […] With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
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