*Editors’ Note: With some of the horrific recent stories of infuriating injustice done toward African Americans (e.g., Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd), I wanted to reach out to my friend Anthony Walker, an African American minister at a church in Murfreesboro, TN. We should all be feeling grief over these losses, and we need to hear the pain and frustration that the African American community is experiencing right now. Anthony talks about the pain and also suggests ideas for racial reconciliation.
Q: Anthony, you have a son. How do these headlines—out of Minneapolis, New York City’s Central Park, Georgia—make you feel?
Anger is the first thing.
I’m reminded a biblical parallel: When Jesus in John 2 sees them taking advantage of His people, seeing people being disenfranchised, He gets angry and upturns the temple. Then on the flip side, it makes me sad. The sadness comes from understanding that my son is going to have to deal with some things that really hurt when I was a kid.
Some of the first racial stuff I experienced—it blew my mind. It’s not like I didn’t notice race; obviously, we all notice it. We see it, but I just didn’t think that there was anything truly different about us. To treat me a particular way because of my color? That hurt. So to know that my son is one day going to experience that—it saddens me. It makes me angry.
“To treat me a particular way because of my color? That hurt.”
I have a daughter too, and she’s going to experience some things that black women experience. But there’s a particular vitriol that exists within our country toward black men. I did not want to have to prepare him, but I will have to do it.
One of the hardest things for me to do is to raise them in this innocence that they have as kids, but to still prepare them for the tough stuff they’re going to face. It’s going to break my son’s heart. It breaks mine.
Q: It would be hard not to feel a major sense of resentment.
I still have wounds that are unhealed, that I struggle with. There may be a day when my kids get wounded too. As a parent, it hurts to see your kid fall off their bike. But to know that the pain is going to be directly related to skin color? That’s a lot of pain.
Facts are facts. But facts have to be interpreted. If a glass has 50% liquid in it, that’s a fact. But we’re either going to see it half full or half empty. In the same way, color is a fact. People might say, “I don’t see color.” But we all do. When you drive, you notice the difference between a red light and a green light. Well, I’m a black man. You’re a white man. Those are facts. But it’s how we interpret those facts that the problem can lie. The truth is, my skin color alone can invoke fear in some people.
“The truth is, my skin color alone can invoke fear in some people.”
This fear is why I try to do what I can to come off as nonthreatening as I possibly can. So we use good grammar. We dress nicely. We smile, we’re respectful, we’re all things that good citizens are. It’s almost like there was this whole set of training that we have to go through as black people that white people don’t even have to think about.
When you hear me mention “the talk,” I’m not talking about the birds and the bees. No, I’m talking about the talk you have to have with your son. For example, stuff like, “Son, don’t wear that hoodie outside. And definitely don’t wear the hood up because that invokes fear.”
Part of the talk deals with traffic stops. If I am ever pulled over at a traffic stop, I roll all the windows down. I put my hands on the steering wheel, and I sit like a robot until the officer comes up. If my windows are down—even though they’re not really tinted—they’ll know that I’m not hiding anything. And even when they ask me for things, like my driver’s license, I’ll be careful to say, “Sir, my wallet’s in my pocket and I don’t have a gun.” It can be scary.
“It also hurts because there’s often a silence about racial matters in the church.”
It’s sad that my son will have to do all this stuff in 2020 that my parents and their parents had to do—even after the Civil Rights stuff and all that our nation has been through. And it also hurts because there’s often a silence about racial matters in the church. There’s a wing of Christianity in America that feels that these issues shouldn’t be a part of the conversation. It’s hard not to be frustrated about these Christians who sidestep these issues, much like the Levite bypassing the hurt man on the road to Jericho.
Q: Why does racism still exist in America in 2020?
It’s taught. For a lot of people, the issue was never really addressed. We have made strides as a nation, but—as far as racial attitudes—I think we just moved on. Repentance is not just stopping activity. It’s changing your mind and heart and attitude toward that activity. Let’s say you and somebody else are fighting and I come between you and say, “Hey guys, quit fighting.” I’ve just stopped the activity. But if you still hate each other, as soon as I’m gone, you’ll be right back at it.
“Repentance is not just stopping activity. It’s changing your mind and heart and attitude toward that activity.”
I don’t think our country as a whole really addressed the attitude toward racism. Just watch the videos and read the stories. You have a black man who is birdwatching and who tells a white woman she needs to leash her dog in this particular part of New York City’s Central Park. She responds to their argument by saying she was going to call 911: “I’m going to tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life.” And that’s what she did. Somewhere in her mind, she believed that this plan will work.
She has an expectation embedded in her mind that, if she calls the police and tells them that an African American man is threatening her life, they’re going to be here. Not one, not two, but maybe four or five cop cars are going to pull up here and they’re going to get him, because a white woman has said that a black man has threatened her life.
I’m a black man, but I don’t want people to be afraid of me as a black man. I don’t want there to be negative connotation with me because I’m black. If that comes with a negative connotation as to what you believe about my temperament, my family structure, all of that—then that’s a problem.
“If that comes with a negative connotation as to what you believe about my temperament, my family structure, all of that—then that’s a problem.”
I don’t think we’ve had real repentance in our nation of the racism and past racial terrorism that we’ve had. We never want to forget historical events like 9-11 and Pearl Harbor and Vietnam. But when it comes to slavery? Well, we’re told that that’s in the past, and we should get over it. But that’s my history. That’s what we did as a nation.
It may be a dark part of our history which we want to overlook. But the only way we can really heal from a biblical standpoint is actual repentance. Just because a black man was elected president doesn’t mean that racism is over.
In the next part of the interview, Anthony will explore what national repentance can look like, especially within the church.