What Does Healing Mean?

I wrote the below remarks for a panel discussion about the question, “What does healing mean?” hosted by the IDEALS (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access, Leadership Development & Strategic Supports) Institute at the University of Arkansas on the National Day of Racial Healing.[1] In my answers to the questions – which were shared with me previous to the panel – I identified as a member of the white Christian community and shared my concerns relative to my community. Perhaps my primary concern relative to my community is that we have misunderstood the problem of racism; therefore, we have made it worse not better. I wanted to introduce this problem, explain solutions to it, and invite my audience to participate in solutions.

What Does Healing Mean?

1. Who are you? What communities/land do you belong to?

My name is Lowell Taylor. I am the host of a KUAF podcast called The R Word[2] about reparations and the church in Northwest Arkansas. I was born and raised in Little Rock, and I live in Springdale with my wife and three children. Like more than 60% of Arkansans[3], I am a white Christian who has been formed in white churches with few people of color; however, in recent years I have followed fewer white leaders and more black leaders – folks like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, and others. I believe that what Frederick Douglass wrote about white Christianity in the 1840s is true today. He wrote:

What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.[4]

In this season of my life, I am trying to find freedom from slaveholding religion and to be re-formed.

2. When it comes to your racial self-identify, does that definition differ when you’re with your community vs when you’re with others?

In the white churches that I am from, white supremacy works covertly; that is, many white Christians believe – and behave as if – white people and culture are best, but we do this covertly, without really talking about it. When “whiteness” or (God help us) “white supremacy” is talked about, many white Christians get uncomfortable. I identify as white wherever I am; however, I have learned that white Christians feel differently about white supremacy than black Christians do. I have found more freedom to talk about white supremacy in black than in white churches; however, I believe white Christians – and other white people – need to talk about white supremacy because it is really our problem to solve. I agree with Richard Wright who – when asked about the “Negro problem” in the 1940s – answered, “There is no Negro problem…there is only a White problem.”[5]

3. What does racial healing mean to you and what brought you do this definition?

Jemar Tisby (who I interviewed in The R Word podcast and who spoke at the Fayetteville Public Library last October) writes in The Color of Compromise: “There can be no reconciliation without repentance. There can be no repentance without confession. And there can be no confession without truth.”[6] The truth is that many white Christians have been complicit with racism – we have actively and passively supported racist systems like slavery, Jim Crow, and the New Jim Crow / mass incarceration. In How to Fight Racism (which is available at the library) Tisby shares the ARC of racial justice. To do racial justice we must grow in Awareness of racial injustice, multi-racial Relationships, and Commitment to racial justice.[7] Awareness, Relationships, Commitment – ARC. Tisby writes that few white Christians do racial justice and cites Emerson and Smith who describe white evangelical Christians in Divided by Faith:

Like their forebears during Jim Crow segregation, who prescribed kindness toward people of other races and getting to know people across races, but did not challenge the Jim Crow system, present day white evangelicals attempt to solve the race problem without shaking the foundations on which racialization is built. As long as they do not acknowledge the structures of racialization, they inadvertently contribute to them.[8]

Emerson and Smith conclude that “white evangelicalism likely does more to perpetuate the racialized society than to reduce it.”[9] I agree with Tisby, Emerson and Smith.

4. What does racial healing mean/look like for your community? Who or what has influenced this definition?

Greg Thompson (who I interviewed in The R Word podcastand who will speak at the library this April) writes in Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair (which is also available at the library) that racism is an individual problem that requires repentance, an interpersonal problem that requires reconciliation, an institutional problem that requires reform, and a cultural problem – white supremacy – that requires reparations.[10] Thompson writes that white supremacy has stolen truth, wealth, and power from black people, and agrees with Tisby that white Christians have been complicit with white supremacy.[11] Thompson writes that white Christians must return what we have stolen by naming lies and telling the truth, enabling black wealth and sharing white wealth, and enabling and submitting to black leadership.[12] I agree with Thompson.

5. What things do you do for self-care when it comes to healing from racism? What things do you do for community care?

Christina Edmondson (who I interviewed in The R Word podcast and who will speak at the library this October) quoted an African proverb that says, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.”[13] My family left our church in 2021 because our leaders did not practice what they preached relative to racial justice. We sometimes felt alone; however, I met many new friends – black, white, Christian, and other-than-Christian people – with whom I am working for racial justice now. I believe that we need to heal from racial injustice and work for racial justice with other people.

6. What is one thing that you have seen your community do for racial healing that you believe is effective? What have you seen in other communities that you wish you could adopt?

One thing I have seen white Christians do for racial healing is join Reparations NOW NWA, a project that I can describe quickly. In the spring of 2020, I met Greg Thompson, who helped me understand the theory of reparations. In the summer of 2020, George Floyd died, and my pastor started NWA United – a group of black and white pastors who committed their churches to antiracist action. In the fall of 2020, I met Jemar Tisby, who helped me practice reparations. Tisby started The Witness Foundation to fund black Christian leaders. I started Reparations NOW NWA and asked the white pastors who joined NWA United and other white people to give to The Witness Foundation to fund black Christian leaders from Northwest Arkansas. Some said yes, and we raised $100,000 to support two black Christian leaders from Northwest Arkansas who each received $50,000. In 2022, I started The R Word podcast and book discussion series to talk about reparations and the church in Northwest Arkansas. And in 2023, I am working with a coalition of local black, white, Christian, and other-than-Christian leaders to educate – or persuade – white people and white churches to invest in black-led black-serving work in Northwest Arkansas. We want to raise a $1.2MM endowment from white people and white churches that will give $50,000 per year to black-led black-serving work in Northwest Arkansas perpetually.

7. What advice would you give to your younger self about race, racism, or racial healing?

King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail has been formative for me. It was written to white church leaders who opposed the civil rights movement in the 1960s. In the letter, King confessed disappointment with “the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”[14] King countered that if we want peace, then we need justice; if we want justice, then we need to expose injustice; and if we expose injustice, then we will expose – not create – tension. King also confessed disappointment with the many white church leaders who actively opposed integration or passively supported segregation because they feared non-conformity. Finally, King gave thanks for the few white church leaders who rejected false peace and fear and joined the civil rights movement. Of them, he wrote:

Some have broken loose from the…chains of conformity and joined us…in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets…with us…they have gone to jail with us. Some have been kicked out of their churches, and lost support of their bishops and fellow ministers.[15]

When I told my church leaders that they had not practiced what they had preached relative to racial justice, they called me angry, divisive, and not submissive. Their words hurt, but King’s words helped me reject false peace and fear of non-conformity. The advice I give myself is to remember who I want to be. I do not want to be like the white moderates or the many white church leaders with whom King was disappointed. I want to be like King and the few white church leaders for whom he gave thanks. I want to find freedom from slaveholding religion, reject false peace and fear of non-conformity, and contribute to today’s civil rights movement.

[1]More information about the event can be found here: https://news.uark.edu/articles/63024/panel-discussion-for-national-day-of-racial-healing-today

[2] The podcast can be found here: https://www.kuaf.com/podcast/the-r-word

[3] American Values Atlas. PRRI. Retrieved from https://ava.prri.org/#religious/2021/States/religion/m/US-AR

[4] Douglass, Frederick, Life of an American Slave (1845). Retrieved from http://utc.iath.virginia.edu/abolitn/abaufda14t.html

[5] Sartre, Jean-Paul, Gentile and Jew (Commentary, 1948). Retrieved from https://www.commentary.org/articles/jean-paul-sartre/gentile-and-jew/

[6] Tisby, Jemar, The Color of Compromise (Zondervan, 2019), 15.

[7] Tisby, Jemar. How to Fight Racism (Zondervan Reflective, 2021), 4.

[8] Emerson, Michael and Smith, Christian. Divided by Faith (Oxford University Press, 2000), 132.

[9] Ibid, 170.

[10] Kwon, Duke and Thompson, Gregory. Reparations (Brazos Press, 2021), 14.

[11] Ibid, 16.

[12] Ibid, 18.

[13] Christina Edmondson, personal communication, August 30, 2022

[14] Washington, James, A Testament of Hope (HarperCollins, 1986), 295.

[15] Ibid, 300.

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