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Jason Webb, a Pastor and Movement Leader from Milwaukee, Discusses Race and the Church: Admitting Our Biases (Part 2)

Originally published on patch.com

If someone asked you if you were racist, most likely you wouldn't dawn your KKK gown and fly a Confederate flag. Or say, "I'm racist and proud of it!" That would be ridiculous. Most of us would feel vile even thinking of it. However, we all have racial biases right under the surface of our souls. Here, Jason Webb - a devoted advocate of racial reconciliation from Milwaukee, reveals that most of us, despite not being racist, exhibit racial biases.

These biases, embedded in us since childhood, influence how we see the world and the people in it, usually without us even knowing it. These biases tilt us towards certain assumptions and stereotypes based on how someone's speech, looks, clothes, or, in this case, skin color. They create knee jerk reactions inside of us before we even say a word.

Below, Mr. Webb shares his analogy between our racial biases and Apostle Peter's biases illustrated in the Scriptures.

Here is what happens with Peter in Acts 10.

God gives him a strange dream where he asks Peter to go to a man named Cornelius' house. This seems like a normal request except for one thing: Peter was a Jew and Cornelius was not. Peter's reaction was a quick "Certainly not, Lord". His biases kicked in. He didn't think he could cross that racial divide, associate with "them". But God, through this dream, makes Peter take a hard look at his own racial biases. Peter gets it and goes to Cornelius' house. He wakes and changes course, "You are all aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean…I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right." (Acts 10:28, 34-35) Peter is saying, "I had to deal with the biases and racism that was within me that I never knew were wrong."

I think the same is true for all of us, no matter what race or ethnicity we are. But this is hard given that most of us would consider ourselves to certainly not be racist and not even prejudice. We often pride ourselves on that. Yet it is still there. It's what Duke University sociologist, Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, says is "Racism without racists."

These racial biases are in each of us. We live in a culture of "racism without racists."

In fact, one study conducted by a Brigham Young University economics professor showed that white NBA referees call more fouls on black players and black referees call more fouls on white players. These biases, as opposed to flat out racism, are passed down from generation to generation without us even realizing it. Dr. Daniel L. Ames from UCLA says this, "Racial biases can in some ways be more destructive than overt racism because they're harder to spot, and therefore harder to combat." They are subtle, hidden, covered over by correct language. Yet they still are there lurking in our souls waging war on us.

Jason himself did not realize his own bias.

"My church growing up was in the heart of the city, we were an all-white church that was located in nearly an all-black neighborhood. Sometimes kids from the neighborhood would come to events at church. Some people at the church would talk about the "neighborhood kids" and the "church kids". "Neighborhood kids" was code for "black kids" and "church kids" was code for "white kids." One of those events was Awana on Wednesday nights. At Awana, we always played games in the gym to start off the night. I had become good friends with an African American kid from the neighborhood named Robert. But the problem was, we were both competitive and would sometimes go after each other in these games. One night, Robert got mad at me because I won first in a race, and he came in second (5th grade was the height of my athletic career!!). Like is often the case with boys, he got a little agitated and punched me. One of our leaders saw this, opened the door and threw Robert out saying, "You're not welcome here. Go back to your neighborhood." I wonder to myself that day, "Would he have done that with me?" I didn't see Robert much after that.

Then I got to college and that all changed. My closest friends soon were people of all races. We lived on the same floor together: Trevon and Dave were African American, Mike, Ryan, and Andrew were Asian American, Steve and I were white, and Rajiv and Matt were Indian American. We were inseparable. While in school, I fell in love with the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. I then moved to Kenya where some of my closest friends to this day are Kenyans. Beyond that, 2 of my 4 kids are black.

Later I moved into the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee, a predominantly black area, because of my passion for racial reconciliation. Yet not long ago I was walking to my car and a black teenage boy wearing a hoodie passed by me. To my shame, I froze immediately. I feared for my safety. At that moment, he was a "neighborhood kid" from my childhood. What did he do? He smiled at me and said "Hi". I later repented in tears."

We all have biases, says Jason Webb. They lurk in our souls waiting to pop up oftentimes without us realizing it. So, what are yours? Maybe they come when you see someone in your neighborhood or in a store. Maybe you are a person of color but have biases against whites. Until we come face to face with them, and repent of them, like Peter did, unity and reconciliation will not be possible.

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