Identity is one of the most under-talked about aspects of the race relations conversation. So much of the world's division (and the injustice it spawns) is energized by the answer to the question, "Who am I?"
Establishing identity not only establishes who you are in a given scenario, but also who you fight for, and who you classify as the enemy. These are important because lack of focus toward a singular, clear adversary frustrates unity and collaboration. When that happens the role we play becomes muddled and confused. Stunted progress and loss of ground is the all too common result.
I want to help you discover your identity in the racial reconciliation conversation by asking three questions.
Who Am I?
This question is not meant in the cosmic way, but rather, who am I in this situation. I'll use a sports analogy.
When you attend a NFL football game, you know exactly who you are, and who you are not.
You know you are not on the team (despite how cool that might be). You're not on the sidelines. You're not the referee. You're in the stands. Not only do you know who you are, but why you came (for a good time, you're a fan, to support the team, to support your favorite player, etc...).
Understanding who you are in the scenario dictates your behavior in that scenario. A player on the field behaves differently than a trainer on the sideline. The refs behave differently than the fans in the stands. The coaches have a different role than the announcers.
Do you see? My Identity drives my behavior, role and value at the game!
Now apply the concept to racial reconciliation and injustice. Who are you in this "game"? (on the field, on the sideline, a coach, a ref, a fan, etc...) And based on that, what role are you meant to play?
If you're a believer, there is an extra challenge. In what ways does your being born again "in Christ" change your answer to "who am I" in race relations?
Who Do I Fight For?
This one is pretty obvious, yet it should not be taken for granted because it's not always clear. If "Who am I?" is an individualism question, then "Who do I fight for?" is a tribalism question.
In essence, this questions helps us define our "we."
Using the previous NFL game, you can understand why this matters. It changes everything about the game. If we are the coaches, we provide analysis and adjustments. Those players on the field, the referees, the fans in the stands, can all expect their actions to differ. Some of them will work to the same end, and others not so much.
In the racial conversation, you must identify your primary "we." Is it your immediate family? Your race? Your American citizenship? Is it your age, or your social class? Who are "we"?
Answering this question reveals many of the obstacles preventing the collective synergy needed for true progress in the race relations conversation. If we are not fighting on the same side, then obviously our goals are at minimum distracting to each other, and at most detracting from each other. You must answer your "we" question if you want to collaboratively engage in helpful conversation and solutions around racial reconciliation and injustice.
This, too, is a very important question for the believer. Who is your primary we, and how does your being born again "in Christ" affect who you fight for?
Who is the Enemy?
People who are not fighting a common enemy cannot claim to be fighting together. This question helps formulate the "why" behind our actions, clarifies our roles and thus maximizes our efforts. A clear, common enemy is a great catalyst for collaborative change.
In the game analogy, understanding who the enemy is helps you know what to do. If you are the Defensive Coordinator, your enemy is the other team's offense. If you're the wide receiver, your enemy is the cornerback guarding you. If you're the fan, the enemy is everyone with the wrong jersey on (on or off the field!).
In this analogy, we see how having smaller "enemies" can help us engage the larger common enemy. This is what synergy actually looks like!
Far too often, conversations about solutions for racial issues have not agreed on who/what the real enemy is. As a result, the so-called collaborative efforts lack real punch and depth, and often result in short term progress. Declaring a compelling, common enemy can marshal our collective skills and lead to a synergistic approach to defeating that enemy, which increases the probability of long lasting progress.
Finally, my fellow believers, this question must also be asked. Who or what, in the racial reconciliation and justice conversation, is your primary enemy and how has your being born again "in Christ" affected your answer?