I was awakened from my slumber.
It happened after listening to P2C-Students’ Undiscussed Podcast episode on racism with the rapper Propaganda. As a closing remark, the artist gave the listeners a challenge to check their bookshelves and reading lists. Were the authors and speakers mostly from one cultural background? Was there a pattern? He made evident the ways in which we passively allow mainstream culture to dictate the voices we listen to. The challenge was to become intentional about hearing the voices of authors and artists from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds.
Propaganda argued that cultivating a habit of listening from culturally diverse perspectives shapes the way we think and enables us to grow in our understanding and empathy towards others. I was struck by his comment, and I took on the challenge. I inspected my bookshelves and what I found was C.S. Lewis, Timothy Keller, Charles Dickens, and J.P. Moreland just to name a few. And I did notice a pattern. I had a list of authors that were predominantly white males. I was shocked: how come I was never cognizant of that pattern? How did it happen?
This discovery gave me a desire for more. I needed to bring my search for diverse voices a little closer to home.
I am a Haitian Canadian. My parents immigrated to Montreal in the 70s. My brother, sister, and I were born in Montreal and my family moved to Ottawa when I was four years old. I became race conscious when we moved to a predominantly white neighbourhood and I attended an elementary school and high school with all white teachers. You can probably guess that my favourite month became Black History Month (in February), but the celebration lasted only one week.
I never questioned why I would wait for Black History Week to recognize the dignity of Black authors, contributors, and intellectuals that made a difference in contemporary history. Now that I think about it, there is a rich heritage that was being dismissed, a culture that was being undermined the rest of the year. I find that the exclusion of culturally diverse voices from mainstream culture to be a subtle claim that their voices and perspectives are not important or valued. It is a blatant dismissal of their insight.
Recently, I have been hearing this buzzword “#wokechurch.” I read an article entitled, “Woke is…,” by Thabiti Anyabwile, a council member of The Gospel Coalition. Anyabwile explains that the Afrocentrism of the 1980’s birthed the concept of “woke” to define the self-awareness of the Black communities who intentionally center their worldview on Africa and Africa-descended peoples. The centering on Africa and Africa-descended people emerges from questioning the dominant paradigm of eurocentrism.
As for me, to be woke means to be a Black Canadian who is self-aware of my African culture and to be thinking critically of the current Canadian mainstream culture. I am intentionally seeking culturally diverse perspectives in order to broaden my appreciation of God’s intention for cultural diversity. I must admit that I do not question the dominant paradigm regularly; sometimes I am passive. In those moments it feels like I pressed the “snooze” button.
I realized that I had to consciously seek out what was missing from my bookshelves. I had to be intentional. I couldn’t passively allow mainstream culture to dictate the voices I learn from. I began to actively pursue different voices. For example, I heard a quote from a female Harlem Renaissance author, Zora Neal Huston (1891-1960), from her book How it feels to be Colored Me. Little did I know that her quote would depict my story growing up in Ottawa. Here’s the quote that resonated with me:
“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background…Beside the waters of the Hudson I feel my race. Among the thousand white persons, I am a dark rock surged upon, and over swept, but through it all, I remain myself. When covered by the waters, I am; and the ebb but reveals me again.”
In addition, I heard a quote from a Black philosopher called Howard Thurman (1900-1981) and I had to read his book called Jesus and the Disinherited. Thurman’s insight reveals a historical fact that is easily forgotten, that Jesus, as a Jew growing up in a Roman-dominated Israel, understood what being oppressed and disadvantaged feels like. Thurman explains the ways in which the gospel speaks to the disenfranchised.
My discovery continued and I now intentionally consult the South Asia Bible commentary: A One-Volume commentary on the Bible and the Africa Bible Commentary: A One-Volume Commentary written by 70 African Scholars when I need an explanation of the biblical text.
Reading from these diverse voices did impact my personal faith. I realized the beauty of diversity.
I was reminded of the disunity between the Jews and Gentiles within the Ephesian church, and of the ways in which the Holy Spirit reveals to Paul that in Christ two hostile group of people become a new human being, a new family (Ephesians 2:14-22). Moreover, before the throne of God, Scripture tells us that there will be people of every tribe and language and nation (Revelation 7:9). All of these groups are united in Christ; they are all included in this beautiful mosaic of diversity united in Christ.
It sparked my imagination with hope.
God created the human race, and in his eyes, we are all equal. However, the classifications of human beings according to exterior traits are man-made distinctions, and claiming that one ethnicity is superior or inferior to others is a sin. These claims may be outright and bold, or subtle and hard to see on the surface of behaviour and thought. Christianity’s view of sin is that it is in our nature; it cannot be avoided and a saviour is our only hope. Only Jesus Christ, the Son of God, entered the history of humanity sinless. He dealt with the sin that is in our nature when he died on the cross in our place.
Moreover, the root cause of racism is pride. Jesus died, engulfed in himself the sin of the world, and came back to life, conquering sin and death. When we turn from our sinful thoughts and actions back towards God (repentance) and accept his divine intervention, our hearts are transformed. We can celebrate our ethnic distinctives without claiming that one ethnicity is more important than another.
Jesus enables us to see and value people rightly.
After reading about the ways in which Jesus can transform our hearts and enable us to see each other rightly, you may ask, “How come followers of Jesus aren’t doing a great job at being examples of equality?”
…you can press the snooze button or…
Explore diverse voices for yourself.
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About the Author
Tyndale University College & Seminary alumni, currently staff with Power to Change-Students at the University of Toronto, the St-George Campus.
When not working with students and looking to recharge, Rebecca enjoys running, biking, and swimming. Rebecca considers herself a Haitian diva for Christ!