As a Christian, I have been taught the importance of confession.
"I am a sinner." I can say it without cringing.
"I am a sinner in need of a savior," I can say it without worrying what you think that implies about me. I don't feel afraid that you'll get the wrong impression of me. I don't make excuses or justifications. I don't give caveats that my sin is less than someone else's sin, or that I didn't mean to sin, or that I hate sin. I know how to confess.
"I am a sinner saved by grace." I say it because I know that I have to acknowledge my sin problem to be transformed. I won't accept the grace of Jesus if I don't think I need His grace.
And so, I have another confession today. I hate the racial injustice in the world, and I don't know how to talk about it. I see friends write posts, and I want to speak up, advocate, love, teach, and apologize but instead, I worry. I worry that I am not qualified to speak. I worry that I don't have permission to talk about issues of race. And I worry that saying nothing says everything. But how do I begin when everything I say and don't say can hurt someone? I want to speak out because I hate the pain racism inflicts, so the last thing I want to do is re-traumatize deep wounds simply because I didn't invest enough time to learn how not to hurt everyone.
Maybe you've felt like me. I get so overwhelmed by the fear that I might screw this up, that I become paralyzed. If I say nothing, at least I won't make things worse, I think. But part of me knows that's not good enough. I want to ask for help, but I don't want to burden my friends of color with the job of educating me when they are already exhausted from the trauma of current events and the advocacy they do on a daily basis. My second confession is that I've re-written this post several times. I've wanted to delete it. I've told myself that I could just share the words of someone more qualified to speak. They could say everything better than me. But a patient friend of mine reminded me that it's selfish to only speak when I think I can speak perfectly. It's selfish to let other people step on buried landmines while I wait and watch and try not to get this wrong.
So, I am sorry, because I have something hard to say. And I'm sorry I won't say it perfectly. I'm going to try to speak specifically to my white Christian community right now. Everyone is welcome to read my words, but my friends of color don't need to hear them. They've listened to so many feeble attempts like mine already. And my non-Christian friends don't carry the same burden of having publicly esteemed the act of confession.
I am racist. The words feel like an assault. But these are safe words - important words. Because the alternative statement, "I'm not racist," is the one that allows systemic racism to grow, unchecked.
Almost every racist remark I've heard spoken aloud was attached to the words, "I'm not racist." So when I catch myself beginning to think those words, I know I'm getting something wrong.
When I say "I am a sinner," it is a confession of something I hate and need help with. When I say "I am racist," I say it in the same way. But it is so much harder to say. Everything in me wants to fight the words because I don't want to be racist, and I'm not trying to be racist, and I love people.
But if I let my fear and righteous indignation win, if I say, even to myself, "I'm not racist," I will stop listening. I will stop being teachable. I will stop searching myself for ways I can do better.
As Christians, we can talk about sin without discomfort because we know that we have all sinned. We say there is no difference in God's eyes between what society sees as a big sin or a small sin because sinning is missing the mark. If you're shooting at a target and you've missed the mark, it doesn't matter how much you've missed it by, or why you missed it, or if you didn't mean to miss it, or whether you used to miss the mark worse before, or if someone else misses the mark on purpose. No matter what, if you've missed the mark, it's not a bullseye.
We have all sinned, and we need help, so we talk about it. We confess. We acknowledge that our confession, without condition or explanation, is essential. I live in a racist system. I am racist. I need help. I have to talk about it. I need to stop saying, even in my own heart, "I'm not racist," because when I say that, I'm really saying, "This doesn't apply to me." The more comfortable I get in confessing my racial bias, the more I'll listen. As I speak the words, they will prompt me to change. As I teach myself to confess, I will search for salvation, but I can't receive the grace I need to be transformed if I don't start with a confession.
I am racist. I am sorry. I want to learn more. I am willing to make mistakes and be called out for them, so I can keep learning. I encourage you to learn to say it too, even if it's only in your own heart. And maybe its best said there, not burdening the people of color you love with one more apology, one more request for absolution and permission. For the ways this post has done that very thing, I apologize.
Has this been said more eloquently before? Undoubtedly. Is there more to say? So much more. Am I qualified to say it all right now? Probably not. And as I keep confessing my racism, without caveats, I will expose my ignorance, learn more, and become more qualified to speak to my community and learn better how to love the communities that I'm not as qualified to speak to.
Amy Noel Green is a Ted Speaker, author, and video game designer. She received international press attention for her work on the video game "That Dragon, Cancer." The video game tells the story of her son Joel who died from cancer at the age of five.
She is the author of the upcoming book, "Dear God, How Could You?" (When Joel died of cancer after years of miracles, Amy questioned God. She shouted her betrayed, angry questions at the God she no longer understood. She buried many miracles with Joel. She buried her relationship with God too, but God’s love for her refused to stay in the grave.) Subscribe for updates on the bottom of her about page, to be notified when her book is published.