Are you a racist? Think deep, deep down into your heart. I think I might be. I know God’s truth and have the right beliefs (orthodoxy). I strive to live in his ways and pursue right practice (orthopraxy). But my heart is broken and I lack the right affections (orthopathy). When I search my own broken heart, I find an ugliness that is not aligned with my beliefs or actions. I find that I have embraced the lie that I am better than Indigenous Peoples and Black Canadians. K. A. Ellis defines racism as elevating one’s people group to a God-like status over other peoples. I think this is what I have done. My heart has internalized the message that English-colonialism – with all its preferences and worldview – is the standard: my security and my saviour. White is right. My mind and will urge this not to be true, but my heart is frozen in fear mixed with worship and unable to break free.
This confession may strike you as strange, because if you met me, you wouldn’t think of me as white. I am brown. I got dreadlocks. Yet I still worship at the altar of whiteness.
My heart started to develop affections for this god as a child. I grew up on an acreage in rural Alberta. Our culturally diverse family was a bit different and our best friends were a Hungarian family and the Hutterites. By the time I was in Kindergarten, I was able to speak almost five languages: Serbo-Croatian, Tagalog and a couple dialects from Visayas. That all changed when I went to a rural school and the principal advised my mother to stop teaching me languages other than English. I still don’t know why – maybe teachers were too confused by my speech; maybe they wanted to help me fit in better; maybe the idea came as a whisper from a white heaven. The worlds I had gained from words were locked into a dark closet of my heart. No matter how hard I pulled on the door, it would not open.
Once, at a Filipino party at our home, I became so distressed that I could not understand anyone. I left and started bawling at the picnic table. My mother came up to me and asked what was wrong. I told her. She promised to teach me the language again, but our home was broken. It did not have the necessary roots for culture to grow. Resentment grew instead. I thought, if I cannot be Filipino, or whatever I was, then I will be like everyone else: white.
In search of belonging
It didn’t help that my daily life proclaimed messages that fed that resentment. In school I was taught that my parents were stupid. My parent’s limited vocabulary was peppered with common adjectives such as “nice.” I remember in Grade Two when our teacher wanted to elevate our vocabulary. She demanded that we practice the use of more sophisticated words, especially adjectives, and vehemently avoid simple words such as nice. I thought she was talking straight to me and I was ashamed.
In the media, I was taught that my parents were ugly. We had the farm-o-vision network back then, which consisted of three channels, sometimes. In all the soaps, crime shows and the news there were only people of European descent who talked with “no accent.” Even shows portraying different cultures held up white heroes such as David Carradine in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues (one of my favourites growing up).
I started to internalize these messages. I looked down on my parents for their lack of intelligence and strived to be smart. I tried to prevent the sun from tanning my skin and avoided looking into the mirror to remind myself of my ugliness. Whiteness became my saviour to escape the curse of my skin. I tried to conform myself to its power. I tried to say all the right things, look the right way. But in the end, it failed me. My striving for acceptance landed me on the road to alcoholism, consumerism and anxiety from the endless pressures of being a free, autonomous individual.
Doing the heart work
Thankfully God, in his grace, saved me through the church. My first faith community was a country church in a small hamlet. The first Pastor there was a woman. The second Pastor was from the Congo. I remember the owner of the local Chinese restaurant giving me piggy backs during Sunday School. The messages of the gospel embodied in this diverse family of faith preserved my love and worship of God revealed in Jesus Christ – the brown Son of God.
At church I learned orthodoxy and orthopraxy. I know that my identity is first and foremost in the person of Christ, not in being white. However, it has taken many years for my heart to grasp that truth. Growing in orthopathy is a much longer journey. My heart is deceitful. I know intellectually that whiteness is not divine, but my heart still clings to it.
One powerful tool I have found in changing the heart is friendship. Friendship urges the heart to move affection from the lifeless image of supreme whiteness to the person right in front you. Currently, I am a Pastor of a multi-cultural church. Every sacred moment with friends of different backgrounds, especially our African and Indigenous brothers and sisters, shines healing light into my broken heart.
I am thankful for God’s Spirit who guides me to these moments. While I may be a recovering racist, I am strengthened by the Father’s love for all nations.
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