It was about a week after the death of George Floyd had made its rounds on social media. My friend began telling me about his and his wife's separate experiences as a black man and a black woman getting pulled over without cause.
His story included an officer saying "That's a nice car you're driving."
Her story included her face being forced into the ground because she asked repeatedly what she had been pulled over for.
Both of them were released, thankfully.
After he told me these stories, I thought, "Why didn't he ever tell me about that?"
The answer was simple. I'd never asked.
I want to be completely transparent with you. I'm white. Just wanted to clarify in case you missed the stephankilgore.com homepage, or you assumed that elegant looking male on the homepage was some kind of famous model in a stock photo. No, it was just me.
For me, it can be incredibly uncomfortable to talk about color, race, ethnicity, and racism. I was raised around people who taught me that America was a Melting Pot. Like every skin color was thrown into some amalgamated stew and we were all the same. Diversity was something I grew up around. However, it meant that I saw different colors of skin, not understood what they meant.
Now, in an age where information is being blasted onto every device I own by every audience out there with its own flavor and agenda, it's easy to feel threatened when using the mic God gave you to have a conversation about color. There's a new societal pressure to pick a side on a subject, or be stoned. You don't have time to ask questions. Injustice is happening now. Just choose the side that stands against injustice. Obviously.
As a pastor and a Christian in 2020 I was being told I had to choose which lives mattered based on a specific color, a political ideology, or what the loudest voice in the room was screaming. If I claimed one color lives mattered, it meant I hated the other color lives. If I claimed the other color, then I was either a progressive or conservative, racist or coward, socialist or Christian - yes, those were the EXACT choices placed before me according to those who made their voices heard (even when I didn't ask for it).
That's when I decided something. I answer to Jesus. And, so, I would make decisions based on my faith in Jesus and the Bible. That's when I was reminded of this Scripture:
1 Corinthians 12:26 (NIV)
If one part [of the Body of Christ] suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
I have black families whom I love who are grieving, angry, confused, and praying for solutions.
I have police officers of different ethnicities whom I love who are grieving, angry, confused, and praying for solutions.
It was in 2020 I decided I would start asking questions about what was going on with all my friends whose skin color was blessed with a bit more shade than mine. It was uncomfortable. It was painful. It was eye-opening. It was freeing. It drew me closer to Jesus. But, I did it because suffering was happening.
To have healthy conversations about race, color, experience, and life I did 4 things. These four things are not the final say. There are many more simple ideas that will accomplish the same result. But, these worked for me. And, I hope they work for you.
Ask questions to people you trust, not people on social media platforms.
There are some great voices on social media who are speaking out against racial injustice, fighting for reform, and do so with grace while still carrying integrity as they mourn with those who mourn.
There are some incredibly educational accounts on social media where you can find open, honest, and gracious conversations about color.
There are others who hate you unless you are mimicking them word for word, and will do their best to burn you to the ground if you disagree with them.
I didn't get on social media to talk about color. I asked questions to people I trusted. People who are family. People who were not against me. People who would allow me to share their burden instead of blame me for it. People who knew we were a part of the same Body. People who would have a conversation with me, even through anger and tears.
Ask questions to empathize, not preach.
I've been pulled over for speeding more times than I will ever admit to my children when they start driving. As a teenager, I was pulled over by black female, white male, white female, and black male police officers (More than once for each of these by the way...). I never once second guessed their motives. I never once thought I would be arrested. I never once questioned their choice to pull me over. I've felt a little dread when I see those flashing lights in my rearview mirror, but only because I knew I was about to get slapped with another fine and have to do defensive driving for the umpteenth time.
As an adult when I heard my friend say, I don't know what kind of officer I'll get when I get pulled over I felt that.
As and adult when I heard my friend say, My boyfriend is a big, black man who works the overnight shift in a bad part of town. Of course I'm fighting fear I felt that.
As an adult when I heard my friend say, I'm married to a police officer and I have an interracial family I felt that.
As an adult when I locked eyes with the newest and cutest little black baby born into our church and I heard the Holy Spirit say, Create a church environment where he is valued I felt that.
And each time I felt that, I asked more questions. Not to preach my own feelings or thoughts or experiences, but because for the first time in my life I was actually feeling something I'd never experienced before. It was what each of these friends were feeling. And, it would have been so much easier to just say, "I'll pray for you." But I've learned that to pray a powerful and effective James 5:16 kind of prayer, I need to be exposed to what I'm praying about instead of just know what I'm praying about.
Ask questions to learn, not take sides.
When you ask questions to people you love and trust with the goal of empathy and unity, more times than not, those people are not trying to get you to pick a side. Because for them, there is no side.
My close friends who are hurting right now understand the value of a police officer who is trained well, and is a person of integrity. They value the police officers in our city who truly do protect and serve.
They also value the lives of their black family members - sons and daughters, cousins and parents, aunts and uncles.
The conversations with these friends has never led to them saying Stephan, pick a side or never speak to me again! It has led to me learning more about their lives, their future dreams and ambitions, their fears, their prayers, and ultimately their faith in Jesus.
I've never walked away from a conversation about color and was magically a Republican or Democrat, racist or non-racist, marxist or capitalist, or anything in-between. Every conversation I have had allowed me to learn more, trust more, and grow more.
Ask questions to different shades of color, not just the one you feel most comfortable with.
I know. You thought I was writing from the perspective of a white person to all the white people out there. That would be incorrect. I'm writing to you too. Unlike me, you were blessed with pigmentation. Yes, this advice is for you too.
One of the first things I did after my black friend told me about his and his wife's experiences, is I asked my brown, dark brown, tan, and every other color I missed, about their experiences as well. And, I encourage you to do the same.
Talk to your Hispanic, Filipino, Indian, Chinese, Arab, Puerto Rican, Brazilian and any other race of friends you have. Ask them about their experiences with color, racism, stereotyping, fear, and faith. Ask to learn. Ask to empathize. Ask to share the burden. Ask to rejoice.
Ask your white friends too. Because they might not have had the same internal experience as you did while reading about or watching the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and the countless others of just the last year.
This doesn't mean they didn't feel intense pain. But, they might not have experienced your suffering.
I hope you caught something as you read this post. It wasn't meant to be hidden, but it might have been missed if you weren't paying attention. Maybe you came here to read this post with an agenda. Maybe you came here to read this post to learn. Maybe you lost yourself mindlessly scrolling on your phone again. But, there's something I want you to walk away with.
The title is How to Talk About Color, and each suggestion begins with Ask Questions.
Here's one last simple idea to help you succeed as you navigate this conversation:
Ask questions more than you talk.