Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism
by Drew Hart
–Review by Vern Hyndman
In Trouble I’ve Seen Drew Hart opens his heart.
Dr. Drew Hart, Ph.D. is an African American college professor at Messiah College, blogger, activist, pastor, and guest lecturer. Drew’s measured prose and carefully crafted ideas are woven into startlingly vulnerable threads of personal story.
Dr. Hart’s observations invite the reader into a larger, more inclusive frame of reference.
Dr. Hart’s ten-year experience as a pastor in the anabaptist tradition shines through the book. Hart coined a word anablacktivism… describing a culture-active, African American Anabaptism that both counters racism yet offers proactive peace.
Folks with undiscovered white fragility might make some surprising discoveries in Trouble, and Hart drives straight up the fairway. Under the direct truth-telling is a soft, inviting heart. In a recent conversation, Dr. Hart related that he has his mostly white students attend one of Harrisburg’s predominately black churches and report back their experience. Leaving with significant trepidation, the students return with stories of love expressed to them in welcoming hugs and sincere joyous smiles. There may be no more a welcoming church in America than the African American churches these students visit. As Brené Brown relates in Braving the Wilderness, “People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.”
Some quotes to pique your interest.
Churches operating out of dominant cultural intuitions, perceptions, assumptions, and experiences define the problem one way, while most black people and other oppressed groups bear witness to an alternative and diverging reality. This epistemological divide concerning racism—that is, the different ways of knowing and understanding life—is an even greater gap within the church than it is among the rest of society. (p. 20).
This passage relating a conversation with a well-intentioned white colleague woke me up.
I have read white literature and poetry. I have learned about white musicians and artists. I have had mostly white teachers and professors through every stage of my educational process. I have read lots of white authors and have heard white intellectuals give lectures on a variety of topics. I have been inundated by white-dominated and controlled television and media. I have lived in a mostly white suburban community, and I have lived on a predominately white Christian campus. The truth of the matter is that I wouldn’t have been on track to a PhD without becoming intimately familiar with the various ways that white people think. My so-called success means that I have had to know what it takes to meet white standards, whether they are formal or informal.
After explaining why I already knew what was on his side of the cup, I continued on. I noted that in contrast to me, he most likely could go through his entire life without needing to know black literature, black intellectual thought, black wisdom, black art and music, or black history. That is, he could choose to never engage with or be changed by the range and beauty of the black community. Nor would he be penalized for it. That option of white exclusivity would not affect his livelihood or means of providing for his family. No one would question his qualifications if he didn’t know how to navigate black communities and cultures or understand the daily realities of most black people in America. Immersion in and understanding of the black community have never been routinely expected or necessary for employees, politicians, scholars, doctors, teachers, or pastors. This is even more so the case for most white Christian communities, which willfully ignore the diverse gifts of the black church tradition. Black faith and tradition are rarely looked to as worthy sources for learning about how to practice spiritual disciplines, embody daily discipleship, and share in Christian community. (pp. 25-26).
And a final passage dealing with the metaphor of “The race card.”
There is a long history, going all the way back to slavery, of white Americans not trusting black perspectives as truthful. Therefore white verification is required to confirm every black thought and testimony, because on their own they hold no weight in court or public opinion. White perception is assumed to be more accurate and objective than black perception.2 Because she or he has categorized an event as racial in nature, the African American speaker must be called out and dismissed.
What I would like to suggest is this: white folks are the only ones considering a single card. White people typically are obsessed with interpreting the meaning of individual cards, or incidents. They look at the isolated card and then judge it by their whims and assumptions, which (no surprise) rarely ever find white people to be racist. For four hundred years, in any given era, the white dominant group has always created a definition for their generation that absolved them from charges of wrongdoing and racism while reaffirming their innocence amid ongoing white domination and control over society and further racial oppression. The white dominant standard of racial discernment rarely finds white racism, while simultaneously deciding that the specific card played was falsely made into a “race card.” An individual moment, event, or action is judged by looking for KKK rhetoric, or maybe the N-word, or some cross burning in the yard. If such overt hate crimes prominent in the early and mid-twentieth century are not currently present or visible, then the racial component of the complaint is quickly dismissed.
Unlike the dominant culture’s tunnel vision that focuses on one card, the black community is usually considering the entire deck—that is, ongoing history and current widespread social patterns. We have laid out all the cards in front of us on the table. Rather than zooming in on one card, we have zoomed out to look at all the cards laid out together. All of a sudden, just like in any deck, you begin to observe patterns: four aces, four kings, four queens, and four jacks. Our definition of racism is not based on a definition that dominant society both has created and continues to wield to deny any wrongdoing. No, we refuse to “play their game,” even if we work with their cards. Instead, it is only after looking at the reoccurring patterns, studying the whole pack, and then gathering the entire deck and putting it back in order that we claim to make sense of any individual card. We aren’t playing the race card; we are analyzing the racialized deck. (pp. 46-47).
Trouble I’ve Seen is a helpful conversation starter. I also personally recommend Dr. Drew Hart as a guest to engage local churches and groups. His ability to reframe the conversation with grace and skill produces ripples of self-evaluation and the potential to change.
1. Hart, Drew. Trouble I’ve Seen Herald Press. Kindle Edition.