We’ve all seen it and some of us have even been a victim to it. Something is posted on social media and then a battle ensues between people in the comments below the post. As people give their “expert” opinions, respect for others is vastly left out. The result – a deepening wound and enlarging gap of what you feel you can and cannot say in any public conversation. This of course has seen a large spike in the recent resurgence of unrest in our country after the murder of George Floyd.
In the past few months, social media giant Facebook has seen the repercussions of hate speech online in the form of lost advertising revenue. According to CNN, some of the world’s most well-known brands (The North Face, Pfizer, Starbucks and Levi Strauss, etc.) have paused their marketing on Facebook. These companies have led a joint effort addressing the social network’s handling of hate speech and misinformation. Facebook Corporate Communications Manager, Tom Channick, confirmed the information stating, “We take these matters very seriously and respect the feedback from our partners. We’re making real progress keeping hate speech off our platform.”
What happens when you cannot have a meaningful discussion for fear of hateful retaliation? Eventually we end up holding everything inside. When it comes to addressing racism in America, not enough is said, so unfortunately not enough is done. Right now in our country, there is a strong “us versus them” mentality. You’re told to pick a side and defend that side at all costs. Regardless of the choice of words, tone or demeanor you use in standing your ground, the result is viewed as hate speech, demeaning language, and disregard for others. This only serves to deepen and widen the gap that divides us. At what point do we stop digging and start building a bridge to the other side? One way to build bridges is to engage in meaningful discussions with people of different ethnicities, viewpoints, and political stances. This enables us to honorably communicate with one another and learn from them.
The sudden resignation of Opinion Editor James Bennet of The New York Times sparked additional conversation after the Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger stated, “Last week, we saw a significant breakdown in our editing processes, not the first we’ve experienced in recent years.” This came at the release of a much criticized Op-Ed by a United States senator calling for a military response to civic unrest in American cities.
Instead of filling the need for more meaningful, constructive conversations, the response was a military response. Fear seems to be the common denominator in the unsettling actions of differing views around the country. Instead of getting to know someone – not like you – we tend to put up our defenses and hold our ground. This has transcended generations and it’s time we lay down the knives of harsh words and pick up the truth that we are all created in God’s image. Each hue of brown comes together to paint a picture of a vastly diverse country.
Each time you have a conversation with someone who doesn’t “look like you,” you’re having a race conversation in your head. You view them through the pre-conceived notions of who you believe that person is, however most of the time you don’t truly know. You have built a lens – social narrative – of who that person is before you even got to know them. The key is to honor that person by letting them self-disclose who they are. You will often find that you were wrong in your assumptions, and that you both stand on more common ground than you originally thought. In doing so, you can begin to have an honest conversation with someone that may have a different perspective and experience than you.
I tell a story in my book about two guys who became friends at Starbucks. Jeremy, a white guy from Iowa, went into Starbucks each morning to get a cup of coffee before work. He was served by Charles, a black guy from Oklahoma, who Jeremy thought was quiet and seemed unresponsive to having a conversation. Their interactions were normally short and brief until one day Jeremy came in with his football coaching shirt on, and immediately a conversation ignited. The beginnings of good friendship took letting go of assumptions and realizing they had much more in common than they both had originally thought.
If you take these opportunities to enlighten yourself, not only will you grow, but they will feel secure in their ability to have an honest conversation without fear of hateful repercussions that are so prevalent in society today. At the root of it all, it is a heart issue. It’s much simpler than it seems. Try engaging with someone that you may not normally converse with and ask one of these questions:
- Where did you grow up?
- What’s your favorite activities?
- Do you know a good restaurant in town?
- Have you seen any good movies lately?
Matthew 12:34-35 – “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.”
To change the destructive narrative of conversations today, we must have a heart change. This is only done by surrendering our thoughts, words and lives to Christ.
I pray as we move forward as a country, we can do so in loving conversation that unifies, not divides. May we come together in this moment to rise from the ashes of hatred and division and learn to speak with love and kindness to come out of this year stronger than before.
Miles McPherson is the Senior Pastor of the Rock Church in San Diego. He is also a motivational speaker and author. McPherson's latest book “The Third Option” speaks out about the pervasive racial divisions in today’s culture and argues that we must learn to see people not by the color of their skin, but as God sees them—humans created in the image of God.