How to Tame a Crocodile. Race Relations in America.

In my previous blogs, America Gone wild, and Eating the ElephantI addressed the need for people to live according to the Spirit of God and not their own flesh. The events of the last few months, things done as well as stated, although not the worst America has experienced, certainly seem to be moving us towards something cataclysmic. It’s like my childhood game, Don’t Spill the Beans. With each person taking turns, no one knew which bean would be the one to tip the entire pot. What will finally turn the melting pot of America completely upside down? I think it will be the bean of ignorance and so, I want to reiterate and elaborate on some of the things I've stated before.

Several years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Burkina Faso, Africa. I remember talking to my wife while I was there. Standing on the balcony of our base, the red African dust covering everything, I told her that I loved it so much, the people were so beautiful, that if I didn’t love her more, I’d stay in Burkina! One of the less culturally irrelevant highlights of the trip was our visit to a “zoo”, a crocodile zoo, where we could interact personally with the relic-looking beasts. No fences, just open fields and water. What I wasn’t expecting was the up close and personal meet and greet.

We were accompanied by one of the men who kept the crocodiles. With a stick much shorter than I would suggest, he maneuvered the largest croc, into position just on the water’s edge…by smacking it on the snout. It was an awesome animal, solid and forbidding. Tough, scaly plates formed an extremely protective armor while a menacing grin repulsed us rather than attracted. It was fascinating! One-by-one, beckoned by the tamer, we stood next to, straddled and then finally sat on the crocodile.

I'm far more nervous than I appear in this photo. Some of the group refused to touch the crocodile. What you don't see, just out of frame, is the man with the stick. He was my hero!

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” Declaration of Independence

For many, the race discussion is a lot like an ominous crocodile, getting too close flirts with danger so we avoid it completely. This is not acceptable given that the issue centers on people. The Bible clearly states that all men and women are created in the image of God - they all deserve a level of respect that demands engagement. And although not fleshed out, the Declaration of Independence states, “all men are created equal”. If good people avoid the issue, it will be hijacked by those with personal agendas, insensitive approaches and tainted slants. So, if you find yourself handcuffed by the complexity of the discussion, but deeply desire to do something about it - if you want to sit on the crocodile without getting chomped on, here are my three suggestions.*

Follow the lead of those who’ve gone before you.

If it were not for the skill set of our guide, we’d probably all be digested; chewed up and slipped down the gullet. Ignorance is not bliss! We must find people who have navigated the race relations water successfully, people who are trustworthy, have integrity and compassion. Know that this issue can and should be addressed properly. There are plenty of people who approach this in an unhealthy manner. I started to learn from that camp a few years ago, but when I saw that they had teeth just as gnarly as a croc’s, I carefully slipped away. Actually, one person kicked me off his Twitter feed because I wasn’t using the correct language. No compassion or tolerance there, so this college professor kicked me to the curb. So much for higher education.

Be willing to get closer than you’re comfortable.

I’ve spent time talking with several of my brothers and sisters of color. Africans, an Indian, a Sri Lankan and several Puerto Ricans - all Americans. They expressed, to the person, their fear and their negative experiences as a person of color within our culture. On the other side of the coin I have several very good and close friends in law enforcement who face massive stress every day because of their job. I have the utmost respect for police. The good ones - which are the significant majority - deserve our respect. I will not turn my back on them for the few rotten apples in the cart. I will also not abdicate my activism for people of color simply because of a militant, foul minority.

There is a Godly way to approach people. That’s what I was seeking. But I had to get closer to the issue than I was ever comfortable with. It paid off and continues to help me teach and lead others in a more God-glorifying direction.

There needs to be the potential of a positive outcome.

What we learned from the croc tamer was that the beast was accustomed to this human foolery as long as he was rewarded with food at the end. Now, people are not animals. To approach anyone dangling a carrot is obnoxious. What I offer when I speak to my brothers and sisters of color is silence, listening and understanding. Each time we speak I begin by letting them know of my ignorance to their experiences, my desire to learn. I approach with a huge bundle of humility, not a stick!

Come away from yourselves! Ignore the news reports, stop reading the memes and lock your eyeballs onto another human being! Seek to understand rather than to be understood. Take time to get close enough to the issue to actually deal with it. Don’t leave it to someone else or the government, don’t listen to hearsay. Get up close and personal! But know this, the croc is real and some will bite. You have to approach with care, not just of yourself but primarily for the other person. They’re worth it!

"Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others."  Philippians 2:3-4

*This approach is useful for many other difficult situations. It has broad application. But know this, each situation is unique and requires special nuance and care. You’re not fixing a machine, you're loving a person.