8 principles of race relations,
part 1 (a book review of Breaking Down Walls)

Rich, cross-cultural friendships are possible when certain principles are followed.

Breaking Down Walls

I’m pretty sure Breaking Down Walls is the most helpful book I’ve read so far about race relations, particularly between blacks and whites, though the tenets apply to all relationships and all cultures. I’m going to list and comment on the eight principles that authors Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein offer, but I hope you won’t use this blog as a substitute for actually reading the book. You can get a copy on Amazon.com for as little as a penny, so there’s really no excuse not to buy copies for yourself and all your friends!

Same book, different covers. Breaking Down Walls, by Raleigh Washington and Glen Kehrein, was written soon after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. Its principles still apply today.

1. Commitment to Relationship

This principle is really a merger of two critical concepts: commitment and relationship. Relationship indicates a realization that meaningful cross-cultural connections require an ongoing investment of time, and you won’t stick with it unless you are truly committed. Only in the context of committed relationships can true reconciliation happen.

Application: What can you do to put yourself in a situation that could lead to an opportunity to begin a cross-cultural friendship? Can you make a commitment to get to know someone specific at school, church, or work?

2. Intentionality

At my church, we call this being “intentionally inclusive,” and it’s one of our core values. There are several other churches in our area who have expressed an interest in being multi-cultural, but “interest” isn’t enough. Unless you make it a priority to seek out relationships with people who are different from you, they don’t happen. Or they don’t grow. Here’s a section that I marked in my copy of the book:

Intentionality acknowledges that race is an issue. John Perkins, the founder of numerous ministries committed to racial reconciliation and justice, says, “We are all damaged by the evil of racism which Satan uses to separate us.” The damage to blacks has resulted in feelings of inferiority; the damage to whites has promoted feelings of superiority. Intentionality says, “I recognize this damage. I recognize the hurt you have received. I not only don’t want to cause more hurt, but I want to make the extra effort to help heal the wounds.”

This cuts both ways. The hurt in the black community is historic, systemic, and crippling, but practically every white person who has tried to relate cross-culturally can identify individual hurts of being accused, rebuffed, or misunderstood by things black people have done or said.

If we’re not intentional about dealing with these hurts, if we say that all we have to do is act in Christian love and the problems will go away, we are engaging in denial, a mere scab covering a deep wound.…

Application: What small, intentional step can you start with? Eating in an ethnic restaurant you haven’t tried before? Learning a phrase in a different language? Going to a different barber shop or nail salon? Attending the Race video/discussion series at Living Springs?

3. Sincerity

If we’re not honest about our feelings, our disagreements, our preferences, we will never really get to know each other, and we will never overcome the tensions that mark many of our interactions. Washington and Kehrein refer to the law of “WWB/BBW” — “Whites know how to talk to whites about blacks, and blacks know how to talk to blacks about whites.” Until we are as honest across ethnic lines as we are among “our own kind,” we can’t achieve reconciliation.

Application: When you are with people who look like you, and they make disparaging remarks about others, what can you say to indicate your new commitment to reconciliation?

4. Sensitivity

A lot of hurt is caused by people who just don’t think before they speak. The difficulty is, we usually don’t know we’re being hurtful until we’ve actually hurt someone. Sensitivity starts with a humble awareness that not everyone is like you, that there are other ways of looking at the world that are just as valid as yours.

Application: Is there anyone you need to apologize to, for an assumption you’ve made based on skin color or accent?

To be continued…

These are the first four principles outlined in Breaking Down Walls. I’ll comment on the next four—Interdependence, Sacrifice, Empowerment, and Call—in next week’s blog.

In the meantime, which of the above four principles is most challenging for you? Are there any particular Bible verses you can think of that particularly apply to one principle or another?


4 thoughts on “8 principles of race relations, </br>part 1 (a book review of <em>Breaking Down Walls</em>)”

  1. I think sensitivity is crucial to healing relationships that have been hurt. Being aware of the power of words is something everyone should understand. Personally I tend to err on the side of saying nothing rather than risking hurt feelings, which is not always conducive to healing either.

    • That’s a good observation, Karin. It can be difficult to determine—perhaps especially in cross-cultural relationships—when to speak out and when to be silent. I suppose that’s where Principle 1, Commitment, comes into play. If people are committed to the relationship, they will look past unintended hurts and offer forgiveness instead of withdrawal. Keep up the good work!

  2. Intentionality is the most difficult for me. One of the reasons I started my business was an attempt to get out of the comforting circle that I had belonged to since birth. It has been a rewarding experience to meet people from various ethnic backgrounds who share many of the same values that I possess. These new friendships have also helped me evaluate some other ideas of mine. But “race is an issue” as Perkins said, and an evil that I need to root out of my own life. All relationships (black/white, employer/employee, husband/wife, parent/child, friend/friend) need Christ’s redemption and grace to stay committed, intentional, sincere, and sensitive. I love the idea of being “intentionally inclusive,”–what a great mindset for church!

    Your Lines of Life give me lots to think about, Melanie. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Thanks for joining the conversation, Ann! You’re right when you say that all relationships need redemption and grace. Race is certainly not the only thing that threatens to divide us!

    In fact, I’m not even sure that race is the most difficult difference to overcome; it’s just one we don’t have much experience with. By “we,” I mean “white people.” Because we’re in the majority culture, we tend to be in fewer situations that require us to practice getting along with other races and seeing things from their perspective.

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