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A Pastor’s Message To Fellow ‘Mzungus’

Just about every year I have the privilege of spending some time in Uganda, East Africa. Over there I am identified as a “Mzungu.” That is Swahili for “white person.” – These comments are intended to be words of encouragement from one Mzungu to other Mzungus (but everyone is welcome to listen in).

On the 11th of August 1965, in a section of Los Angeles called “Watts,” Marquette Frye, and African American, was pulled over for reckless driving. What ensued was six days of rioting. The “Watts Riots.”

It wasn’t over. The summer of 1967 became known as the “Long Hot Summer” as race riots broke out in cities across our nation. The bloodiest of them all was in Detroit; the “12th Street Riot,” as it was called, was a confrontation between black residents and the Detroit police. It’s still not over, but:

During the fall of 1967, when I was a freshman at the University of Nebraska, we celebrated a “Black Awareness” week on campus. I still recall vividly being present in the very large commons room of our student union. The room was packed with an audience that reflected the population of Nebraska and the campus – about 97% white. The speaker on that occasion was a compassionate and articulate young black man who tried to help us understand a little what it was like to be black in America. He told lots of true stories. And he challenged us to educate ourselves by reading books about the black experience written by black authors.

Wow! That was great advice! – Through the prophet Hosea, God says, “My people are destroyed from a lack of Knowledge,” and “A people without understanding will come to ruin!” (Hosea 4:6 & 14 NIV). The immediate context of that is not racism; but it sure applies.

I began from that fall of 1967 to read a couple books each year as recommended and I know it has helped me greatly. – Here’s the deal: Mzungus have the privilege of not knowing and not understanding what it is like to be black in America. We live isolated from that experience simply because we are never the target of racism aimed at blacks.

Rioting, destroying property, looting and committing acts of violence against people are not the answer to racism. These acts will not fix racism. However, while not being right; these kinds of acts are understandable to those who possess understanding. What I am hearing these recent days is a lot of judgmentalism based on ignorance and not understanding. My encouragement to all of my fellow Mzungus is to make it a habit to educate yourself regarding the experience of being black in America as a life-long habit. And don’t stop there; build and maintain trusting friendships with African Americans, be humble and listen to their stories about being black in America. You see, the face of racism is not only those heinous acts that make it into the news. What keeps the cauldron of frustration boiling are those everyday acts and comments that go unreported.

Understanding should compel us to speak out. It should compel us to search our own hearts. It should drive us to our knees in repentance.

And those last words are the segue to this next observation: As vital as it is for Mzungus to constantly seek understanding; that alone will not ever bring racism to an end. Laws and legislation will never pull out the root of racism either. Racism is a spiritual problem. And it takes spiritual weapons to eliminate spiritual problems. Prayer is our primary weapon in such a battle. Prayers of repentance are essential. Prayers for enlightenment are essential. And forgiveness undoes the work of any devil.

We are 157 years removed from the Emancipation Proclamation and still the war goes on with racism. But his war can come to an end. Racism can be defeated. And I am confident that is going to happen. Let’s be the generation that wins this battle. Ultimately – while being diligent to do all that can be done humanly – the battle will be won on our knees.

The Rev. Dr. Roy L. Miller is a Jamestown resident.

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