After the presentation, I tapped the speaker on the shoulder as he sat down in his seat. The presentation was on cultural trends. During his talk he mentioned how he was hindered by his “whiteness.” He grew up in a middle class, lily-white suburb and knew very little of the world outside that lens. I offered to spend some time with him during a break.
“Are you aware that all the faces on your slides are white?” was a simple question I asked as we sipped coffee together in the break area. How ironic on a presentation on cultural tends, where the biggest trend of all is our changing demographics! The reality was both his slides and presentation demonstrated a white person’s view of the world exclusively. He was quiet for a moment.
We went on to discuss his comments during the presentation about hip hop. The musical genre had captured his attention, so much so that he thought seriously about pursuing it as his next academic research interest. He suspected that hip hop has the same (if not more) impact on culture as postmodernism.
Patiently I walked him through the ways in which hip hop, starting as an African American cultural expression, developed into a global force. I could tell he was enjoying the talk immensely, as he took notes at a frantic pace on his PDA. At one point, he stopped and sighed. “I can’t believe how blind I was to all this,” he stated. He then said something very profound. “Thank you,” he said, “for the gift of truth.”
The encounter that I describe is one I hope takes place a hundred times over. It is a prime example of ethnic mentoring. Ethnic mentoring is when a person of color takes the knowledge of his or her life experience and enlightens those who are blind to it. It offers a powerful cure to the racial blindness that tends to go together with our Christian faith, removing the barriers of leading with reconciliation in mind.
People of color have a unique role within the broader world of evangelicalism. If we truly are to fulfill the Great Commission we have to be willing to ethnically mentor our white colleagues. And our white colleagues have to be willing to be tutored in areas that they are blind in. Otherwise, Christianity will suffer in an increasingly multiethnic mission field.