Four years ago, Voices of Color: Christians United aired an episode “The Impact of Gender and Racial Inequality on Global Missions. The episode was an interview with four women of color missionaries who shared their experiences as ‘missionaries.’ As VOCCU continues to advocate for gender equality for women of color, it has been necessary to touch all the instruments of gender inequality formation for women of color, prime among them being racial inequality. Just like with gender inequality, the root of racial inequality emanates from the practices of the religious Christian community and these practices must be identified and uprooted if women of all races, ethnicities, class and sexual orientation are to stand equally side by side in what we believe to be God’s House, the church.
Today, I want to revisit the issue of global missions and particularly its impact on fostering racial and gender equality. One of the things women of color have required of white allies is that they commit to do the work of research and reading history themselves rather than indulge in the performative laziness of requiring women of color to provide every citation for them. I say that to say, this article is not about providing you with citations. You should do the research on your own. However, I will say that any US trained seminarian cannot claim to have not studied church history and is therefore armed with some of the information I will allude to in this article.
The first is that white people spread racism and perpetuated racial inequality through ‘missions.’ In the name of ‘god,’ they invaded African nations and the spaces of other people of color and while teaching the religion to natives, they also upended their systems of life, government, economy and culture and superimposed their own ideologies on these native systems. Religion was the excuse and the instrument by which white folks excluded Africans from equal human dignity and participation in Christianity. It is over a century since Europeans perpetrated their crimes against non-white nations in the name of Christianity. The African continent holds the largest number of Christians in the world; their churches are growing and filled with people while the churches of their white counterparts are shutting down but white folks are still going over to African nations in the name of spreading Christianity and doing good. Why?
Well, here are some reasons you will never hear in the report of why a white missionary returns over and over to the ‘black’ continent.
First of all, white missionaries will not tell you that they love going back to African countries because life is better for them over there than it is for them in their own Western countries. Are you shook? You won’t be when I explain this phenomena:
- The devaluation of currency of many African nations means that your $1 (one dollar) can accomplish more in African nations than it can in the USA. So white middle class people who travel to African nations suddenly become ‘rich’ people in those nations.
- African culture is one of hospitality. Whereas white folks in the U.S. will have to prove their sincerity to black folks in the U.S. to be accepted, African communities are very welcoming of strangers and they just accept them without putting them through any grinder. This is also why every white person with or without a theological education and experience finds a niche for themselves in African missions. Room is given to them to practice and teach what they know and get this…because white folks have always entered African communities as the ‘masters’ and ‘teachers,’ white folks are automatically given the respect of ‘experts.’
- The African culture is one of service. In the family and society structure, the younger serves the older and the poor serve the rich. This is a kind of symbiotic arrangement that eliminates the need for social services because the ones served have the responsibility of providing the needs of the ones serving. As such, white people with their new found wealth status achieve the role of those who are to be served and overnight become lords and masters in ways they could never be in their own Western world. Because of their wealth status, those in the community take on the task of being their servants and cook and clean and shop for them. White folks in Africa on mission trips live like lords and ladies.
Given these brief but major critical changes in the status of white people once they cross into the African continent, is it any wonder that African nations are an attractive field of ‘missions’ to white men and women? Given these circumstances, is it really the desire to do good that keeps them going back to African nations? I would categorically say no and this is why:
Let us assume that at the first trip, white folks went to do ‘good’ and do good only. After they have connected with and established the recipient community of their benevolence, why do they keep going back? Why not just help raise the funds for these communities and send to the locals to continue whatever project drew them over there?
Is there no worthy leadership among the natives to oversee their own projects? Must a white person come back over and over to ‘supervise’ the work? If so, is this not in itself proof of inequality? How are you expert over a situation that is not native to you?
By returning over and over to the land, white folks are not going to do God’s mission (we have established that Africans are already more Christianized than the West), so what are they going to do??? I have told you the answer. Now, let me propose some solutions:
a. Stop giving your money to white people (men and women) to ‘travel’ to African nations on ‘mission trips.’ Instead, identify with native projects and connect with their leaders and directly send money for those projects to them. The natives can provide you with updates about the projects.
b. Query why your white missionary needs to go to African nations but is uninvolved with black people in their Western lands. Demand to see their participation as partners and not saviors/owners in black communities in their native communities. Offer to directly support the communities they partner with in their native lands. The latter has several benefits, best of which are (i) you get to know and directly build relationships with those communities (this is essential for racial healing, which paves the way for racial reconciliation); (ii) your partnership comes alongside the goals and objectives of the black communities and thus you are able to engage and affirm their equal intelligence, talents and skills, things that colonialism and racism deprives non-white people of. Our intelligence and skills are always seen as secondary to those of white folks, even when we are the birthers of the projects.; (iii) you bridge the economic gap between white and non-white entrepreneurship and economic development. It’s no secret that white people raise funds overnight for their ‘mission projects’ while black people struggle to receive any funding for the projects in their neighborhoods. By bypassing this middle-white-saviorism approach and dealing directly with the communities, you economically empower the communities and help build trust of black people (many do not directly support black folks because they are suspicious and distrustful of black people).
c. If you love black people AND Africans, start befriending them in your neighborhoods and communities. There is an abundance of social and economic inequalities to be addressed on your doorstep. You don’t need to cross the oceans to see and work with black people if your intentions are for God’s mission, which is love. How can you love Africans whom you have no commonality with but turn a deaf ear and blind eyes to the cries of those of African descent on your doorstep.
Love of Africans should be reflected in standing alongside blacks in your Western communities, learning their culture, partnering with them, fighting alongside them in their causes.
I am deeply troubled by how white ‘God-loving’ people continue to refuse to listen and learn from the blacks in their own neighborhoods but go to African nations to assume the role of teachers and masters and not see how that is racism. Such white folks are uncomfortable learning from black people and in an attempt to say they are not racist, identify with the set of black people whom they can lead in the name of missions.
Mutual submission is the heart of Christ’s Gospel. What makes the Gospel of Christ spectacular is the scandalous submission of the Creator God to humans. That God chose to be limited by what limits humans rather than ride above it. That God chose to feel what humans feel: hunger, pain, anger, love, grief, etc., and not hide away from it. To be involved in humanity was to become humanity and to therefore experience all which limits humans. This also is the saving power of Christ. Therefore, as Christ taught us, anyone who follows Christ must learn to be like Christ – do it the Christ way. Don’t come to us in your superiority of knowledge. Instead, meet us where we are – in our disenfranchisement – and participate in it.
If we want to help women of color stand alongside white women, we must pay attention to how we fund ‘mission trips’ for white people while neglecting the very obvious causes of women of color in missions.
Voices of Color: Christians United provides multiple ways for connecting with Africans for the real mission of God: racial equality, equity, healing and reconciliation. I invite you to join one of our groups where you will find many opportunities to connect and partner directly with women of color in missions both in the US and in non-Western countries. Join our Voices of Color: Christian United (Group) and follow our page Voices of Color: Christian United and start to give your money for women of color equality!