Untold Stories

As a church, we’re working through a series about diversity (thanks King’s Church London for your ‘Invited’ content!). I was in a small group discussion where someone shared that they felt uncomfortable starting conversations about race - as a white, middle-class Brit, they were very wary of causing offence to anyone from a different heritage. But (as they astutely noted), this lack of knowledge about people’s differences often leads to them acting like we’re all the same. It leads to them expecting everyone else to fit into the ‘white Brit’ mould and share the same experience. And that causes problems of its own.


I found this comment very interesting. I do share that wariness of asking questions that may betray ignorance, cause offence or even probe a painful area. But I’m also aware of the value of recognising my different experience, history, and heritage - whether that’s my white British half or my black Jamaican half - and so the value in recognising the experiences and heritages of others.


I think it’s important to acknowledge - and then to celebrate - our differences. We are not all the same. We aren’t meant to be! And those different stories and cultures can be such a joy to explore. I don’t mind when people ask me questions about my racial identity or my background - it’s an effort to understand me and where I’ve come from. It makes me feel seen, and loved. And I love asking those questions in response, and getting to know someone else’s story; understanding the ways we’re alike and the ways we are different.


This is one of the underlying messages of black history month - don’t be afraid to ask people about their history. And that holds true whatever the colour of the person in front of you.


Now, obviously we do need to do this with care. There is risk, and potential for offence, any time we attempt to move towards one another in relationship. But candid honesty goes a long way. Someone coming to me and beginning with ‘I don’t want to say the wrong thing - and you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to - but I have this question…’ gives me so much freedom to choose how to respond. I can share as much or as little as I want, skirting around things that are more personal or painful than I’d like to share. Or, perhaps I can take the opportunity to be honest and vulnerable in return, to let you get to know me better, and to ask you questions that help me get to know you too.


Black history month is a celebration of stories that are not normally told. I think that’s powerful, and beautiful, and so like the way Jesus gives a voice to the voiceless and has endless attention for the overlooked. Let’s seek to emulate our rabbi in this, and do the same. Whose history don’t you know? Whose story could you ask for?