Be Safe: Two Words Exposing Privilege

Over the years, I’ve played a lot of basketball, in a lot of different contexts, and with a lot of different people. Whether it’s been at a park in town with guys from church, an open gym while on a trip for work, or a league in a city nearby. If there’s a hoop I’ll try to find a way to be one of the people putting the ball in it.

If you’re a “hooper” and you’ve played in a multicultural context, you’ve probably heard these two words from your black friends (or any friends of color) when you’re leaving: “be safe.” Honestly, for the longest time (far longer than I’d like to admit) I thought this was such an odd thing to say. In my view, something normal to say would be, “see you later” or something to that end. I used to simply chalk it up to cultural differences–and there’s certainly something there, but the reason there are cultural differences in this farewell saying is saddening.

I’ve been heart-broken recently to realize that the reason white guys say, “later” and black guys say, “be safe” is exactly because of what the sayings imply.

You see, as a white guy, I’ve grown up in a world where my expectation is that I will see my friends again. I expect that there won’t be anything keeping me from coming back to the gym to hoop again in a few days. However, the reality is this expectation is just my privilege showing.

My friends of color, having grown up in the same world, playing basketball in the same cities, at the same parks, and with the same people, don’t leave the court with the same underlying expectation that I’ve enjoyed my whole life. Lamentably, my friends made in God’s very image leave with an expectation of not knowing if they’ll be back again.

They don’t know if they’ll get pulled over and do everything right, but things go terribly wrong.

They don’t know if they’ll just be victims of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

They don’t know if they’ll simply “fit a description.”

They don’t know…

In a very real way, there’s great biblical wisdom in the implication of this saying. James says,

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-17)

James reminds all of us that we should certainly see ourselves rightly in relation to our sovereign creator. However, as much wisdom is found in the words “be safe” from my friends of color, it’s the reason that they utter these words that should cause us to weep.

How have we let ourselves create a culture where anyone should expect trouble and hardship based solely on the pigment of their skin? How have we allowed a society to grow where young boys are raised to think that this day could be their last if they don’t watch out for who might take their life?

Weep over these things.

Now, how can we, the Church, in the power of God’s Spirit and undergirded by His grace and truth, be part of the solution? How can we further enter into the work God is doing now to spread his Kingdom, and accomplish His will here on earth as it is in heaven? How can we represent our Heavenly Father, who is full of justice and mercy, patience and faithfulness?

With National Sanctity of Human Life Day coming up, let’s turn our grief into action. Jesus, who was the most privileged, emptied himself for us who rightfully deserved nothing, so that we could have the privilege he deserved. In light of His grace, how much more should we all be emptying ourselves to give others what has been freely given to us?