My friend Thomas* is a well-educated professional. He is a recognized leader in his field. He is a published author. He has a lovely wife, who is also a well-educated professional, and two lovely children. He is a picture of the perfect American family and would be considered successful by any reasonable standard. He also happens to be African American.
When Thomas felt a call to ministry, God gave him a heart to help people from urban areas find ways to create a better life for themselves in self-sustainable ways. He has some very innovative ideas for how to fuse business and ministry models so that ministry in an urban setting can have all the resources needed to support a holistic approach. With his education and experience, Thomas could easily serve an affluent suburban congregation. But he has chosen to minister in an urban context, which means that many of those he serves have fewer financial resources, and many are from various minority groups common to urban areas.
He and I were talking a couple of months ago about how to find capital investors who could help him get his unique business/ministry model off the ground. In the midst of the conversation he said something that has reverberated in my mind over and over again. He said, “Sometimes affluent people see minorities as their charity cases” and went on to explain that many affluent people only want to fund things that make them “feel good about themselves instead of actually solving the problem.” For example, affluent people are happy to spend money buying several bags of groceries for the local food bank, but few would buy their weekly groceries from a small minority owned local market. One makes the donor feel good about themselves but only addresses the symptom. The other would help create a successful business man who would then be able to provide jobs in the community so fewer people needed the services of a food bank but it is not as emotionally exciting. Many affluent people are willing to volunteer at a soup kitchen every month, but far fewer are willing to be a mentor to a disadvantaged young person, helping he/she get through high school and into a good college so he/she secure a job and never have to depend a soap kitchen for a meal. Both volunteer efforts are worthwhile, but one perpetuates dependence and the other solves a problem.
When those of us with greater resources view minorities as our charity cases, we are unintentionally displaying generous racism. Though we may be proud of ourselves for our generosity, it is still a form of racism if the only thing we support are “feel good” projects. When we only want to donate or volunteer in ways that set us up as superior to those of other races or of other economic levels, it might make us feel good but it also keeps people from reaching their full potential. This generous racism is still racism, and should not be encouraged.
Does this mean we should stop buying groceries for food banks or volunteering at soup kitchens? No. But we should view those efforts as one part of a bigger picture of how we address the challenges of urban dwellers, a significant number of which happen to be from various minority groups. We must look for ways that actually solve problems and that must include viewing minorities as fully capable of succeeding in life, and not as just our charity cases.
And if you happen to be a venture capitalist that wants to get in on the something cool in the greater Hartford, CT, area, contact me and I will put you in touch with Thomas. You will be impressed!
*Name changed for privacy reasons
Dr. Terry W. Dorsett has been a pastor, church planter, denominational leader and author in New England for more than 20 years. He is a happy husband, proud father and adoring grandfather. He is a cancer survivor and believes that God works powerfully through times of suffering. He has written a book about the spirit of offense that prevails in our current society. You can find all of his books at: