As a Black man living in Oslo, Norway, Christian Kongolo has frequently dealt with being “different.” But it wasn’t until recently, he admitted, that he began to see the importance of addressing issues like racism in a way that brings broader and more lasting change. He talked with the Sentinel’s Jenny Sawyer about how he’s been thinking, praying, and talking with the people in his life about racism.
Christian, tell us about where you were on some of these race-related issues even six months ago.
As just one example, I’d heard people talk about wanting more representation of Black people in movies. I didn’t see the need for it, to be honest. Growing up as a Christian Scientist, I’ve always been more likely to focus on things other than people’s appearance or skin color, because I learned in Christian Science Sunday School that our identity—our spiritual identity as God, good, created it—goes beyond these physical characteristics. That’s not to say diversity doesn’t matter; it does. It just wasn’t something I thought about all that much.
But recently, as there’s been much more discussion about subtle forms of racism and how they lead to this lack of representation and even exclusion, I got it on a much deeper level that we can’t gloss over the ways in which certain people have been marginalized and stereotyped—and worse—because of their skin color.
Have you ever experienced that in your own life?
In my job search, I was talking to various groups within the organizations where I was applying and quickly became aware that everyone was white. Even in my current job, I’m one of just a handful of Black employees. And it’s so unusual to see Black people working in the financial industry here in Oslo, that a white man explicitly expressed his astonishment when he found out that I was working in finance.
We don’t address racism simply by throwing love at people.
I’ve also noticed that there are certain stereotypes about Black people that I’ve had to confront—such as Black people aren’t competent, or aren’t the best people to be in my particular industry.
That definitely brought home the importance of representation, because I can see how having more diversity helps break down stereotypes. We aren’t just cleaners, musicians, and athletes.
Now that you’ve seen the need to deal with this issue more directly, how are you praying about it?
One of the things I find helpful to reflect on is an article by the Discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, titled “The Way,” in which she explains why self-knowledge, humility, and love are requisite for effective healing (see Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, pp. 355–359). I think the combination of all three qualities is so important, because I’ve encountered a lot of people who want to go straight to love. But that love, or really, what’s actually just the appearance of love, can end up glossing over everything that’s wrong without really dealing with it.
I think of it like this: If you have a bottle that’s filled with dirty water, you have to empty it first before you can fill it with pure water. And self-knowledge and humility are part of “emptying the bottle.” First we have to see that the water is impure. Then we have to acknowledge, in humility, that we’re not willing to put up with the impure water anymore. We want to dump it out—all of it. And then, once we’ve done that, we can fill it to the brim with that pure water—with love.
We don’t address racism simply by throwing love at people, because that doesn’t allow for seriously considering our own thoughts and hearts and how we might need changing. How we might have biases, or feelings of privilege, or places where we’ve gone wrong.
The prayer that begins with self-knowledge and humility allows us to love much more effectively.
Where are the subtle places where ungodlike thoughts about our brothers and sisters might be lurking? Can we, in humility, acknowledge that we all have room to grow? Are we willing to let in more of the light of divine Truth to expose the dark thoughts that seem like our own, but ultimately don’t belong to us because they aren’t from God? This kind of prayer allows us to love much more effectively, because then we’re doing what Jesus asked us to in one of his teachings: to take the beam out of our own eye—to deal with our own blind spots. Then we aren’t held back by limited or ugly thinking that would prevent us from radiating that pure love from God that heals.
How has this prayer changed your conversations about racism?
Here in Norway, when the word racism comes up, I’ve heard people say things like, “What’s the point of talking about this, because it will only divide us?” I’m not saying we have to talk about racism all the time; our prayer of self-knowledge, humility, and love is really what should be constant. But when I hear things like that now, I recognize that that kind of thinking is what the Bible calls “Peace, peace; when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14).
We can’t pretend that we’re all living in equality and everyone’s united when that’s not the case. If you’re cleaning the house, you don’t sweep dirt under the carpet, because then things are just as dirty as before—even if you can’t see it.
I think a healing of racism in our world begins as we have the difficult conversations within ourselves and with others. But it’s important to keep in mind that these conversations are not about being accusatory. That’s what I love about Christian Science: It teaches us how to expose the things that aren’t right without attaching them to ourselves or others. We do have to take responsibility for the thoughts we’re allowing in. But ultimately, if those thoughts aren’t from God, they aren’t part of us, and we can be free of them. Everyone can be free of them. And then we begin to find the equality and unity that are real and lasting.