Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Different Lives, Different Narratives: Messiah College Professor Drew Hart on the divisions between Black, white America

Drew Hart

“There is more support than any time in our history, in this moment,” said Dr. Drew Hart, author, professor, activist and Harrisburg resident about the current attention on racist policies in this country.

He hopes that this interest and activism are not superficial.

“There is the potential that something really meaningful could flourish from this,” he said.

How do we move from this cursory concern to profound change?

Not in the way one might think, according to Hart. We must start at the root and unlearn and relearn much of the knowledge we have acquired, not just about Black history, but about American history or “real American history.” In his book, “Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism,” Hart give readers an opportunity for this relearning.

He described historical practices like red-lining, an intentional federal government system of color-coding neighborhoods to keep minorities and immigrants out of predominantly white neighborhoods, and the withholding of GI Bill benefits like low-interest loans and mortgages from Black veterans.

There are two different narratives in America, Hart explained. Black stories include oppression, brutal policing and the constant scrutiny of whites. White stories are centered around American pride, opportunity and wealth achieved by hard work. By challenging the white narrative, white Americans challenge their identity.

“If you are in a social bubble, when your narrative always gets told, then you take that for granted,” he said. “That becomes the instinctive way that you interpret everything that happens around you.”

In other words, people begin to think that their perspective is the only perspective, and they spend little time listening to other people’s experiences.

“Even though they [whites] may not have any lived experience in these [Black] communities, they don’t have the meaningful, substantive relationships from a variety of people in those communities to receive these stories, and yet they have an immediate response” to events in the Black community, he said.

His book described this as “going with your gut,” a practice that white Americans need to set aside in order to understand the struggles of the Black community.

To sustainably turn this present progress into change, people need to invest time into their neighborhoods, find ways to participate in community good, hold police accountable, and “link arms with those who are oppressed,” said Hart.

For those who doubt the racism and oppression against Blacks and respond that “All Lives Matter” to the cries of injustice, “You are not listening to what Black people have been saying,” Hart said.

This response to Black Lives Matter is also a result of not recognizing racism, he said. People hearken back to crosses burned on yards, segregated lunch counters and whites-only water fountains to define racism. However, according to Hart, racism is a chameleon, adapting to the current situation just as it has done throughout American history.

After slavery was abolished, Jim Crow laws took effect. These laws, which lasted into the late 1960s, allowed for segregation, decided where Blacks could work and travel, and disallowed voting rights. The “war on drugs” followed, which incarcerated Blacks at a higher rate than whites and provided for much tougher jail sentences for the use of crack cocaine, used more by Blacks, versus the use of powdered cocaine, used more by whites.

These racist policies are fueled by the idea of white supremacy—not the “skinhead” white supremacy many people are familiar with, but the accepted, often unconsciously held idea that whites are superior to Blacks. Hart’s book points out that white people need to begin to examine their assessment of Blacks and other minorities.

Society labels white teenagers who use drugs as “experimenting,” as a normal part of growing up. However, it labels Black teens who engage in drug use as “thugs” and a threat to society.

In fact, Hart has experienced that a Black man’s mere presence often labels him a “thug.” The book dives into these experiences and the fact that they happened in an unlikely place—a Christian college.

That Christians foment racial division may seem unconscionable, but Christianity has not only participated in but has perpetuated and justified racial oppression and remained silent in its midst. Within the pages of “Trouble I’ve Seen,” Hart calls out the church and urges it go beyond its complacency.

Christianity has racial work to do, as does Harrisburg, according to Hart. Substantial conversations regarding race need to be had and neighborhoods like Uptown and Allison Hill need more investment.

“[There are] no simple answers, but until we talk about the root problems, we won’t get to anything meaningful,” he said.

This weighty work is what birthed Hart’s next book, “Who Will be a Witness: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love and Deliverance,” due out in September. During his countrywide speaking engagements, people often ask what’s next or how to we “do” racial justice.

“I realized they need a little more help thinking through this,” he said.

Even with the focus on racial matters right now, those working on the long, uphill cause of justice know this is an ultramarathon not a sprint. When asked if he has hope for the future, Hart measured his words. He said he’s not hopeful in the optimistic sense but in another way.

“I’m hopeful in the sense that we can be the hope,” he said. “I’m more interested in the practice of hope, of exercising hope, of living hope for others.” 

For more information on Dr. Drew Hart, his activism and books, visit


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