Often good-natured words and actions have unintended consequences. The results are painful and real, regardless of the inflictor's attitude.
When I child drops the heirloom china, she didn't intend for it to shatter. But it's still in a million pieces.
When a drivers hits the brakes 2 seconds too late, he didn't intend to hit the pedestrian. But that person is still just as dead.
Often, we have no comprehension how hurtful we are being, causing great pain through our ignorance. And it doesn't matter how we intended it to sound. Our words enter this world within the context and history of a racialized society. Regardless of the our awareness of it, our words and deeds have power. Focusing on intention shifts the conversation away from the harm being done. Even if we don't intend it, there are consequences that result and wrongs that need to be righted.
On the other hand, intent does matters a great deal in how we choose to respond to a person that hurts us. Though the pain will be present regardless, 'intent' affects whether we scream out in frustration, shake our heads and walk away, or risk an in-depth discussion that could ultimately further God's Kingdom and His reconciliation. It may not soothe the sting in the moment, but knowing that a person means well can do a great deal for our own ability to continue the conversation, rather than escalating the conflict.
We can imagine Christ's temptation to lash out in response to Peter's ignorance, Thomas's doubt, or Judas's betrayal. I envision Him biting His tongue, breathing deep sigh, counting to ten, and explaining once again to the disciples His mission on earth. He understood that if we get stuck in (legitimate) frustration with the ignorance that is exists, we will remain caught in the divide that Satan tries to perpetuate.
On the whole, I believe that white folk are genuine in their intention to reach out, but equal is our dearth of understanding about how to accomplish it, and our fear of being rejected despite our efforts. Though we may have done little to inspire trust, I implore those we hurt: be brave, be gracious, be patient, be forgiving. Be merciful, in the truest sense of it. We are sinners, but we continue to 'work out our salvation with fear and trembling.' But we are dependent on your faithfulness with us.
Meantime, white folk need to set aside fears of being chastised, and approach racial discussion with hope and humility. Let us all reward courage with patience and holy love. Let us continuously embody God's grace: unearned, unmerited, freely given--just as Christ has personified grace for us all.