Yesterday was Juneteenth. I will confess that I did not fully understand why that was on my calendar and what it signified until I researched it. And that embarrasses me to admit. It commemorates the end of slavery in the US. On June 19, 1865, Union Major General Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, TX and told the slaves of their emancipation from slavery – more than 2 years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and 3 months after the end of the Civil War. There’s something significant about that delay as I reflect on all that has been transpiring in our country the last month. Two years after they had been freed, the message was heard. How long, O Lord, before we hear what is being said?
I have watched the news each day and seen the protests happening all over the country and the world protesting the death of George Floyd and many others. I have struggled with what my personal response should be because it feels like I have been here before. A tragic death of a black man that shakes me to the core, people are upset, people are praying for justice and understanding, and then a few weeks later it feels like most white people are back to life as normal. Except this time feels different. I don’t know if it’s the pandemic or the video that cannot hide the blatant violent and unnecessary death of another black man at the hands of a white police officer. But this time, people are watching with fresh eyes and listening with new ears.
Let me first state that I respect the difficult job that police officers have in responding to difficult situations and having to make split decisions that can be life or death for themselves and those they are trying to help. And most officers make good decisions. But the pattern cannot be ignored any longer in order to protect the feelings of white people (White Fragility). The truth is our whiteness has caused us white people to fail time and time again to respond in ways that actually make a difference to the unfortunate and unjustified death of too many black men and women for me to even name.
There is a problem that it is past time for us to admit. The problem is that white people have not listened and understood the actual reality of People of Color in the United States in this post-Civil Rights Era. Whether we think equality has been achieved or we deep down don’t really care if all people are treated fairly and equally, it’s time to stop letting our whiteness get in the way of truly hearing the voices that have been crying out for years for help and for justice.
Personally, I have tried to take a posture of listening well these past couple of weeks. I realized that too many times me and other white leaders like me have tried to get out front and lead some kind of response to whatever the latest tragedy that has occurred. This time, the Holy Spirit has nudged me clearly to press pause. To listen to my black colleagues and to follow their lead. What I have heard is so much pain and anger that my heart can hardly hold any more. And yet, I must. Far past the time.
Part of what I have heard my colleagues say to me is that the best thing I can do is take the time to do the hard work to understand that although my heart believes all people are equal and that I personally condemn racism and treat people of all colors and nationalities with respect, I still contribute to some of the problems that hurt People of Color. That in the institutions around me there are injustices that do not create a level playing field, including the Church. That our history has set up advantages for those of us who are white that we enjoy even though we have not personally asked for them or created them. That I have more understanding to gain so that when I am in a position to interact with others the things I say and do will not widen the gap and contribute to breaking down relationships with People of Color. Lord have mercy, I have so much to learn.
I was reading the Parable of the Sower yesterday morning in the Gospel of Matthew and it hit me. (Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23). Especially the explanation of the parable. I resonated with the difficulty of the seed making it to the good soil. The challenge of my true understanding of the plight of my black and brown brothers and sisters feels like seeds that have fallen on various kinds of soil through the years and had various kinds of impact. A person of color would die in a racially tragic way. At times my reflection or comprehension of racism and how life is truly different between people with white skin and black and brown skinned persons has fallen on the path comprising hard ground and because my heart or my brain was too hard or dense, the message couldn’t sink in and the opportunity for change was gone in a flash. I didn’t even recognize the significance of the loss or the injustice of how the life was lost or worst yet, how common it might have been. Then someone else would die. At times my understanding of racism in modern day America has been like the seed that feel on the rocky soil. It took root quickly but then wilted away just as quickly. Maybe I got upset and payed attention for a few days but then something else came along and my fury or indignation at the poor treatment of others was gone and my attention was taken by another issue. Then someone else would die. At times my reaction or understanding of racism has been like the seed that fell among thorny plants. At these times I have heard the plight of my brothers and sisters and while it concerned me and I began to see things I could do to help make a difference, I worried instead about my reputation, how my church would accept any leadership or sermons I might offer around whiteness and racism. Sometimes I would take some steps in the right direction. But too many times I would worry about how doing that hard work might negatively affect me or just feel too hard and overwhelming. I’m just being honest.
Ah, but the seeds that land on good soil. Those were the moments when my heart was fully prepared to hear and understand and then to bear fruit to help respond with compassion and comprehension and been a true ally to People of Color. Maybe you have recognized a variety of reactions in your own life. It seems that just maybe, the cries of injustice are falling on good soil in large quantities for the first time in decades. That just maybe, there are enough hearts in a posture to hear and understand the prophets crying in the streets calling for consistent application of the law to everyone and equal treatment for people no matter their skin color. Just maybe those of us who are white, are able to recognize finally that the way things are is no longer acceptable.
For instance, when a white person walks into a store, we are not typically followed or watched to make sure we don’t steal something like our black and brown brothers and sisters experience. Our parents didn’t have to teach us as teenagers and young adults that if you get stopped in your car by police officers to immediately put your hands on the wheel and don’t move to get your license until the officer asks you to for fear of an officer pulling a gun on you as they approach the window. Or how our schools that are funded partially by property tax creates well-resourced schools in districts of mostly white homeowning residents verses schools in primarily black and brown neighborhoods where property taxes are lower and the schools are underfunded causing education disadvantages that can have lifetime affects.
So my invitation to you if your skin is white is to pause if you are feeling a little offended and prepare your heart to be good soil to receive the seeds God might be trying to place in your heart. I invite you to do some hard but necessary work in understanding your own whiteness and how that can contribute to the challenges of inequality among black and brown brothers and sisters. Check out some of the resources below and begin to learn and explore the seeds of racism. Be prepared to be uncomfortable. But that’s ok. God can use our discomfort to shape and stretch us in important ways. Good soil doesn’t become good soil without toiling and working the dirt and adding fertilizer and irrigation needed to nurture the seed. Join me in doing the hard work of preparing your soil and your soul to be fully present to what the Holy Spirit is stirring up all around us. Its way past time.
Grace and Peace,
RESOURCES for your Soul Preparation:
Upcoming Book study at BUMC – The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby – Starts Monday, July 6th.
- UNDERSTANDING WHITE PRIVLEGE AND BIAS:
1. Systemic Racism Explained – 4 minute video explaining how the lives of a black and a white boy can be so different because of inequality in our systems.
- 2. – Racial Bias Test (Harvard) — this will help you understand what your biases might be
- 3. “White Awake” by Daniel Hill(FSP Chicago)- Courageous Conversations: Understanding privilege and Becoming a Better Ally -Video –
- 4. “Walking While Black” (Garnette Cadogan)-Article of a Jamaican who moves to New York and shares the realities of being black in America –
- OTHER HELPFUL RESOURCES:
- 1. “Why Are White People So Bad at Talking About Race?”– Understanding White Fragility – short video summarizing the book by Robin DiAngelo
- 2. –Videos by Robin DiAngelo:
- 3. Well Meaning White People”– Podcast on the insights a teacher learned in the classroom about racial injustice – (Smartest Person in the Room)
- 4. “How to Be an Antiracist” (Brené Brown + Ibram X. Kendi) Brene Brown interview –
- 5. – 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
- 6. – 5 Tips for Being an Ally – Brief video for how white people can be helpful and supportive
RESOURCES FOR PARENTS:
- 1. Book list: https://www.embracerace.org/resources/20-picture-books-for-2020
- 2. Podcast- “Raising White Kids with Jennifer Harvey”– – Integrated Schools episode offers age-appropriate insights for teaching children how to address racism when they encounter it and tackles tough questions about how to help white kids be mindful of racial relations while understanding their own identity and the role they can play for justice.