Generally, I think this is a good time for white folks to be quiet and turn the mic over to our black brothers and sisters, but the more I read, the more I learn, and I MUST write. It’s how I process, how I work things out in my head – a kind of therapy, if you will. So thanks for indulging me by reading my rants. I’m always up for conversation or even friendly debate if you agree or disagree.
I’m a member of Rotary, and I was asked in June to give the invocation. Because all of the emotions around George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter that were swirling around in my head, I took a risk (because I know some, and likely more that I don’t know, of my fellow Rotarians are overtly racist) and shared the following:
Personally, I’m a Jesus-follower, but I hope that whatever religion you might be, these invocation words ring true.
James Cone wrote, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, a landmark publication in the conversation about race and religion in America: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” Acts 10:39
The cross and the lynching tree are the two most emotionally charged symbols in the history of the African American community.
He writes: “White supremacy was and is an American reality. Whites lynched blacks in nearly every state, including New York, Minnesota, and California. Wherever blacks were present, the threat of being lynched was always real. Blacks had to ‘watch their step,’ no matter where they were in America. A black man could be walking down the road, minding his business, and his life could suddenly change by meeting a white man or a group of white men or boys who, on a whim decided to have some fun with him.” This feels like it could have been written about today. Lynchings continue in the United States of America.
As a white woman, I am aware that the color of my skin provides me with a protection that my siblings of color do not have. I was born into this privilege and did nothing to earn it. White women especially have used the violence of white men as our own kind of protection. As Charles Blow wrote in a NYT opinion piece, “We often like to make white supremacy a testosterone-fueled masculine expression, but it is just as likely to wear heels as a hood…Indeed, untold numbers of lynchings were executed because white women had claimed that a black man raped, assaulted, talked to or glanced at them.” And it’s still happening today…in Central Park and all over America.
I am a follower of a brown-skinned Messiah who calls us to love God and love our neighbors. Who is our neighbor? In answer to that question, Jesus shared the story of the Good Samaritan. If you’re not familiar, the story is about a wounded Jew on the side of the road that fellow Jews passed by, not wanting to get involved. The one who stopped was the one who looked different, acted different, believed different – the Samaritan, the person of a different race, the “enemy” of the Jew. That Samaritan invested his time and money to make sure the man was taken care of.
What must we do to be a neighbor to each other, across the racial and religious boundaries that often divide us? How should we invest our time and money to make sure the injured along the way are taken care of? What must I do with my white privilege to eradicate racism from the culture and institutions of our society, and to affirm my solidarity with my African American sisters and brothers?
We are called to examine our own racism – and we ALL have some because we were taught it by our parents and grandparents who were taught by their parents and grandparents back through the Civil Rights movement all the way to slavery. Don’t be in denial. Do the work of anti-racism so that all of God’s children are seen and known as beloved and that none live in fear of one another. *
I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence that, shortly thereafter, a Rotary member, who is also a pastor, gave his own invocation that included a prayer for law enforcement (without a reference to police brutality against Blacks) and a closing statement that “All Lives Matter.”
While I don’t disagree with either of these things per se, both are clearly inflammatory assertions intended to contradict the current revolution that is awakening our nation to the trauma Black people have been experiencing since slavery. It’s beyond tone deaf; it’s veiled racism. There are people getting fired for saying that! But nobody called him out.
At yesterday’s Rotary Club meeting, two African American men were the featured speakers, addressing the social unrest in our community and country. Unfortunately, a handful of racist comments and questions marred what could have been an encouraging statement of solidarity and support for our Black brothers, and it illustrated just how far we still have to go before achieving equality and respect for People of Color. I got so angry a couple times, I had to turn off my camera (the meeting was on Zoom, of course) and yell a few cuss words at the racists in our club; it was disheartening and maddening.
The irony is that these same folks who claim to be Christians or post a nice Martin Luther King Jr. quote on Facebook in January would never have actually followed the man Jesus when he walked the earth or participated in a Civil Rights protest in the 1960s. Both Jesus and MLK were outsiders – not in line with the religious leaders or the politicians of their day. They stood with the marginalized, not law enforcement. They stood with the outcasts, not the billionaire electeds.
Question: If you lived during the 1960s Civil Rights movement, would you have marched with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma to Montgomery or would you have supported the State Troopers who used firehoses, dogs and whips to disband the marchers/ protestors? (Hint: do you support the police over the BLM protestors?)
Would you have supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (aimed to overcome legal barriers that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote) or would you have opposed it like the Republicans who demanded literacy tests for African Americans before being able to vote? (Hint: do you support voting by mail, aimed at making it easier for vulnerable, young and poor voters, more likely to have mobility – transportation and/or frequent moving – issues?)
Fifteen years ago, I admit I would likely have been on the wrong side of history like the Karen in this photo. Growing up in a nearly-all-white small town (we had 3 African Americans I knew of in my four years of high school and none at my church), implicit bias was woven through our culture. Subconscious racial stereotypes thrived because we knew no different and didn’t care because it didn’t seem to matter.
As a young adult, I remember an African American boy (with a squirt gun) being shot by a Sheriff’s Deputy, and it was quietly swept under the rug – no firings, no arrests, and I thought nothing of it. Today, I’m appalled. And sad that I wasted so many years in denial about my own prejudice and racism. And brokenhearted for the mom who probably still grieves her son’s death with no justice.
Don’t be in denial. Don’t be on the wrong side of history. Don’t be a hypocrital Christian who would rather cling to the status quo than do the work of becoming anti-racist. Examine your beliefs closely and think about how similar issues have played out in the past. Do you really want to be one of the people who stood in the way of liberty and justice for all?
*Special thanks to my pastor, Linda Dew-Hiersoux for the inspiration for my Rotary Invocation!