I guess I’m writing about politics and religion now, Damn it.
I woke up this morning to a flurry of posts on my social media feeds that made me sick to my stomach. While I slept, hundreds of white supremacist terrorists with tikki torches gathered in Charlottesville. Met by counter protestors, violence between the groups escalated and resulted in injury and even death for one demonstrator. The president of my country failed to condemn the terrorists’ actions, instead issuing a statement that basically said both sides (white supremacists and peace activists alike) had behaved badly.
I should mention that the “flurry of posts” I mentioned above mostly came from news outlets, activists, peace organizations that I follow, and one or two white friends. Mostly, though, silence from my 550, predominantly white, predominantly Christian, predominantly American facebook friends.
So. While this platform is usually used for writing about ethical fashion and postive, upbeat stories of good stuff in the world… this is the platform that I have, and I have to use it to talk about this stuff, too.
This post is written from me, an imperfect white-woman-“social-justice-warrior”, to the “silent majority” that I see. People like me.
Let’s CONSIDER OUR HISTORY.
In his essay, “The Souls of White Folk“, Author Stephen Jamal Leeper asks a thought- provoking question: “How has centuries of seeing one’s self as savior but operating as oppressor shaped white identity?”. I have alot of thoughts on that subject, and someday (perhaps) I might write a longer post focusing on it. But for today, I just want to talk very personally about how “seeing one’s self as savior but operating as oppressor” is a part of my life.
Growing up, my family was loving and tolerant. Our lives were focused around “doing good” and loving people in many ways. I was just a tiny kid when my parents started bringing me to the local nursing home to sing and play the piano and spend time with the elderly. We volunteered. We talked about the value of putting the needs and well-being of others above our own. I can not recall a single instance of my parents showing prejudice or any kind of altered behavior toward people of color/people of different faiths/people “different” than our family. I have a distinct, early memory of my dad calling out and condemning a racist joke that he heard another family member make- that stuck with my impressionable young mind. However, it also needs to be understood that also I didn’t have any non-white friends growing up (this was rural Minnesota in the 90’s) and very little exposure to cultures outside of my own beside what I learned from books, from school, and from “Sunday School” at church.
When I was a child, I had an entire set of “missionary story” books. I pored over accounts of the lives of David Livingston, Amy Carmichael, and others. While I was inspired in a good way by some commendable actions (Most notably Amy Carmichael’s early work combatting underage sex trafficking and her feminist tendencies in the 1800’s), I was being programmed to admire and see as heroes people who ascribed to an idea of “missons” that I now see as inherently un-Christian and oppressive. I started to internalize at a young age that white people had a “mission” or responsibility to “save brown people”. Of course, this has traditionally been done by forcing people of color to assimilate to white Christian culture. These missionaries that I was reading about as heroes were marching into foreign countries, “converting” the native people, forcing them to dress, talk, act, and even sing like white Americans- thus conveying the idea that white culture is somehow more “moral”, superior, desirable. The Christian missions industry still largely operates in this way today, and these subtle perspectives were reinforced in me as I grew up in a church that raised thousands of dollars to send out “missionaries” on glorified vacations to prosthelytize the locals (often in already-predominantly-Christian countries, funnily enough).
In school, Columbus was presented to me as a Christian hero and a great man, rather than a cruel, racist, genocidal maniac. Quotes like “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold” were conveniently left out of books, and illustrations of Columbus kneeling in prayer were plastered on the pages.
My history books skimmed over many of the atrocities committed against the Indigenous people of the Country I call home. I didn’t know until I was twenty-seven years old that my country spent such a HUGE number of years actively at WAR with the original inhabitants of this “nation founded on Christian values”. No one who taught me (even in college) really batted an eye at the fact that the most famous document in American history, the Declaration of Independence, STILL TO THIS DAY states that “all Men are created equal,” except, of course, for the “merciless Indian savages” mentioned within the next few lines.
I, like most white Americans, would definitely say that “I am not racist”, but the subtle influence of white supremacism is present in my life- and I believe that this holds true for most people with a similar history to mine. Even as an adult who has tried to become de-programmed from the wrong perspectives that I was fed, and who has soaked up as much knowledge as I can from non-white leaders and thinkers and activists who offer an antidote to my areas of ignorance, I am not completely free of ingrained prejudice.
Does that make you as uncomfortable as it makes me?
Let’s EMBRACE OUR DISCOMFORT.
And let’s not be ashamed of it. I really think that so much healing could take place, so many wonderful conversations could be had, if we would just stop worrying so much about “saying something wrong” or being misunderstood or being judged. Let’s just be honest with each other. We need to be able to be honest in order to get down to the roots of racism and hatred. We need to be able to get down to the roots to eradicate it.
Let’s CALL OUT RACISM.
I am ashamed to admit this, but it’s important. I have had so many opportunities to speak on behalf of justice, and I haven’t done so. Here’s the thing. I don’t get to be “too tired”. I don’t get to be embarrassed. I don’t get to say “not today”. I have a personal responsibility to live out what I believe regarding equality, love, and justice. Not to mention, my faith requires it (“Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”- James 4:17). You have this responsibility too, if you are a white person who professes a belief in social justice. Let’s face it- the most powerful and effective thing that we can do to fight racism isn’t necessarily to to write about it or to speak publicly about it. It’s having deep, personal conversations with the people in our own immediate sphere of influence. It’s easier for me to write this post than it is for me to sit down with a racist relative to talk about our differences… but I recognize the latter as being even more powerful than the former in the long run.
Let’s not talk over people of color. Let’s not speak FOR people of color. Let’s listen, let’s honor, let’s lament, and let’s have hard conversations.
That’s enough words from me. To finish this post, I want to share some raw, real words from people I follow and learn from.
“It’s easy and even gratifying to point a self-righteous finger at the KKK/Alt Right marchers in #charlottesville. But their activities simply distract White America from doing the real work of excavating the white supremacy that is rooted deep down in every American institution, church, seminary and community. Everyone who participates in and benefits from whiteness is complicit in the hateful atrocities in Charlottesville. The same evil at work in Charlottesville is at work in American churches, seminaries, and communities.” – Christena Cleveland
“Black folks aint hung up on the past. We mad about right now. THIS was last night. A mob of racists chanting “White Lives Matter” and “You Will Not Replace Us”. The people in this photo (and those who sympathize with them) are not small in number, neither are they only in the south. They are in Orange County California and Portland Oregon. They are our classmates, teammates and neighbors. They are pastors, engineers , university professors, police officers, lawyers and judges. They are our crush’s parents and siblings. THIS is why I lament for America. This is why I can’t shut up” – Micah Bournes, Poet and Activist
“Does it bother you that unmasked members of the Ku Klux Klan will likely be in someone’s church singing worship songs, praying, attending a church plant conference, or worse, policing our neighborhoods, teaching our children? Is there not an outrage from white-led churches and organizations to identify these KKK members and warn people of color? Does not the Holy Spirit compel you to preach a message this weekend to convict their hearts and transform their minds? Or are you still silent and complicit as the white nationalist power publicly terrorizes the rest of us?” –Rev. Michael McBride, LIVE FREE
Let’s talk. If this resonates with you, if you hate it and disagree, if you feel your conscience nudging you…. I’d love to have a conversation