As a white Euro-American, I am reading these words asked by a woman of color hoping for my help, and my feelings get all garbled once again. “Wait!” I want to yell. “I’m not one of THOSE people!” But the truth is that as a white person, I don’t get to any longer think that the benefits I receive as a part of the hierarchy of institutional racism (which has been based on white supremacy since this country began) can be ignored any longer. “Because white supremacy is as much about mindless habits as it is about active beliefs. It is about impact, not simply intent,” points out activist Brittany Packnett, who asked the pointed question above.
Regardless of who we voted for in the last presidential election, the reality today is that the prejudices we all hold are now killing our communities—because we’ve all grown up in a thick pollution of societal racism, and a bunch of other isms whether we had super enlightened parents or not. And yes, people of color hold prejudices as much as white people, but the reality is that their prejudices are not wedded to the power and policies in this country like they are for white people. (And if one more person points to Obama as proof that there is equal treatment of brown and black and white-skinned people in this country, I just might scream.)
So, white people, what is our plan to use our power wisely to transform our communities in Jesus-inspired ways?
Many of us may have voted for Trump because we wanted change, not because we enjoyed his hateful rhetoric. So how will we create the change we wish to see in the world, to loosely quote another brilliant person of color (Mohandas Gandhi ;-).
Packnett goes on to say, “Whether you actively engage in the violent culture of hate or merely step out of the way to give it permission to persist and room to grow, you are complicit… You give permission to this culture every day you do nothing more than have ‘conversations on race.’ You don’t get to just have conversations anymore. You don’t get to just wear a safety pin and call yourself an ally. You don’t get to just talk while the rest of us fear for our lives…”
I believe one of the first things we need to do is observe white supremacy, prejudice, and ignorance when we see it, and then confront it. Because if we expect people of color to challenge Uncle Harold’s tasteless jokes or explain to the manager why we felt offended to hear the term “colored people,” or call awareness to the teacher when the raised hands of students of color are being overlooked in a class discussion, we’re kidding ourselves.
I know. Uncomfortable. Uncomfortable. 100%. I feel ya.
I have a pastor friend who has inspired me to wear a Black Lives Matter, ucc.org pin once in a while. She wears one every day, mind you, and often while she’s preaching, because she has claimed it as her own personal spiritual practice as a white woman to no longer take for granted the privilege she benefits from every day. Putting that pin on every day reminds her of the people on the margins that Jesus stood with and the people that we are invited to stand with today in our own society.
And for me, it’s really hard to do as a person who has enjoyed a lot of privilege in life.
There are times I want to take it off. A lot. But something stronger than my fear is operating inside me, as well, and I try to pay attention to that other part of me that is a whole lot more joyful than the fearful part. I certainly don’t consider this “a plan” to eliminate xenophobia or racial tensions. But it’s a step. Because the majority of the work to end oppression should never have to be carried by the people who are being oppressed in the first place. Period. (Thanks, Jesus, for that reminder.)
***By the way, an excellent book to begin exploring ideas on how one can gain some sensitivity to the invisible racism we are breathing in everyday which is often invisible to Euro-Americans, see Paul Kivel’s book Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about our racial justice group’s latest plan of learning and action…