When I was in seminary I took a course on feminist theology. One question that came up early and often for my classmates and me was “Do you consider yourself a feminist?” The question placed me in a little bit of a quandary. On the one hand, it was clear that many of my ideas identified me as a feminist. On the other, I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to wear the feminist label. Back then I was using a considerable amount of my time and emotional and spiritual energy trying to help create avenues to ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA) for people like me who were labeled “homosexual.” If I was going to take on another label, any label, it was going to be well-considered and it was going to be my choice.
The labels we wear, whether self-chosen or assigned, make a difference. They impact us at a soul level. Sometimes they bless our soul. Sometimes they injure our soul.
Right now many of us who are white are struggling with the label “racist.” Some of us feel the label is being painted on us unfairly by a broad brush. Some of us feel that the only way to truly confront our own privilege, tendency to center whiteness, or unconscious bias is to accept the strongest possible denouncement of those things within us, and the strongest condemnation, it seems, is labeling those things as “racist.” Many of us fight against the racist label even before it is applied, when we feel it is insinuated, believing that only overt acts against black people of color constitute racism. Some of us just give up and ignore the whole conversation about racism because it just makes us feel bad.
None of these are helpful responses to America’s epidemic of racism. None of these promote our healthy involvement in anti-racism work, and for me, that’s the goal.
Since Pentecost Sunday on May 31 of this year, we have been recognizing the 5th day of each month (5 for Pentecost, which is 50 days after Easter) as a day on which we specifically address racism in our country and in our community. Today I’m going to share a piece that outlines simply the last 400 years of history in the U.S., a history that shows systemic and constant discrimination against black people. I’m hoping that in reading it black people will feel validation and hope in having our history of racism acknowledged. I’m hoping that white people will be able to come away from reading it not with feelings of denial, defensiveness, or anger but with a calm clarity that our historical treatment of black people in the U.S. is egregious, and our proper response to it is to make sure that our future does not become this same history. I’m hoping that everyone who is brown, identifying fully with neither black nor white, comes away trusting that you are not forgotten, that I also see and care about the discrimination and violence you often and historically have experienced, and that I’m committed also to defeating the racism directed against you.
I have not been able to identify the actual author of this piece though I have seen it variously attributed. When I’ve tried to trace it to particular authors, I’ve found that the people it was attributed to had actually identified it as “copied and pasted.” If anyone knows the actual author, please let me know.
Also, I have made two small edits to the piece. First, I’ve removed the word “angry” in several instances where it was used to describe white people who perpetuated discrimination and violence against black people. All of the white people, including myself, who have ever participated in any kind of systemic oppression or even in micro-aggressions, are not “angry.” Some of us are simply uneducated, not “woke” in the way we need to be, or not yet clear on how we perpetuate racism without meaning to. I don’t want any of us to take an easy out, blaming all acts of racism on “angry” people.
Second, I’ve added brackets when it seemed to me information needed to be clarified. For example, the statement “60 years ago we made it ‘legal’ for black people to vote” doesn’t take into consideration, among other things, the complexities and nuances of the fact that the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, prohibited states from denying a male citizen the right to vote based on “race, color or previous condition of servitude” or the fact that despite the 15th Amendment we needed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to address the many ways black people had been and were still being denied their right to cast a ballot.
Between now and September 5, when we put out the next “Pentecost” email, I hope you will send me your responses to this article. Please make clear in your responses if you want to share your thoughts only with me or if I may have your permission to share them with our upRising community with your name attached. I realize that my words, sent out in this format, do not constitute or maybe even contribute to the larger conversations we need to be having. I need your voices for that.
Always in Hope,
“In case it’s still unclear. 400 years ago white people enslaved black people. And sold them. And treated them as less than human. For 250 years. While white men built the country (on the backs of black people) and created its laws and its systems of government. While 10, 15 generations of white families got to grow and flourish and make choices that could make their lives better.
And then 150 years ago white people “freed” black people from slavery. But then white people created laws that made it impossible for them to vote. Or to own land. Or to have the same rights as white people. And even erected monuments glorifying people who actively had fought to keep them enslaved. All while another 5, 10 generations of white families got to grow and accumulate wealth and gain land and get an education.
And then 60 years ago we made it “legal” for black people to vote [see discussion above about the 15th Amendment], and to be “free” from discrimination. (But angry white people still fought to keep schools segregated. And closed off neighborhoods to white people only. And made it harder for black people to get bank loans, or get quality education or health care, or to (gasp) marry a white person.) All while another 2-3 generations of white families got to grow and pass their wealth down to their children and their children’s children.
And then we entered an age where we had the technology to make PUBLIC the things that were already happening in private– the beatings, the stop and frisk laws, the unequal distribution of justice, the police brutality (police began in America as slave patrols designed to catch runaway slaves). [Some police forces began this way. Others began to “police” Native Americans. I encourage you to do more research on this topic.] And only now, after 400+ years and 20+ generations of a white head start, are we STARTING to truly have a dialog about what it means to be black.
White privilege doesn’t mean you haven’t suffered or fought or worked hard. It doesn’t mean white people are responsible for the sins of our ancestors. It doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of who you are.
It DOES mean that we need to acknowledge that the system our ancestors created is built FOR white people.
It DOES mean that we [receive advantage] because of the color of our skin and it DOES mean that we owe it to our neighbors– of all colors– to acknowledge that and work to make our world more equitable.
BLACK LIVES MATTER.”