Sigh. It’s just all too much. Beautiful black teenaged girls in bathing suits being cursed, bullied and smacked around by grown white women and then thrown to the ground by the hair and handcuffed by a profanity spewing, out-of-control police officer who goes on to pull a gun on the kids who came to her defense. A white college professor using her privilege to appropriate a culture she has not experienced and benefiting from it as she dismisses the hard-won life experience of being black in America. And now this — nine more black lives that are considered not-to-matter—another race based massacre by a white man who people are already trying to explain away because of his mental state and family of origin. A white man who, by the way, was calmly and quietly apprehended, treated with care and calming voices, placed in a bullet proof vest for protection and slowly, respectfully ushered to the police vehicle where his head was protected from possible injury as he leaned into the back seat of the car (can you see the white privilege in effect here?)
Most of us white folk sit here in silence—believing that there is nothing for us to do, nothing for us to say, nothing that can make a difference. We righteous progressives all have excuses for our silence: we don’t know what to say, we are afraid to say the wrong thing, we are overwhelmed by it or we just don’t understand. Perhaps some of us are weeping and wringing our hands at the moment. And plenty of us are saying that we need to pray. We have even planned a prayer vigil in response to the horrible shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. But truthfully, in a day or two, just as we did after Baltimore, and Ferguson and Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown, and Travon Martin, and…. most of us will move on to the next news cycle and the next thing in our lives and this will be just another one of those experiences that we file away as a bummer, but… You see, we white folk can do that. We can wring our hands and show up for the prayers and then move on to the next thing because this stuff does not happen to us. These are not our experiences so we allow ourselves to think this is not our problem. We do not face this terror, we are not at risk for being assassinated because of our race, we can move on to the next news cycle while our brothers and sisters of color must sit back and watch us our denial and silence.
1) Why is it that people are trying so hard to make excuses for this Charleston killer? “Misguided”, “disturbed”? Maybe. But hatred is a learned state of being. So are ignorance and ambivalence. Which brings me to my second issue.
2) My White friends… I truly love you. I love you enough to tell you that when you say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the abhorrent tragedies that occur over and over in the Black community, it leaves me in wonderment and sadness. No posts. No in-person conversation. No water cooler comments. Nothing? It’s your prerogative, but really? Nothing? It’s okay to empathize. It’s okay to question. It’s okay to disagree. It’s NOT okay to act like it’s just not happening. Wrong is just wrong. Our hearts should stir anytime people are hurt by others, but particularly when it’s a grievous act or show of force and injustice toward ANYONE.
My friend had questions for her black friends too, but that is not my audience and that is not my point. We white folk pray metaphorically attractive, overly wordy, theologically literate prayers. We light lovely candles and earnestly name the names of the dead and strike a chime on their behalf. We sing moving, inspirational songs from the civil rights era and invite our friends from black churches and other faiths to join us in a pat-me-on-the-back show of our commitment to inclusivity. Seriously, we spend an hour in a show of multiracial, multicultural solidarity and leave proud of ourselves for the act of holding hands with someone we just met while we sing “We Shall Overcome.” We share posts on social media about this week’s horror, we rant about gun control for a round or two on someone’s facebook feed and we react with disbelief at the ‘really racist’ commentary coming from the political extremes and the religious right. But once we have gone through these motions we move on leaving it all behind us—and it is that which with I am having so much trouble.
I need a good prayer vigil as much as the next person. It gives us a place to grieve together, a space in which we can process shared trauma, shared fear, and shared confusion. We all struggle when we come face-to-face with violence, hatred, terrorism and obvious forms of racism and we need a place to go with that. It is the place of faith communities to respond in times such as these by creating a space in which we might open our hearts to each other and humbly (and at times bumbly) attempt to build beloved community and connect with each other across boundaries of faith and cultural. We need to offer opportunities for communal confession and encourage justice and peace.
But honestly, in the end, as we white folk walk away, back to our safe little neighborhoods and privileged lives, what have we really done to make a difference? What have we done to change the context that allows for things like this to happen? What have we done to change the self-seeking of the human condition that seeks to maintain the status-quo? What have we done to resist that self-centered demand to protect our place in society by shoring up the systemic conditions that privilege white over black, brown and a whole bunch of other differences? What have we done to change the context that allows for things like this to happen?
I am done dear white friends. I am done dear white church. I love you, but I am done. I am done praying and moving on. I am done crying about this kind of stuff and then letting us all off the hook. I am done being nice-nice while nothing changes and the privileged say stupid shit like, “All lives matter” and “What’s the problem, we have a black president,” and a thousand other really crappy things that are demonstrative of us just not getting it. I am just done.
Most of the white people in my life cannot see privilege when it is sitting on their very own shoulders. Most of the white people in my life cannot see oppression when it is happening right under their noses. Most of the white people in my life, when challenged to see systemic racism, have seep seated explanations, excuses and rationalizations with which to respond so that they need not take responsibility for the injustices. Black people are being terrorized and beaten down and imprisoned and blamed for their own deaths and dying in the streets every day—and white folk excuse it and explain away and fancifully move on as if we have nothing to do with it. I am done. I am done praying. I am done moving on. And I want you to be done too. In fact, I am asking you to join me.
Friends, as has been said by others much more eloquently than I, it is time for us to stop praying and start doing something about this. See writer Crystal Marie Lewis’ Post.
I am going to do my part. I am going to take some leadership and engage the matter of race in our neighborhood. I am going to help others to engage the matter as well. I am going to take responsibility for getting white folk in my community to have sacred conversations on race. I am going to create space in my ministry and in my church for us stop being afraid to talk about race and oppression, systemic racism, white privilege and white supremacy. I am going to demand of us white folk that we start being responsible for our own understanding of the systems and history that brought us to this place and the experience of people of color in America and in our community. I am going to ask you to stop asking black folk to explain it to you and start reading the blog posts and ideas and opinion of black leaders and black thinkers, start listening to black writers, journalists, teachers and preachers on the internet and start being responsible for understanding it yourself. I can help you find those voices and I will sit and listen with you.
I am going to try to create a safe place for us white folk to talk with each other and face our part in this and seek solutions to the oppressive systems and terrorizing conditions in which black and brown people live and are oppressed every day. I ask you to join me and be brave enough to not move on when the news cycle shifts, to not disengage when the conversation gets hard and not divert your attention when your denial or self preservation tries to win the day. I am going to invite you into a long haul process in which you may find yourself making only baby steps at times, but a process which will make a difference, a process that will change all of us and so doing will change (if only a little) the systems of oppression.
Beloved, this is a process in which I am confident Jesus wants us to be engaged. You see, Jesus wants us to love our neighbor, as ourselves. In order to do that we need to know our neighbor and our neighbors experience. I know we can do this because Jesus called twelve bumbling and stumbling nobodies to be disciples in his work of creating beloved community. If a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors could do it, I am sure we can too. I’m done praying. Let’s start doing! And I promise I’ll pray with you while we do.
With blessing and prayer, Rev. Wendy Miller Olapade