Am I Racist? And other tough questions.

This last week was not an easy one for our country. As always people took to social media to express their views. As did I. I re-posted the statement “They showed up with guns, sticks and torches. And they all went home alive. For those who keep asking, that’s white privilege.” I struck some nerves, possibly lost a few friends. My Facebook author page took a clear hit between my thoughts on Charlottesville and my last post Raising a Miley Cyrus in an Esther World. But I don’t write to stroke egos, I write my convictions. I write about where my theological studies and life experiences have brought me. As I try to see the world through different eyes I have to ask am I racist.

am I racist blog title

Ricardo Gomez Angel
This piece is deeply rooted from my convictions. I did not want to hit publish.

Here’s the thing some of us can walk away from this fight. I can duck my head and run and say it’s for someone else. But people I love can’t. They are forced into this dialogue, this trauma, this fear because of the color of their skin. So, I choose to stand with them. The ability to remain quiet and walk away is white privilege.

If my friend is fearing for her son’s life when he walks out of the house then I owe it to her to understand why. I owe it to her to listen and ask why that fear is so strong.

I owe it to her to mix my voice with hers and say this is not right.

This isn’t about freedom of speech, it’s about the fact that there are people, like this man, in our society who believe so strongly in white supremacy.

Did you know there are 917 hate groups operating in America? Do you know if they are in your hometown? (Hate Map)

When I posted on social media I wanted to sit with it. I wanted the reality to sink in. It wasn’t meant to be helpful to those who choose not to see, it was meant to be convicting. I re-posted because the words convicted me. This country is different depending on the skin you are experiencing it in, and it shouldn’t be.

If you are offended by the phrase privilege then you’re missing the meaning. Here is an excellent video explaining unearned privilege and our need to see the world through someone else’s eyes. We need to start believing people’s stories as they share them with us. We need to learn empathy.

I’ve waited too long to stand up. For that I am sorry.

If you know me in my every day you know where I stand, but it’s not enough anymore that my physical neighbor know.

The question “am I racist?” isn’t something I suddenly began to question after Charlottesville. It’s a question I’ve been struggling with since high school when my family moved to a small town in Arkansas and for the first time, I began to see the divisions. The question followed me through college and seminary. It stuck with me into motherhood but I slowly pushed it to the side. In the midst of a cancer fight, it was no longer a priority and I could push it away.

Then my husband enlisted in the Army and we moved to a community where we were the minority. I no longer thought much of racism. I wasn’t in the south anymore, my children had a diverse community to play with, and we were surrounded by interracial families. I was comfortable just existing and naive enough to believe the world had changed.

In reality, I had learned to overlook the rude comments, to grieve temporarily at injustice as though it wasn’t the norm, and to focus on the needs of the immediate people in my circle. For our family, this meant the military community and St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Both are worthy causes. Both are in need of support. But the reality of being able to choose my fights was lost on me.

Isaiah 58:6-11 has been heavy on my heart this week.

58:6 No, this is the kind of fast I want. 12 I want you 13  to remove the sinful chains,to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke,to set free the oppressed, 14 and to break every burdensome yoke.58:7 I want you 15  to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. 16 When you see someone naked, clothe him!Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood! 17 58:8 Then your light will shine like the sunrise; 18 your restoration will quickly arrive; 19 your godly behavior 20  will go before you,and the Lord’s splendor will be your rear guard. 21 58:9 Then you will call out, and the Lord will respond;you will cry out, and he will reply, ‘Here I am.’You must 22  remove the burdensome yoke from among youand stop pointing fingers and speaking sinfully.58:10 You must 23  actively help the hungryand feed the oppressed. 24 Then your light will dispel the darkness, 25 and your darkness will be transformed into noonday. 26 58:11 The Lord will continually lead you;he will feed you even in parched regions. 27 He will give you renewed strength, 28 and you will be like a well-watered garden,like a spring that continually produces water.

What does this verse look like acted out in America today? There are so many opportunities to help the oppressed, where do we begin?

It matters that everyone speaks up and says enough. But speaking up is not enough. To be an ally we have to stand against the systems and institutions that allow others to be oppressed. We don’t get a pat on the back for not being the one carrying the tiki torches or driving a car into a crowd. We don’t even deserve praise for joining in the anti-Nazi protest. I should have been there all along. It’s like my son being asked to do the dishes five times, and then once he does wanting accolades. No. He should have done it the first time.

If we aren’t working on changing the institutions we are a part of to be more inclusive and give others the same, and even sometimes better, than our white heritage has granted us then we aren’t actually standing with anyone.

In choosing to stand with the oppressed, to be an authentic friend, I have to learn why we are where we are at. Why does it feel as if the tension of race is suddenly bubbling over? Well simply put, because it has been for a long time.

I process my own thoughts through written words.  I spent my high school and college years in Arkansas where racism was and is prevalent. Since college, I have been working on a novel. I keep telling myself it is nearing completion, and then a new layer of my own heart is revealed. It began as a personal disgust for the racism I saw daily.  But through the process of writing, I discovered ugliness within me. I’ve discovered my own implicit bias and I’m working hard to change. It’s why it’s taking me so long. I don’t know that I will ever have the courage to publish it, or if it will be anything more than a journey to understand my own heart.

It is not the job of the oppressed to educate the oppressors on how they are oppressing or how they need to change. It is, in fact, the majority’s responsibility to create change. I loved how my pastor put it.

White supremacy or superiority is not a problem for people of color to solve. It is for white people to solve. It is first our problem as white people, it is our disease. Christian people who are white are uniquely positioned to address white superiority in the secret places where it thrives, and there is no one else who can do it. If we are to prioritize blamelessness in our lives, if we are to seek to be made whole, then we need to identify and recognize the ways that we can actively work against white supremacy in our world. There is no one else who can do it. – Jessica Lower

(Listen to her full sermon Blameless: http://www.epgrace.com/single-post/2017/08/13/Being-Blameless-A-Sermon)

So where do we start? Here are just a few resources to get us talking. It is purposely a short list because it is only a starting point.

First, we must look inward.

Second, we must confess what we find in our own heart.  What does confession look like? Read A Priest’s Confession: I am racist for a starting point.

Third, we must take action. This looks different for everyone and you have to ask yourself based on your own convictions what this looks like in your life. I found these two suggestions creative for tackling Neo-Nazi demonstrations (I’m in utter shock I’m typing that phrase right now BTW) :

  • Neo-Nazi’s Slowly Realized This Small Town Totally Punked Them – This was so well done other towns copied them. I’d be happy to stand and encourage the Nazi’s on in their march and even hand out certificates at the end. Who wants to join me?
  • Sheetcake Protest  – Only Tina Fey can turn Nazi fighting into a reason to eat cake. Brillant! While her “let’s eat cake” protest has struck a nerve, the part that stands out to me is the lament and disbelief. We all respond differently. Be creative. Just do something. If that something is frequenting a minority run bakery and stepping out of your comfort zone then take that first step.

It’s fairly easy to know if you are a Nazi or not. It’s simple to say here’s the line and I’m not crossing it. In case you confused chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” is evidence as well as not being offended by those words. But why is it so muddy when it comes to racism? Why can’t we see the inequality and why do we get so defensive when it’s pointed out?

Here are just a few resources to get us talking. It is purposely a short list because it is only a starting point.

Online Test

Podcasts

Books

TV /Movies

  • Superior DonutsThis is a quirky fun tv show that highlights tensions in our country. Located in Chicago the cast contains police officers, wealthy, poor, whites, blacks, Jews, and Arabs. They have tough conversations that many of us are afraid to have with one another in a light-hearted manner. It will make you think. It has been the starting point for some great conversations in our home.
  • I Am Not Your Negro –  This movie connects the past of the Civil Rights movement to the present of #BlackLivesMatter.

Additional Resources

I encourage you to search for African American (and other minority) authors, speakers, and experts in your fields of interest. If you can’t find any then you need to start with the question of why? Begin exploring why their voices are not heard in these corners of academics and/or culture. You might be surprised by what you find.

Please drop links to books, podcasts, authors, artists, etc…. that you recommend. I don’t have the answers, I’m still seeking them too.

If you have creative solutions to help our country move forward towards equality, share those as well. We’re all looking for answers right now.

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