On the heels of an event at our local church last evening, and having watched “After Charleston” on PBS tonight, I offer this meditation…
Jeannie and I have just completed a nine-year travel experience which has taken us into all of the lower 48 States and The District of Columbia. In the course of our journeys, we have seen numerous evidence to document racism that has existed even before our nation was founded. Multiple firsthand experiences have demonstrated to us the existence of White privilege used for centuries to express power and effect persecution against people of color.
Most of this was excized from our history classes and textbooks, leaving us with a sanitized educational experience that perpetuated a national story which never actually existed in all the ways we were taught that it did. Without even realizing it, succeeding generations affirmed a patriotism that contained as much shame as virtue (but with the shame factored out)–and doing so with the sanction of an equally-erroneous interpretation of the Bible that allowed the justification of White supremacy (in all sorts of ways) and gave underpinning to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny.
At base, all this enabled generation after generation to define others as less than human (beginning back on the plantations where many of the “Founding Fathers” emmassed their wealth on the backs of African slaves, and enabling those same men to describe Native Americans as “savages” in ‘The Declaration of Independence’), creating the loophole in “all men are created equal” by declaring some people not to be genuinely or fully “men”–a view which swept women as well into their own less-than status, regardless of race.
From these early days, White privilege has reigned, enabling the spirit and substance of racism to live on. And we come to our own time with many documented examples (including formal studies and credible writings) of racial disadvantage in social, economic, medical, educational, judicial, political and religious arenas. Much of this has been maintained by the perpetuation of racial myths and other stereotypes put forward by those who are intent on sustaining White privilege in our day–untruths born of prejudice, but allowed to stand even by some holding and running for public office.
As White privilege persists, the damaging effects of racism continue (spilling over into White social-disadvantage expressions as well, and also into religious prejudice), and as has happened in the past, stress is increasing, pressure is mounting, and acts of violence are occurring. Desperation is the result when fear and hopelessness are mixed together.
As one who went through the ’60’s (but even then as a White person buffered from knowing and experiencing racial realities in my own home town), all this is eerily familiar, including the need to speak out against contemporary racism, just as others have done in times past. An understanding of our history must be an ignition of individual and collective will to name White privilege (and the increasing gaps it creates in society) for the social evil that it is.
No single answer will solve the problem because the fabric of our national life is woven from many threads. But the starting point for any thread is to use every opportunity to call out White privilege wherever we see it, and to include non-violent actions that turn true words into redemptive acts.
Coming off the road from our latest trip and combining it with the past nine years, I am in the infancy of my awareness, and even less knowledgeable of how I might not only continue to speak and write, but also act. Jeannie and I are fortunate to be part of a local church which has decided to address the uprooting of racism by identifying itself as being engaged in the effort, and by connecting our convictions with other religious and civic leaders in our city who likewise believe that the time is now to say “No” even while still seeking God’s “Yes.”
Beyond this, we have faith to believe that the Spirit of God is once again stirring the souls of folks who see our national inhumanities, weaving us into another movement willing to sing a 21st-century version of “We shall overcome” because we “have a dream” that “though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”