Acknowledging White Fragility

You are not responsible for the programming you received as a child. However, as an adult, you are 100% responsible for fixing it.

Ken Keyes Jr.

Last week, I shared a meme on Facebook with a drawing of a young black woman and a message similar to this quote: “You are not responsible for the programming you received as a child. However, as an adult, you are responsible for fixing it.” I went back to read the meme and it was gone. The image had either been deleted by the person who originally posted it or perhaps they decided to make it non-public. I can’t help but wonder if there was too much backlash from white people.

I have been doing some soul searching since the recent racial protests, thinking about the ways we talk about racism, the ways whites continue to deny it, and about the price of silence.

Today, many whites are recognizing that racism isn’t limited to individual acts of discrimination based on race. In her book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo described racism as a social construction, a system of advantage based on race, a system that privileges whites. She said that racism results when cultural prejudice is backed by legal authority and institutional control.

When I shared the meme, one of my sisters said she is grateful we weren’t programmed the wrong way as kids. I can only share my perspective and it is that I received mixed messages about race. We grew up in small towns with no blacks. At home, we were taught that racism is wrong and that we shouldn’t say the ‘n’ word but we obviously heard it somewhere. At church, we were taught that children of all colors are precious in Jesus’s sight. I remember only one lesson at school about prejudice and stereotyping. Although I was taught that racism is wrong, my impressions of blacks were based almost entirely on what I saw on TV and those programs often promoted stereotypes.

When I entered the real world as a young adult, I was uncomfortable and unsure of myself around the few blacks I encountered. I was on my guard around black men because the media too often portrayed them as threatening and aggressive. I worried that the blacks I met would not like me because I am white.

As DiAngelo wrote, segregation makes it hard for whites to see racism and easy for whites to deny that it exists. Whites have a very simplistic understanding of racial issues. Many of us are just plain ignorant about the inequality and injustices experienced by blacks. But we can’t understand racism if we don’t pay attention to group behavior and how it impacts us as individuals.

Unlike blacks, whites are not taught that our race matters. We don’t have to think about our race. Where ever we go, we are in the majority. White is seen as the standard or social norm. We automatically get the benefits of belonging. We automatically get the benefit of the doubt. We don’t have to worry that we won’t get a job because of our race or that people will assume we are up to no good because we are white. We are welcomed in every neighborhood. When a white person is admitted to a prestigious school or holds a prestigious position, no one is surprised.

At a young age, we are taught that it is better to be in one group than in another – male versus female, young versus old, straight versus gay. White children are taught not to mention a person’s race. With a shush from our moms, we learn to pretend that we don’t notice a person’s race just as we are taught to pretend we don’t notice a physical deformity. The subtle message is that there is something undesirable about being black.

I’ve always thought of “white supremacy” as the beliefs of the fringe “alt-right” members of society. But white supremacy is “the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society.” It is an erroneous but pervasive belief in our culture. The concept of white supremacy was created to justify unequal treatment.

White Fragility put a name to the defensiveness that I have been seeing in fellow whites. I see it in the response, all lives matter. I saw it when a childhood friend posted a picture of Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup (after Quaker Oats said they would change the name), saying she had the makings of a good breakfast. I saw it when another classmate shared a meme that said, among other things, “I will not apologize for being Caucasian.”

Those of us who were taught that racism is wrong may think that if someone calls you out for your prejudice, they are saying you are a bad person. We are all prejudiced and need to be reminded that we should avoid making generalizations about groups of people.

When Obama was the president, I spoke to my mother on the phone one day. She said that Obama was trying to force the affordable care act into law because that’s what “they” do. I told her, that’s not true. My mom wasn’t a bad person. She taught me that racism is wrong. She was one of the most accepting people I’ve ever known. After she and my father divorced, she dated men of other races. Yet even she needed to be challenged for repeating a racist message that she likely heard on TV.

In DiAngelo’s experiences talking to white people about racism, she sees two types of claims that whites make to exempt themselves from accusations of racism. One type of claim is color blindness. People who claim to be blind to color say things like, I was taught to treat everyone the same or I don’t care what color you are or Focusing on race is what divides us. DiAngelo calls the second kind of claims color-celebrate claims. I have people of color in my family. I work in a diverse environment or I live in a diverse neighborhood. I adopted a child from China.

I think that DiAngelo is a bit harsh on whites who honestly want to learn how to be anti-racist. Statements like the ones above are not equivalent to claiming to be exempt from prejudice nor are they necessarily meant to cut off discussions of race.

Why are whites so defensive about racism? Is it because we don’t want anyone to think we’re a bad person or is it because the system that privileges whites is too comfortable? Whatever the reason, it is hard for white people to talk about racial issues. But there are social consequences to being silent. When someone tells a racist joke or makes generalizations about people of color, silence communicates acceptance. Silence is not the way to stand up for what is right and it is not the way to resist the perpetuation of racial stereotypes and resulting discrimination.

I like to think of myself as open-minded and anti-racist. But I know I still carry around old biases I may not even be aware of having. I have to continually check my thoughts.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:23-24

Lord, we were all created in Your image. We are all precious in Your sight. Search my heart and reveal any thoughts that are not pleasing to You. Give me the humility to face the discomfort of my own racial prejudices. Transform my heart. Give me the courage to speak out for racial justice. Amen.

A change is gonna come

As people have been gathering across the country to protest racial injustice, I have been cogitating. I have been listening. I’ve been reflecting on the cultural changes of my life time, wondering what Martin Luther King, Jr. would say if he could see the world today, and most importantly, deciding that I will not be silent.

I’ve been rereading A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. King said that the racial crisis of the 1950’s was precipitated by two factors – 1) the South’s resistance to school desegregation and 2) the change in the way that black Americans saw themselves. The world was changing. Blacks no longer felt inferior to whites and were no longer willing to accept injustice.

The world is still changing. Yet sometimes it feels like the more things change, the more they stay the same. Privileged groups still resist giving up their privileges. Privileged groups still resist change. Whites still make excuses for being racist.

Privileged groups rarely give up their privileges without strong resistance. But when oppressed people rise up against oppression there is no stopping point short of full freedom. Realism compels us to admit that the struggle will continue until freedom is a reality for all the oppressed peoples of the world.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today’s racial protests were precipitated by the viral video of a police officer’s brutality against an unarmed black man, which was preceded by a few other recent documented instances of racial injustices experienced by blacks. This time, white people get it. We get the anger. We’ve seen irrefutable proof that blacks are treated as if their lives don’t matter. Many of us are realizing it is not enough to not be a racist; we must be actively anti-racist.

Obviously, not all whites understand. When someone says “black lives matter” and whites respond, “all lives matter,” it’s clear that they just don’t get it. Black Lives Matter is a response to centuries of blacks being treated as if their lives are expendable. It is an affirmation of their worth. It is an affirmation that blacks are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

If King could see America today, I hope he would see the change in the way that many whites see blacks. Today, blacks occupy positions of power and influence in government, in police departments, in businesses and in other institutions. White people appreciate the contributions blacks have made to our cultural heritage. White people value the lives of our black friends, coworkers, and family members. They are a part of us.

There’s been times that I thought

I couldn’t last for long

But now I think I’m able to carry on

It’s been a long, long time coming

But I know a change is gonna come

Oh, yes it will

Sam Cooke

There has been much criticism of the protests, especially condemnation of looting and property destruction. The truth is most protesters are peaceful. As I read A Testament of Hope, I find inspiration in Martin Luther King’s rationale for nonviolent resistance.

  1. Nonviolent resistance uses the mind and emotions to persuade the opponent that he is mistaken. Although it is physically non-aggressive, it is spiritually aggressive. It is not a method for cowards.
  2. Nonviolent resistance seeks reconciliation and redemption. It does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win him over with kindness and understanding. Violent resistance results in resentment and bitterness.
  3. Nonviolent resistance is a struggle against the forces of evil and not against the evildoer. It is not a fight against people who have been caught up in the forces of evil. The tension is between justice and injustice, between light and darkness.
  4. Nonviolent resistance accepts suffering without retaliation. It turns the other cheek. Suffering has the power to transform the oppressor.
  5. Nonviolent resistance is powered by agape, a selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. It avoids internal violence of the spirit (e.g. hatred and bitterness). Reacting with hate does nothing but increase the amount of hate in the world.
  6. Nonviolent resistance believes that the moral universe is on the side of justice. In the struggle for justice, we have cosmic companionship. Our God is a God of justice and mercy.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yes, sometimes it feels like the more things change, the more they stay the same. The ugly sin of racism still exists. People of privilege still resist change. I still have hope that change is gonna come. I believe in the redeeming power of love. I believe that truth and justice will prevail. God is on our side.

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Photo by Kiana Bosman on Unsplash

A Day of Lament

Heavenly Father, I was invited by Sojourners to participate with other people of faith in a National Day of Mourning and Lament to remember the lives of the 100,000 Americans who have died due to COVID-19. For the past few months, nearly every day, I have seen graphs and statistics showing the exponential spread of the virus. This virus has been truly devastating. It grieves me but another crisis grieves me more.

Lord, The New York Times honored the lives of thousands of coronavirus victims by printing their names on the front page, a tribute that powerfully illustrated that there was a life worth saving behind every number. Lord, You knew every one of the decedents by name. Please comfort those who knew and loved them. Every lost life matters.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy on us.

In the past week, news of the pandemic has been replaced with news of protests of the death of George Floyd, another black man whose life was taken for no reason. The sickness of racism has taken the lives and devalued the lives of people of color for far too long, from the abhorrent days of slavery to the hard-fought days of the civil rights movement to the we-should-know-better-by-now present.

The names of black men and women and children who lost their lives to the knee-jerk reactions of racism are written in our memories and our collective conscience – Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor. Lord, You knew everyone of these victims by name.

God, this country is in crisis. I lament the senseless loss of life. I lament the violence. I lament racism. I lament injustice.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy on us.

Lord, I grieve for black parents who have to have “the talk” with their children, telling them that they must fear police officers. And Lord, I pray for the majority of police officers who serve honorably. Protect them and help them to make a positive difference in the communities they serve.

Jesus, my heart breaks for the message black Americans are hearing. One of my favorite columnists, Eugene Robinson, wrote a piece titled, Black lives remain expendable. As a black man, he was angry and rightly so. “Stop treating African Americans like human trash and start treating us like citizens.” Black lives are not expendable. Lord, I pray that every white American will start treating every African American as a human being. I pray that we will start treating every black person as if they matter. They do matter.

Lord, I can’t get these words out of my head: I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Sir, I can’t breathe. The words of a man who wanted to live. The words of a father. The words of a brother. The words of a son calling out for his mama in the last moments of his life. He did not deserve to die.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, grant us peace.

Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer. Amen.

Crickets

I have been waiting to hear your response to the ugly, vile comments the president directed at four congresswomen of color. His comments were so outrageous yet so in character, so blatantly racist, so anti-Christ, I hoped that at long last you would speak up and stand on the side of all that is right and just and moral.

Crickets. Nothing but the sound of crickets.

Even you who are outwardly religious are silent. Over and over again, you hear him say things that break Christ’s heart and yet you say nothing! Not one word when he pushed the racist lie about Obama’s birthplace. Not one word when he called Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists. Not one word when he called white supremacists “very fine people.” Not one word as his administration separates migrant children from their parents and treats brown people who cross our border as less than human. Not one damn word.

Crickets. Nothing but the sound of crickets.

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God.

Leviticus 19:33-34

Your silence speaks volumes. Your silence says you’re okay with the way he demeans women and people of color. It tells me that perhaps you even agree with his derogatory comments. It tells me that you judge a person by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character. It tells me you think that women should just shut up and blindly follow a man, even one as immoral and sinful as he is.

Crickets. Nothing but the sound of crickets.

When I do hear a peep out of some of you, you show me your true colors. Your bigotry and xenophia are on full display. You wave the flag and say, if you don’t like it here, leave. You call human beings illegals. You say we owe illegals nothing; we owe veterans everything as if there isn’t enough love to go around.

I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. Maybe you’re not a bigot. Maybe you’re a good person who doesn’t want to ruffle any feathers. Maybe you’re afraid you’ll offend someone if you speak out. I get that. But I have to ask, who will speak for you when someone doesn’t treat you with the human dignity you deserve?

Crickets. Nothing but the sound of crickets.

Who will call out the president’s racism? Who will call out this ugly sin if not people of faith like me who know that we are all human and we have been commanded by our Maker to love one another?

The moral duty to name and reject racism cannot only fall on the shoulders of people of color, those who are being targeted and assaulted; it must also include other white people in this nation. 

Jim Wallace

My own reluctance to speak out shames me. God gave me a conscience. God gave me empathy and compassion. God gave me a voice. So let me tell you something, you who remain silent or deny or make excuses for his abhorrent behavior:

Racism is a sin. Racism is reprehensible. There is no excuse for his behavior. Your president is a racist and his words and behavior are not acceptable.

******

African Field cricket Gryllus bimaculatus at Bristol Zoo, Bristol, England. Photographed by Adrian Pingstone in February 2005 and released to the public domain.

SMH @ u 2

Dear Christian Friend,

Recently you shared a meme on Facebook calling CNN reporters liars because they reported that the people of Puerto Rico are not getting the aid they need. Indignantly, you commented, SMH!

Well, my dear, I am shaking my head at you too. You say you are a Christian. You frequently share posts about your faith. But I’m not seeing Jesus in you. And if I, as a follower of Jesus Christ, can’t see Jesus in you, what are all the non-believers thinking?

You claim to worship the God of Abraham, the God who gave Moses the commandment not to kill. After every mass shooting, instead of mourning the senseless loss of life, you are among the first to stand up in defense of inanimate objects that were designed to kill people. You worry that the government will take away the right to bear arms, even those military-style weapons designed to maximize carnage. It is sad to see you care more about your “rights” and about objects than you do about innocent human beings.

You portray yourself as a good, patriotic American, so much so that you were disgusted and enraged when black Americans took to their knees to protest racial injustice while the national anthem plays. Clearly, you love the flag and the anthem, symbols of this great nation. There is a lot to love about this country and about the brave men and women who have defended its ideals, including the freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But you have made a religion out of patriotism and think you have the right to demand that others practice it. You freely express your opinions yet think you have the right to determine how someone else expresses theirs.

This nation is far from perfect. Its greatness has been tarnished by racism and other forms of injustice from the beginning. God has shown this nation what is good. And what does He ask of those who trust in Him? That we act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). Yet you refuse to see the injustices in the criminal justice system. You refuse to extend compassion and mercy to the oppressed. You refuse to even listen when black Americans tell you that their lives matter. It is sad to see you care more about symbols and a song than about human beings.

You have made an idol out of killing tools. You have made an idol out of patriotism. I shake my head in disgust at this. But I shake my head in shame at the mockery you have made of Christianity.

You’ve made no secret of your hatred of Obama and your adulation of Trump. You shared a meme that showed President Obama saying that this is not a Christian nation. Below the photo of Obama was a photo of your president holding a Bible.  If you believe what that meme suggests (and you must or you would not share it), you are actively making a  mockery of the Christian faith.

I don’t know whether Obama actually said that America is not a Christian nation but if he did, he would have been right. According to Barna, the organization that conducts surveys of religious beliefs, 73% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. But only 31% of Americans are “practicing Christians” – those who attend church services at least once a month. And I am convinced, that if it were possible to look inside the hearts of church-going folks, you would see an even smaller percentage of people who actually understand what Jesus was trying to teach us about love and forgiveness, grace, justice, and mercy.

If you think that not standing up for the national anthem is disrespectful, equating your president with the Christian faith is downright blasphemous. You don’t become a Christian by holding a Bible. You don’t become a Christian by pretending to fight a war on Christianity, e.g. defending the right to say “Merry Christmas.” The only way to be saved is to confess your sins and to repent. Yet your chosen one has publicly stated that he does not believe he needs to repent or ask for forgiveness.

You claim to be a Christian with good moral values. But non-Christians see that you have put your faith in a man who is as anti-Christ as a person can be. You condone his behavior. The fruit of the Spirit, the evidence that a person follows Jesus, is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is not hating and threatening your enemies. It is not anger and rage. It is not insulting and demeaning people who don’t praise you. It is not sowing discord and division. It is not uncontrolled twitter rants. It is most certainly not worshiping yourself.

Go ahead and call me judgmental. Call me a “libtard” if it makes you feel better. But please, please, please, stop calling yourself a Christian if you don’t follow Christ. Stop calling yourself a Christian if you don’t love your neighbor. Stop calling yourself a Christian if you follow an ungodly man. And most importantly, stop turning people away from Jesus with your hypocrisy.

Dear friend, we pray to the same God. I pray for you. I pray that God will soften your heart. I pray that you will have eyes that see and ears that hear. I don’t want you to be one of the hypocrites Jesus spoke about – the ones who will come to him saying, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and perform many miracles? And he will say to them, I never knew you.

You proudly say that you stand for the flag and kneel for the cross. When you kneel for the cross, you stand up for justice. When you kneel for the cross, you stand up for mercy. When you kneel for the cross, you walk humbly before your God. When you kneel for the cross, you love God with all of your heart, all of your mind, all of your soul and all of your spirit. When you kneel for the cross, you love your neighbor as yourself.