The death of George Floyd took me back to the shooting at Emanuel in Charleston, SC. At the time of the shooting of the Emanuel 9, I was at Emmanuel teaching Bible Study. I was in my first pastorate. The shooter was born and raised just minutes from our church.
In the midst of all the protests and all the voices crying out that systemic and cultural racism is wrong and has continued, my ears and eyes have been opened again. For someone who was often the one in worship planning meetings who asked the question, “But what does it look like to have only older, white males on chancel for worship? Doesn’t that make it look like we don’t affirm and welcome women into worship leadership?” I hadn’t asked myself the question, “Whose voices am I listening to? Whose voices am I reading?”
I took a critical look at my social media feeds and realized, I am listening to white voices. I had been intentional with what I was reading. I was reading POC books and articles. I was listening to podcast interviews with those same authors, but my social media feeds were inundated with white voices.
And so I began to listen to recommendations of others and follow the voices of Black women in particular. I sought after those authors I had been reading and found their social media accounts. I looked at the white voices I had been following and decided to let go of a few of those voices who didn’t acknowledge the racial reckoning.
Then I began to listen to the stories of Black classmates from my white, independent liberal arts college. I began to listen to the stories of blatant racism from students and faculty. I began to confess for all the times that I have been in a system that not only is racist but chooses to continue to be racist. Again and again, the stories are stories of encounters and conversations I didn’t know where happening. Again and again, I was confronted with my white privilege.
As I have been reading Austin Channing Brown’s I Am Still Here, this passage struck me:
When you believe niceness disproves the presence of racism, it’s easy to start believing bigotry is rare, and that the label racist should be applied to only mean-spirited, intentioanl acts of discrimination. The problem with this framework – besides being a gross misunderstanding of how racism operates is systems and structures enabled by nice people – is that it obligates me to be nice in return, rather than be truthful. I am expected to come close to racists. Be nicer to them. (pg. 101)
It is not Austin’s or any other Black person’s responsibility to do my work. My work is to make sure that I am not adding more work to the work that so many Black people and women, in particular, are doing and have done their whole lives. It’s time for me to wake up and realize that I am part of the problem and intentionally choose to be a part of this racial reckoning. I will work to challenge and dismantle systems that oppress Black voices and experiences and values white voices and experiences. I will continue to acknowledge my privilege. I will continue to cull my social media accounts to include POC voices and experiences. I will continue to do the work to listen to voices that I haven’t listened to for so long.
Want to join me on this journey? Let me know what you have been reading and listening to!
Here are some of the resources I have been reading and listening to:
What White People Can Do for Racial Justice
I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
The Case for Reparations Ta-Nehisi Coates
Brene Brown and Austin Channing Brown on I’m Still Here
On Being: Imagining a New America