Bridge Executive Presbyter
To say the least, it has been a trying few weeks, almost like a pressure-cooker has exploded in our country. In the midst of anxiety and disorientation from the pandemic, the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Aubrey have ignited protests and pleas for justice across our country, cries for mercy that are not new, but continue to beg for our attention. The looting and destruction of property have been devastating for many, but have also drawn attention away from these cries. As Christians, called to love our neighbor, we cannot keep looking away. We cannot nod our heads in sympathy, or even engage in protest, and then return to the comfort of our homes and hope this all “settles down.” White people like me cannot claim we follow Jesus and ignore the oppression of beloved children of God.
We must respond to the cries of injustice.
I used to think racism was something I could never relate to, a term reserved for those practicing bigotry and racial prejudice. After all, I was raised to treat everyone with dignity and respect regardless of the color of their skin. I was taught to be “color-blind” toward others of different races, because we are “all equal,” and never gave a thought to the color of my own skin. I was well into my adulthood before I learned that this way of being in the world was part of my privilege,
privilege I was born into merely because of my skin color
My white-skin privilege afforded me the luxury of ignoring skin color and insulated me from the reality that in this country the color of a person’s skin does indeed determine the extent to which life, liberty and pursuit of happiness is even possible. I now know this is a reality of the systemic and structural racism of which I am a product.
Being white, I cannot fully know what it is like to live as a Black person in this country, or completely understand what lies beneath the anger we’ve seen pouring into the streets. But I do know
what I don’t know
. I don’t know what it feels like to hear “the talk” from a parent or guardian every day before I go out the door – don’t wear your hood up, don’t be too loud, talk respectfully to white people, keep your hands where people can see them…the list goes on. I don’t know what it’s like to see a police officer and instead of feeling protected, to feel my life is threatened. I don’t know what it’s like to be followed by security guards in a store, when I’m just trying to buy a Mother’s Day present. I don’t know what it’s like to be Black and pregnant, praying it’s a girl because I’m not sure if I’m strong enough to raise a Black boy in this world that doesn’t trust him because of the color of his skin. These stories of what it’s like to be Black in the United States, told to me by friends and colleagues, have revealed to me the privilege of my skin color, and the racism embedded in a world that has shaped my way of seeing it. I know I have a lot to learn.
So what can we white people
As paralyzed or confused as we may feel about all of this, there is a lot we can and need to do to dismantle the systems that perpetuate racism in our country. It starts with listening. Listening can be uncomfortable, and it can prompt shame and guilt. But if we are committed to following Jesus and working for a just world, we must listen to the voices of frustration and fear and anger that are hoarse from repetition. We must let go of our defensiveness, and really hear, and try to understand
the anger built up through generations
. We must listen for the ways our silence and ignorance have perpetuated racial injustice.
So much of the history of the people of color in this country
was never taught in our schools.
We must not remain ignorant, but seek resources that tell that history, and more accurately and broadly inform our understanding of the world. Read the works of Black writers whose perspective is shaped by an experience we know little about. Read the history of the acquisition of our land, the building of our economy, and the development of our social systems and schools, even churches, that has been left out of our textbooks. Look for the data that reveals the racial inequities of those systems and services today. With humility and open hearts and minds, commit to becoming informed about the systems, structures and institutions perpetuating racism and racial inequities, and making it impossible for all to flourish.
There is a lot we need to learn. This is a place to start.
How can we start together?
Today the congregations of the Presbytery of Blackhawk have an opportunity to do anti-racism Kingdom-Building - to be part of the transformation needed so that all God’s people might flourish. Eric Heinekamp and I are committed to helping organize resources and programs so we can begin this important work. Certainly, we all are tired. The pandemic has made us weary, its economic impact has made us worried and anxious. Systemic racism is not the only problem our country is facing right now. But it is a problem embedded in every other problem, COVID-19 being yet another example, as it hospitalizes and kills people of color at disproportionate rates. Black communities are tired too.
Tired and fed up, and not at all surprised at these statistics that only reveal what they already knew - racism is built into our society. The disparate impact of COVID-19 is just another manifestation of the reality of systemic racial injustice that has gone on far too long.
While the congregations across our presbytery are diverse in context - rural, urban, suburban - all of our churches are predominately white. Therefore, few of us can claim to understand the problem of racism in our country, and how to dismantle it, without some study and work. Recognizing that every congregation and member might be in a different place in their own education, we have curated a manageable variety of resources below to help you to take the next step that is appropriate for your congregation. Other excellent resource lists are also widely available with simple internet searches. In addition, we urge you to become informed about and participate in the anti-racism efforts in your own communities. We also encourage every congregation to consider becoming a
Matthew 25 congregation
, formally declaring your commitment to dismantling structural racism and eradicating systemic poverty and beginning to take steps forward.
Racism is embedded in the institutions, systems, and structures of our country. The dismantling and reconstruction will take a long time. But we have to begin now. We who have white skin have seen over these past few weeks the harmful result of our efforts to ignore this, argue against it, and defend ourselves (i.e. “but I treat everyone equally”). As followers of Christ, we know another way. It has been our privilege not to confront this sin that is eating away at our country. Now we must repent, turning from the ways that have perpetuated the suffering of Black people, our very neighbors, and toward the ways that lead to abundant life for all.
Let’s be part of the dismantling, together.