Monday Morning Moment – On Being White in a #BlackLivesMatter America – in Remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo Credit: The Blue Diamond Gallery, Alpha Stock Images

I have never felt so white as in recent years. Even all the years we lived in North Africa weren’t like now. Being white, politically conservative and evangelical, some would say, in our current political and cultural climate, that folks like me come from a camp of perceived unsavories.

That reality is might be changeable as political parties come and go in power. What I would love is to have conversation with you…if you would engage with me in the Comments below…is about the realities of those whose skin and cultural experience is black.

No matter what my heart is toward people of color or my attempts to bridge the racial gaps of this city…is it too little, too late? No. I know it’s not too late, but what can I do definitively to help?

This is what I’m asking and searching out.

When the Rodney King arrest happened and became a cultural phenomenon, we were living in the hills of East Tennessee. Far from the struggles that poverty and racial tension bring to urban America.

With violence in the US on the rise, it is easy to see how edgy police officers could get. Police brutality is never the answer. It is, however, a part of the many problems we have in our country right now.

Don’t Just Blame the Cops: Who Is responsible for America’s Killing Fields? – John W. Whitehead – Huffington Post

[I couldn’t imagine someone I loved being in law enforcement and am grateful for these men and women who try to do right and try to keep us ALL safe.]

What stirred me to write today (besides it being MLK Day) was an account by a friend of mine who was pulled over recently by local police. This friend is well-educated, conservatively dressed, articulate, and kind. He lives in a part of the city that is being revitalized, doing work in a non-profit organization and he has a family. He is also black.

When we talked, he told me this was actually the fourth time he had been stopped for confusing reasons that could have put him in harm’s way, when he wasn’t guilty.

When he was in high school, he was among a group of students gathered by a police officer. The purpose of the class was to teach them “how not to get shot” if ever approached by law enforcement.

My friend has applied those lessons on these multiple “pull overs”.

When he and his wife shared the details of some of these encounters with police, it caused me to be scared for them…and for all those who experience this kind of profiling (because of their color?).

That conversation reminded me of my only experience that was anywhere close to his. [And then, it’s not even close.] Once when we lived in North Africa, a police officer pulled me over, took my papers and refused to return them to me until I paid him “a fee”. I had done nothing wrong, and I couldn’t leave without my papers. Stuck. It was the only time in all the years we lived overseas that I essentially cooperated with a bribe.

As infuriating and exasperating as that North African experience was, I still felt the benefit of white privilege. I had the money to pay him. I, an unaccompanied woman, was driving a car. I knew if I appealed (to anyone in our hearing that day), he may have probably backed off.

A big difference between my friend’s situation and mine was that I knew there was a way out. Not sure of his confidence of that…

Photo Credit: Flickr

The phrase “white privilege” feels wrong, to be honest, and I chafe in every conversation where it comes up. I wanted to be a person who has tried to be “color  blind”. The problem with that “color blindness” is our black neighbors, coworkers, friends don’t have that option. I’m beginning to see and acknowledge how privileged I am in so many ways. This is what I used to call “blessed” which had no color attached. Unfortunately, when my friend shares his experiences, I want to agree with him. There is privilege attached to my life. If there is privilege, then how do I use it for the sake of others?… This friend of mine has his own privilege through education and class, BUT the color of his skin trumps all of that.

YouTube Video – If Someone Doesn’t Understand Privilege, Watch This

On Sunday, at the start of our church service, I saw, sitting by our pastor, a person of color, wearing the “pastor’s mic”.  I’d been praying for some time that when we added to our staff, we would seek a black man or woman. When Rayshawn Graves was introduced as our speaker, I forgot for a moment that his presence was aligned with our observance of MLK Day. Initially my heart thrilled at the possibility that he was preaching “in view of a call”. Oh well (I would find out later)…he is contentedly on staff at Redemption Hill Church in Richmond.

Rayshawn preached out of Ephesians 2:11-16 on the reconciling of Jewish and Gentile believers. He also preached on Galatians 2:11-16 on how racism can creep into even the most devout believers if we aren’t careful. His message was so encouraging to me as a white believer desiring to figure how to deal with racism in America (what could I do?). My takeaways from his assuring and equipping sermon follow:

  • Racism is a sin which will always be present. It separates and isolates us from God and each other.
  • Jesus died for that sin as for all other sins.
  • Through Him, we can have the guilt of that sin removed. We can all be free to live in unity with God and each other.
  • Our identity in Christ is above every other identity we may have.
  • We don’t have to live out guilt (as whites) or the hurt of racism (as blacks). We belong to Christ and we are called to live that out – loving God, loving others, making every effort to keep and preserve the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3).
  • We are called to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) – within the church and with marginalized peoples especially. Unless we come close to each other, and have heart conversations, how will we know what those burdens are?
  • Because our identity is in Christ, and we love Him and want to be like Him, we make a habit of being proactive in pursuing reconciliation.

You can listen to Rayshawn’s sermon in entirety here. So helpful.

#BlackLivesMatter: A Guide for Confused White People – Sarah Wotaszak

YouTube Video – A Biblical Response on Race – Sermon by Tony Evans

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

As we pause on Martin Luther King Day and reflect on the sobering issue of racism in our country, and world, we can be hopeful. The hope must be grounded in what has already been done for us to be unified…and what we can do, based on truth, towards racial reconciliation. Still thinking of my friend, somehow profiled by law enforcement, I am more resolved than ever before to reach out in as many directions as possible. May God open doors and bring unity.

Providence Is No Excuse: Exposing a Reformed White Supremacist – Daniel Kleven

Postscript: Below I have excerpted just a few of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s observations on what was happening in his day. He wrote these to a group of white pastors who had expressed concern about his actions.  He wrote from the Birmingham jail where he was imprisoned for nonviolent demonstrations against segregation.

[Bold emphases are mine. Read his letter in its entirety here.]

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.
History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups are more immoral than individuals.
“Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate…the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice…
I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.
Photo Credit: Flickr
I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? — “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice? — “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? — “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist? — “Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God.” Was not John Bunyan an extremist? — “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience.” Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? — “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”  Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? — “We hold these truths to be self – evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love?
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7 thoughts on “Monday Morning Moment – On Being White in a #BlackLivesMatter America – in Remembrance of Martin Luther King, Jr.”

  1. Debbie, this is how I feel about the struggle to come to grips with my own racism and privilege. I AM privileged, just because of the color of my skin. I don’t get pulled over, followed in a store, or avoided on a street—all because I’m white. I will never know the struggles of being black, but I can reflect on my own life and try to work for justice for people of color.

    1. Yes…me, too. Over the last couple of years, I have begun seeing the fallacy of trying to take the “color blind” route…at least it can’t be my only approach to racial reconciliation. Too close to silence. Thanks for commenting, Vivian.

  2. Thank you for your honesty. I am a woman of color and have fortunately not encountered the experiences of many of my brothers and sisters. However, I think my lack of encounters doesn’t exclude me from what is going on. Additionally, I can’t exclude myself. My desire is that no one (any color) would. We are all a part of the human race and brothers and sisters. When someone receives injustice, we should all empathize regardless of color. The recent attack and horrific murder of Zachery Parrish (Highlands Ranch police shooting on Dec. 31) really struck a chord for me. It was right down the street from me but that’s not what did it. I didn’t see him as a member of a group of individuals who are known to profile and at times attack people of color. I saw him as a man who went to help a situation, a father, son and husband who was brutally murdered. That’s not fair and my heart bleeds for his family and friends. I feel the same way when racial injustice occurs. Is it more common for people of color???… absolutely. And we have a right to be on guard and in a state of pessimism considering everything that happens (reported or not). But what it comes down to for me is to put myself in another’s shoes regardless of circumstance. Opening our ears to truly hear these stories, see the faces of those who survive or are survived by, connecting to these individuals in such as way to ask yourself… “how does it affect me?” because it does affect you. It affects all of us. The more people turn away and ignore the injustices the more resentful and lacking in hope/relationship others feel, further segregating us. Until we truly understand love and how connected to one another we are because of love, we will forever continue to rage in racism.

    1. Wow…well-said. All of it. Thank you. Your last line is still ringing in my ears. I wonder if part of the “raging in racism” is a cry asking “does anyone hear? does anyone care?” The blaming doesn’t get us any closer to each other. The answer, as you put it so well is love. Genuine caring. Seeking to bear the other’s burden. The answer has to be a deep, sacrificial love…where we join uncomfortable conversations and really try to hear what it is for that person (black, white, other)…as you have said…then maybe we can work together toward change…as you have already so eloquently said. Thank you, for writing, Sarah. Keep writing and talking…I, among others, want to hear.

    1. I am without words. Thanks so much, Kathy, for recommending this article. It is a long and eye-opening read…horrifying. I will need to return to this again…as it is almost more than I can take in. God have mercy.

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