Frustration, anger, discouragement, sadness … the list of emotions could go on, but I’m guessing most of you are feeling much the same as we face the ongoing violence and race issues in our country. No one seems to have an answer that most of us can agree upon, except that we’d like to see an end to these tragedies.
On one level, I really don’t think I could add much to the conversation. Writers brighter than me have described the situation more eloquently than I ever could … and I have been reading any number of articles and books on the subject. Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” several articles by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times, books titled “Waking Up White,” “America’s Original Sin,” “Between the World and Me,” “Makes Me Wanna Holler,” all excellent as they explore the complexity and nuances of race in America.
My first encounter of racial anger was when I was in second grade (probably around 1965). Ronnie came over to my house to play. We were outside on our swings and then began a wrestling match. Ronnie had me pinned and we were laughing until our next-door neighbor came racing around the corner, red-faced and angry. I couldn’t clean up his language enough for print even if I remembered it; what has stuck in my heart and mind is the fear in my 7-year-old friend’s face and the fact that he never came to my house again. Since then I have had a few direct experiences with racial discrimination, but I am a white male from a middle-class family and have had little incentive to wade into these raging waters.
In response to the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile (before the shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge), Tawnya Denise Anderson, co-moderator of my denomination, wrote the following:
“White people, you have heard it said that you must talk to other white people about racism, and you must. But don’t talk to them about their racism. Talk to them about YOUR racism. Talk to them about how you were socialized to view, talk to, and engage with people of color. Talk to them about the ways you’ve acted on that socialization. Talk to them about the lies you bought into. Talk about the struggles you continue to have in shedding the scales from your eyes. Don’t make it ‘their’ problem. Understand it as your own problem, because it is … It’s confession time.”
So what do I need to confess as a white male, living in one of the most privileged parts of the world? First of all, this is the first time I have written on the issue of race to an audience larger than my own congregation. As a leader in the faith community, I have rarely said anything that might be construed as controversial. I’m naturally an optimist and a conflict avoider, but my silence makes me complicit in the problem. I may not have answers, but that does not excuse me from pointing out the problem or beginning conversations about the need for change.
Benjamin Franklin wisely said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” My outrage is growing.