This one is for my white friends. I have a confession to make:
I am a racist.
And I’m certainly not colorblind.
To tell you differently would be a lie to myself and to you. As a part of the racial majority in the United States, I play a part in racism. I play a part in systemic, institutionalized racism. I play a part in individual racism. However unintentional it may be, I still act on prejudices against other people because of their race. Even actions that sometimes go unnoticed, like gripping my wallet more tightly when I pass a man of color, speak to the horrifying truth that racism lives inside of me.
In the aftermath of the election, there have been a lot of accusations of racism, and simultaneously, a lot of white people proclaiming that they aren’t racist. It’s going to be difficult to make progress and heal the racial divide if we don’t first recognize the part we as white people play.
After one of the (many) shootings of an unarmed black man by a white police officer this year, our pastor, Tony Sundermeier, preached a passionate sermon about the way white Christians, white “friends of God,” should respond. You can watch his sermon here. I was convicted, and I planned to write this post. I mulled over how to make Tony’s message my own. But as the number of days since the latest shooting grew, the post felt less relevant, less sharable. That’s my white privilege speaking, you see, since I don’t have to think about my race everyday. I get fired up about improving race relations when something bad happens, don’t actually do anything, and then I forget about it on most of the days that fall in between tragedies.
Last Wednesday morning, as the reality of a Donald Trump presidency started to sink in, I struggled to find the words to respond. So I decided to revisit this post that I never brought to fruition.
I hesitated to jump into the political fray on social media during this election. I told myself it was because I know, love, and respect a lot of people with different views. I prided myself on writing posts about loving others and praying for world peace (yup, literally) that people from both sides of the aisle would “like.” To be honest, those posts were a cop out. I didn’t want my family to know that I have a different political ideology than most of them. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers or start a Facebook comment war. So I cast my vote for Hillary Clinton… in private.
It’s not by accident that America voted into office a man that embodies the hatred of people who aren’t straight, white, Christian men. Until eight years ago, this country was exclusively led by straight, white, Christian men. Our country was founded on the authority of white slave owners and now will be run by a man who has demonstrated a desire to keep power in white, male hands. Millions of voters demonstrated that they’re ok with that, too.
There are more times than I’d like to admit that I’ve let racist comments and microaggressions by my white peers go unchecked. There are probably at least as many times that I’ve been the one making the comments. If you truly believe that you are living in a post-racial America, I implore you to think again. Racism is alive and very, very real. It’s not hard to find if you’re looking for it, especially in the last few days. America’s racism isn’t new news, but this election has opened many white eyes to some of the problems that people of color have been dealing with basically forever. And some of us that hoped for a different result got a tiny glimpse of the disappointment and betrayal that many have felt over and over and over and over again.
Some of my first responses to the election results were to blame other people, to get defensive, to think “I didn’t do this.” I didn’t vote for him, after all! On reflection, however, I realized that I’ve played a part in Trump winning, too. It’s easy to point the finger at extreme examples of bigotry, bullying, and hatred. I so badly want to convince you that I’m “one of the good ones.” But that’s not a helpful narrative because prejudice lives inside of me, too.
My great-great-great-grandmother fought for women’s voting rights in Puerto Rico. I am so proud of that. But did I embody her courageous spirit during this election? Not really. I wish I had, but wishing doesn’t do much. Did I do anything to mobilize people demographically like me to affect change? Nope.
In Tony’s aforementioned sermon, “Choose This Day Whom You Serve,” he challenged us (white Christians) to do three things:
- Be present
- Confess and repent
- Tell the truth to ourselves and others
I guess it’s no surprise that I’m going at this backward and starting with the last item on the list. I feel convicted to name my own racism in a public way, and I hope that that will reveal some truth to others, too. I’m privileged in almost all ways and so are most of the people with whom I surround myself. Though I like to think I have friends who are people of color, I haven’t texted, called, or messaged a single one of them after a fear-inducing event to see how they’re doing. (That’s one example of the “be present” part.) The confession and repentance part is between God and me. We’re working on it.
Every time I see something bad in the news that appears to be motivated by hate or prejudice–whether it’s related to race, sexual orientation/identity, or religion–I’m heartbroken. But even that is a pretty privileged response. I don’t feel the anger and fear that many live with every single day. I don’t worry about having to teach my children how to act around the police. I don’t fear for my safety because of the color of my skin, what I wear on my head, or whose hand I choose to hold. While many are quick to dismiss those fears as overly dramatic or a product of the “liberal media bias,” the fear felt is still very real. It’s not my place to invalidate someone else’s feelings. It’s everyone’s place, however, to make this a kind and accepting nation.
The issue isn’t whether or not you’re colorblind. The question is this: what do you see when you see color?
Do you see worth?
Do you see a child of God?
I think if we reframe our perspective in this way, we’ll experience the world through a much more compassionate lens. ESPECIALLY those of us who call ourselves Christians should feel morally obligated to make some major changes. There’s no more time for sitting politely, pretending we’re not racist, and being scared to ruffle feathers.
So what’s next?
- Try this list of post-election action items from my college classmate, Conor.
- Donate your time and/or money to causes that are making a difference in the lives of people who are less privileged than you and/or whose liberties are threatened. I’ve prioritized supporting organizations involved with education of underserved communities, hunger, homelessness, sex trafficking, and refugees/immigrants.
- SPEAK UP when you hear people saying racist or sexist or otherwise terrible things. Yes, it will be awkward, but people need to get called on it.
- Stop using race in sentences when it’s not pertinent information. For example, “this (black) woman at the movie theater was wearing the same sweater as me.” The relevant information is the person’s clothing, not her skin color.
- Keep talking about your privilege(s). The more that we are aware of the privileges we live with, the more we can be compassionate toward those who weren’t afforded the same.
- Vote in non-presidential elections!
- Lastly, meditate on this quote that Conor shared in the article above: “How would I live if I was exactly what is needed to heal the world?” Then go! Go do something about it!