In February, the Tucson YAVs were asked to lead a worship service. The topic for that Sunday was “Dismantling Structural Racism.” I felt vastly under prepared and uncomfortable to be standing in front of people talking about racism. But as I thought of what I wanted to say and worked with fellow YAVs to flesh out the service, I chose to embrace this discomfort.
I am still feeling discomfort. Talking about race is hard and I am constantly worried I am going to mess up. Race discussions force me to face the systematic injustice happening all around me every day. It makes me not be able to ignore the pain, fear, injustice that is what our society is built upon.
Below is what I wrote and for that sermon on Dismantling Structural Racism. It feels especially pressing this week as we have heard of another black man being murdered by police and the protests that turned to riots because of more police violence. My heart hurts.
I hope you read this. But before you continue reading, I have one request. If you have yet to listen to the voice of a black person on the current happenings of police brutality and protests, close my blog right now and read from someone who lives under the oppression of white supremacy every second of every day. Black voices matter more than mine. This video is a great place to start.
It is easy to question Why should we be so wrapped up in these issues of racism? There are other issues to fight for as well. So why is Dismantling Structural Racism a key part of the Matthew 25 vision? Why should we care more about issues of race than issues of the environment, or women’s rights or LGBTQ inclusion?
While it can be easy to fall into these ideas, I have to remind myself that racial discrimination is much farther reaching than other forms of prejudice. All others are impacted by race and ideas of white supremacy.
For example, I am a woman. I am queer. Both of these identities have given me my own experiences of prejudice. But I carry both of these identities with the intersection of white skin, which carries many privileges independently of the others.
As a woman, I experience all the way too common things like getting nervous going places on my own at night or anxiety about being in solo in close proximity with a male stranger. I get told how to dress and act and judged for not falling into the mold that our white supremacy society set for us.
Since working at CHRPA, my womanhood has been an ever more pressing issue because I am working in a male-dominated field where strangers frequently tell me their unsolicited opinions on women doing manual labor. Additionally, while home for Christmas, I had to have a conversation with my grandmother to convince her that my daily physical work isn’t “ruining my ovaries” and hear her concerns about me not being able to have a family in the future. One of my brothers, who also does a labor intensive job, has never had to be questioned on if he will still be able to have a family later in life due to his work now.
While I am able to find some of these encounters and conversations amusing in hindsight, I hate that I have to invest time and energy navigating people’s opinions of my identity. Time an energy that straight people and men get to spend in other ways if they choose to. I am tired of educating people about queer and women’s rights, just like many other queers and women are.
The weight of this exhaustion really hit me when I was questioning why we were being asked to talk about race today. Our YAV coordinator Alison responded by asking us “well who do you think should be talking about it?” I didn’t have an answer.
Someone more qualified? Someone who knows what they are talking about? I certainly don’t know what I am talking about.
As a white person, I benefit from so many privileges. I don’t have to put in extra time and energy to wonder how my race plays a role in my everyday life and interactions. I don’t have to think daily about ways to talk about white privilege.
This energy that we don’t have to spend on those thoughts and conversations allow us the privilege to devote our time and energy to other things. We get to choose how to use this time. One option is to give that energy to fighting the racist structures all around us. To up ending white supremacy. To having the hard conversations because non-white people have been doing all the work for far too long. It is time we join them. Not to do it for them, but to be present with them in this struggle.
Additionally, our privilege gives us more power. We have more of a say as white people. That is how this system of white supremacy works. White people have more sway with elected officials and have a greater chance of being elected to those offices. White people can stand up against these systems with less of a fear of being attacked by law enforcement or imprisoned. White people speaking up in a group is considered a protest while frequently black people speaking up in a group is considered a riot.
There is a double standard and as white people we can use that to work toward ending structural racism.
I don’t want that to be read as supporting the ideas of white saviorism. I don’t think that white people should be leading this fight. We are not able to lead the resistance when we don’t experience oppression. But we should be present, and using the stance that we have as people of privilege to advance the fight to more people.
Similarly, I feel called by the idea of “doing for the least of these” as Jesus said. Just becasue I am queer and a woman, I dont’ get to step back from the issues of race by thinking that I have my own battles to fight. There is an intersectionality to oppression where I hold more privilege as a white woman than a black woman does. We both experience sexism but in vastly different ways.
For example, while I do worry about my safety, I get to worry less about it than women of color. 4 out of 5 Indigenous women experience violence and they have a 10% greater chance of being murdered than the national average. Additionally, if I experience violence, I have a much higher chance of law enforcement actually caring than the murdered indigenous women do. This is a huge issue in our country that too many people aren’t talking about. If you don’t know about this crisis, I strongly encourage you to read more about it here.
But these acts of violence, the difference in treatment between us as White people versus the treatment of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) isn’t how it is supposed to be. Ephesians 2 says: 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace.
God makes things new. Our creator made us as one human body, one community. But the history of the human race has defiled the plan by our creator. If our goal as a church is to be like Christ, then we have to do this reconciling work too.
I have spent the last couple weeks asking “Why are we talking about this at church? Why me? Am I qualified for this? Aren’t there better people to be talking about this than me? What do I know?”
But if not us then who? Who should be talking about this? Cause BIPOC are tired of talking about this. They have been fighting this oppression from white people for centuries. They think about white supremacy every day. Because they can’t not think about it. As white people, we are comfortable sitting in the world that has been built to favor white skin.
To be a Church engaged in the world and to reconcile all human beings as God’s creation, we need to get comfortable challenging the ideas of white supremacy. Comfortable speaking up for the oppressed. Because if we aren’t speaking up for the oppressed, then we are standing in silence with the oppressors, and I no longer feel that I can stand for that as a person of faith.
Why us? Why are we as white people talking about this? Because we have the power, time, and energy to do something about it. So we need to be talking to our neighbors, our representatives, our families about these issues of injustice against our black and brown siblings in Christ. We need to be sitting and learning from black, indigenous and people of color. Most importantly, we need to do something. Something to make the reconciliation that Jesus called for a reality.
A good resource of where to start: 75 things white people can do for racial justice
Feeling awkward about talking about race? Me too. Nadia Bolz Webber has good things to say about that.