The release of videos of George Floyd and Ahmoud Arbury’s murders and Breonna Taylor’s death at the hands of police, combined with the systemic racism made evident by the Coronavirus Pandemic, has finally convulsed the U.S. in outrage. It’s time for a giant leap forward as a country.
The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus wept when he heard his friend, Lazarus, had died (John 11:35). Those words, “Jesus wept,” echoed in my heart over and over as I watched the videos of Floyd’s death, demonstrations against police brutality, and violence by civilians and police. I wanted to do something to make things better but sat numb with tears on my cheeks, instead.
Also echoing in my heart was the part of what Christians call “Palm Sunday” in which Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and, according to the Gospel of Luke, says, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace: But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). It seemed to me that Jesus was weeping with us, as well. Oh, that we knew the things that make for peace.
The Impact of Privilege
I write this as a white American woman privileged by the color of my skin in ways that I am still trying to understand even after years of growth. White privilege is so ubiquitous that calling it to our attention is like trying to get a fish to notice the water in which it swims. Changing metaphors, understanding how privilege works is like peeling layer after layer of an onion.
White privilege affects every dimension of life–for good and ill– from the time a person of any race is born in this country. George Floyd’s murder and the Coronavirus Pandemic are an inflection point challenging us to look in the mirror so that we might see the inequality reflected there and our participation in it.
One example of my privilege is my freedom from fear that I–or a partner, friend, or family member–will be harassed, beaten, or killed while doing the ordinary things of life such as going to the grocery, jogging through the neighborhood, sitting in a car with friends, or sleeping one’s own bed. I don’t worry whether the males in my family will return home alive each time I tell them goodbye. No African American in this country shares that privilege.
Another example: When I see flashing red and blue lights behind me, I worry about the cost of a traffic ticket but not if I’ll be killed. No African American shares that privilege, either, no matter their age, education, or social status. College professors, members of Congress, corporate C.E.O’s, and firefighters have been questioned and harassed by police officers solely because their race made them seem “suspicious” to white folk.
George Floyd’s murder triggered the protests of the past two weeks, but the power and size of the protests are rooted in four centuries of systemic racism. From economics to criminal justice, health care to pollution, education to employment, politics to internet access, systemic racism affects every dimension of American life.
The United States of America can only be its best self when we address the systemic racism and unconscious biases that pervade it. If we are to become a more perfect union and the country the world needs us to be, we must set aside the patterns of privilege and systemic racism in which we swim.
Moving beyond tears
The day after the Trump Administration cleared a peaceful protest in Lafayette Park with tear gas and rubber bullets so the President could hold up a Bible in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, for a campaign photo, I opened my own Bible re-read the stories surrounding Jesus’ tears in John 11:35 and Luke 19:42.
This time, I noticed that the stories don’t stop with Jesus’ tears. Jesus’ grief moves him to action in both. He dries his tears and goes to work. Jesus raises Lazarus to life, telling bystanders to unwrap Lazarus’ bindings of death. They do. Lazarus lives.
Jesus leaves the Mount of Olives after his words to Jerusalem and rides into the city. He drives money changers from the temple, heals the sick, confronts oppressive power, and teaches a message of love. He is killed for being a threat to established power.
No less than Jesus was, we are called by God to dry our tears, channel our anger and grief, and focus our energy on doing that which brings life, creates justice, and makes for peace,
White folk like me need to educate ourselves about racism, systemic racism, and privilege; and our role in them. We need to do this without asking people of color to teach us. It is not their burden to educate us. It’s our responsibility to listen, learn, and act; our responsibility to be humble, pry our fingers from power, and with our siblings of color create a country where all God’s children live truly free.
Staying home during the pandemic doesn’t have to mean being passive. To my white brothers, sisters, and siblings, in particular, there are actions we can take against systemic racism even as we follow health guidelines and stay safe during the pandemic.
Anti-Racism Actions During Quarantine
The Impact of Systemic Racism and White Privilege
–The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in The Age of Color Blindness, by Michelle Alexander
–White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin
–The 1619 Project by Nicole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times (here)
–Taylor Branch’s 3-part history of the King Years: Parting the Waters (1954-’63), Pillar of Fire (1963-’65), and At Canaan’s Edge (1965-’68)
Changing Ourselves, Our Workplace, Community, and Country
–How to Be an Anti-Racist, by Ibram X. Kendi
–Thrive: The Facilitator’s Guide to Radically Inclusive Meetings by Mark Smutny
–Better Allies: Everyday Actions to Create Inclusive, Engaging Workplaces, by Karen Caitlin
Poetry and Prose
–I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
–Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel, by Zora Neale Hurston
Book Lists and Links
–Vroman’s Bookstore of Pasadena Anti-racism Reading List (for adults, youth, and children)
-Third Place Books of Seattle Anti-Racism Audiobook List
–Black-Owned Bookstores on libro.fm can be found on this Instagram post.
–Just Mercy (Movie)
–Mississippi Burning (Movie)
Write and Telephone
-Several states (primarily in the South) have removed people from voting roles to affect election results. Many of these people first learn about their removal when they try to vote. Join the Reclaim Our Vote Postcard Campaign (here) to notify these voters in time for them to clarify and restore their status. ROV has already contacted over 1.5 million voters.
-Register with Indivisible (here) and/or Black Lives Matter (here) for up-to-date writing, calling, and in-person campaigns.
-Additional links to websites, organizations, and resources for change
White People: Weep. Listen. Learn. Act.
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