Ever since Wednesday night I’ve been reading post after post by black women and men sharing about what Charleston means to them, and the deep pain and injustice that is still inflicted, every day, on people of color in this country. One theme that has been emerging is the request for white people to do something — to first say they’re sorry for what has happened and listen to the pain and the stories of black men and women, and to then find ways to work to combat the systemic racism in America. Some writers offered suggestions. But many emphasized that it is up to white people to find ways to do it. As Karen Walrund wrote:
“Finally, remember that while racism is an issue that black and brown people have to deal with, it is not our issue to fix. Racism is a systemic problem created by those in power — white power — and therefore it is an issue that only those in power can fix. So please keep this in mind before asking any of your black friends or acquaintances what it is you can do to fight racism: while the question comes from an instinct that is certainly understandable, as an ally, what we really need is for you to be creative and come up with ways that you can put an end to racism yourself. To be even more blunt: being creative for you is not our job.”
I don’t have many ideas yet. But I’m still listening, and I’m trying to be creative. I definitely appreciate that Karen’s call is to be creative, rather than to be organized or to be efficient — creative is more up my alley.
I did have two ideas, neither of which made a lot of sense, but which I did anyway. One was to write a poem, which I’ll share in a minute. And the other was to go to church. If you know me or have been following this blog for a while, you know that it has been a while, and that I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with Christian community. It was just two weeks ago that I wrote about a nightmare I had about going to a church service.
But I just kept thinking about those nine people, faithfully showing up for a Wednesday night prayer meeting, and I knew I had to be brave and go, to honor them. It was a good Sunday to be there, for other reasons that I’ll probably write about soon. It wasn’t particularly profound in terms of the reason I’d come, to bear witness to the men and women killed in Charleston, grieve with the body of Christ, and vow to work towards racial justice in this country. The pastor spoke briefly about Charleston and said a prayer, naming all nine of the people murdered. The rest of the service was dedicated to something big happening at that specific church which needed to be discussed, and that was fine. But I felt whatever purpose I’d had in going had been fulfilled. We prayed, we bore witness. And the things the church is working through will help it to continue to work for justice and reconciliation.
But there is more to be done. It’s a busy week, so I don’t have time to write much more. But I’ll share my poem. It was inspired by Yolanda Pierce, Osheta Moore, Karen Walrund, Deidre Riggs, Austin Channing Brown, and many others. It was inspired by black women, but it was written to white people, and to myself in particular. What will our response to Charleston be? What work are we being called to do?
On the murders in Charleston
If you only have something nice to say,
Now is not the time for niceties,
For crying, “Peace, peace”
When there is no peace.
If you have a voice
If you have a soul
If you have a prayer, fine.
Say it softly to yourself.
But if you want God to hear you
If you want to pray for peace
Rend your garments
Fall to the ground
And stay there until God answers you.
And then get up and do the work.
Yes, and maybe “the work” is found in Micah 6:8? He has shown you, O man, what is good, and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
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Hm, this is the first time I’ve been confronted with the idea that I can do anything. I guess I haven’t realized I have any power (still not entirely sure I believe that I do). I suppose the task I see in front of me is long term. My son will grow up to be a white man. I hope to raise him to be aware, an advocate, and not another victim to the brainwash that says to turn a blind eye, “every man for himself”. Dylann was once a 5 week old infant, too. It’s scary what can happen. Maybe I have a much more important job than I think.
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Yes, raising your son to be an aware advocate is definitely an important job! Here’s a good article I found today with some other ways we as white people can be working for racial equality: http://www.mtv.com/news/2187137/white-people-documentary-privilege-for-good/
Thanks for reading and for commenting!
Don’t automatically assume that because I am white I am prejudiced. I have often encountered far more prejudice against my hair color (red head) than I have ever had against anyone else. What happened was a tragedy and a travesty. Blaming ALL white people is not ok. Dragging up what happened over 100 years ago, and expecting each new generation to be held responsible is just not a healthy mentality for anyone. Hold the people who are doing the crimes responsible. The marches I saw photos of had people of ALL colors out there. They weren’t just Black or White. Racism is not the sole province of any race. The woman who thinks all whites have something to apologize for is doing everyone an injustice by promoting division and yes, her own prejudice.
Hi Suzy, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I have really appreciated your presence and your comments on so many of my posts. You have shared some of your story here and I want you to know that I have read all your comments and value you, your story, and your perspective so much. What you wrote about your family and about your experiences with church and with God really touched me.
Re: this post, I think racism is a really difficult issue to understand, and that is why I have been doing as much listening and reading as I can. One thing that I have begun to understand that is that white people and people of color understand racism very differently. White people tend to see it as our individual attitudes, words, and actions. We think as long as we have good feelings towards all races and treat them all equally we are not racist. Whereas to black people and other people of color, racism is something built into the system in America, and something they experience every day in ways both subtle and overt. We as white people have the luxury of seeing things like the murders in Charleston as isolated crimes, but for black people they are just one example of their daily experience. We can go back to our regular lives, but they have to continue to live in pain and fear. And so I think that for me as a white person, just being good and loving towards people of all races is not enough. I have a responsibility to look beyond my own heart and actions to the systems that I live in in America, to see the ways I didn’t even realize I was benefiting from them, and the ways that they are hurting my fellow human beings, and to take action to right these wrongs. Austin Channing Brown wrote eloquently about this in her blog post last week:
You can read the rest of Austin’s post here.
My friend Jaime also wrote something that has helped me to understand:
You can read the rest of Jaime’s post here.
I hope that helps you to understand a little bit more where I am coming from.