What Does It Mean that White People “Have Work to Do”?

We white people have so much work to do. If you talk more about race now than before, that’s good, but the work continues and it’s the responsibility of white people to educate ourselves about systemic racism and our own participation in white supremacy.  From 6-16-18 Opening sermon at the 223 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA

Hard work is highly valued in this country and many of us would say that we worked hard to get where we are. Some of us worked our way through college or started at the bottom of our place of employment.  Some of us didn’t have wealthy parents or even middle class parents who could help provide some of the extras in life: music lessons, vacations, braces.

There is a deep truth that some of us miss, however. The undeniable truth is that it has been intrinsically harder for some people than for other people in this country.  Those of us with Caucasian roots – no matter how hard we have worked – started ahead of the pack because of the color of our skin.

White skin has offered an advantage even in the poorest, hardest working parts of our nation.  The work that we with white skin have work to do involves understanding what this has historically meant in the past and what it means today.

But we are really busy.  As Yuval Noah Harari wrote:

Most of us can’t afford the luxury of investigating because we have more pressings things to do:  we have to go to work, take care of the kids, or look after elderly parents.  Unfortunately history does not give discounts.  If the future of humanity is decided in your absence, because you are too busy feeding and clothing your kids, you and they will not be exempt from the consequences.  This is unfair, but who said history was fair?

So what does it mean that “we White People have work to do” if we don’t have the time or energy to be historians or sociologists?

  • It means we need to listen to People of Color – without needing to refute and argue what they share about their experiences.  Just listen and try to understand.
  • It means we need to be more curious about our own history and theirs.  What do we know about the Jim Crow laws?  What do we know about Civil Rights History in this country?  Part of being good citizens is to be fluent in our own history.
  • It means telling the truth and allowing others to tell the truth even when the truth is upsetting and unsettling.

While this might sound heavy for a Monday morning, the Spirit spoke to me this weekend so I need to say something about my own need to do the work.  Good morning.

Image source.

2 responses to “What Does It Mean that White People “Have Work to Do”?

  1. Thank you for these profound thoughts to start out the week. I cherish how you always make me think and inspire me to act.


  2. AMEN. Thanks for keeping the call to work alive.


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