Most White Supremacists don’t wear white hoods. Most look more like me.
As a faith leader with a platform and privilege, I’ve been trying to convince the White Church that “White Supremacy” is important for us to acknowledge. Some of my colleagues – Black, Brown, and White – prefer “Racial Injustice” or “Systemic Racism” or “White Privilege.” I’m more interested – at this time of my life – to name what’s really going on now and for the past 400 years: White Supremacy.
Yes, there is Racial Injustice. (I believe most people who look like me would acknowledge this.)
Yes, there is Systemic Racism. (I believe that fewer White people might agree with this, but students of U.S. history and politics would have a hard time denying it.)
Yes, there is White Privilege. (I often hear White friends say, “I worked hard for all I have.” And the truth is that even the poorest, least advantaged person with White skin enjoys privileges in this country that people with Brown or Black skin do not.)
And yet – White Supremacy is the culture, the legacy, and the norm of our nation. It shows up every day, every time someone makes assumptions based on a person’s skin color. Here’s what every day White Supremacy looks like when practiced by “good White people.”
- A distinguished Black man is in the elevator of a prestigious building and we assume he is the elevator man, when actually he is a Supreme Court Justice.
- A Black man dressed in casual clothing because he’s working in the yard is approached by a White woman driving by who asks how much he charges by the hour to do lawn work. “I don’t charge anything,” he says to the woman. “But the lady of the house lets me sleep with her.” (He’s not the yard man. He’s the owner of the house and was once my neighbor in IL.)
- A White Mom calls her second grader’s school over the summer to ask that her son be in Mrs. Z’s class this fall. She fully expects the principal to grant her wish because . . . well, just because she’s always been granted these requests. And so have her friends. (This mom is a friend of mine.)
- There are four Black boys in Mrs. T’s first grade and she places all four of them in the Turtle Group (which is – not so subtly – for “slower” students.) As it turns out, three of the four boys test at advanced reading and math levels, but she had assumed that they’d grown up without enrichment opportunities. (One of their moms is a friend of mine.)
- A college student is riding her bike on the “wrong side of the road” near the campus of Oregon State University and she is arrested by two police officers who handcuffed her and pinned her to the ground because she wouldn’t show her ID to them. Picture this happening to a white coed. (It wouldn’t.)
- A 12 year old Black boy was playing with a toy gun at a playground with his sister and others. Someone called 911 to report that there was someone pointing a gun in the park. Twice the caller said it was probably a toy gun and the caller even mentioned that the person with a gun “was probably a juvenile.” But that information was not shared with the two policemen who drove up to the park and shot the boy within seconds of parking their car. Imagine that happening to a 12 year old White boy.
- Two Black seminarians are in a public high school parking lot near their campus. One is teaching the other to drive a stick shift. A police officer approaches them, asks for their IDs and arrests both of them for trespassing. (They were seminary classmates of mine.)
Every. Single. Day. It’s assumed in countless places that Black and Brown people do not belong in the places where they actually live, work, shop, and play. It’s assumed that Black and Brown people are not worth as much as White people and that they are more dangerous, less intelligent, less law-abiding, less disciplined than White people.
This is the sin that continues to tear our nation apart. White People: we need to acknowledge that White Supremacy is our problem. Once acknowledging it, we need to learn about it, talk about it, dismantle it.
May the Spirit move us – for the love of God – to do more than talk.