It’s embarrassing every time I’ve replayed conversations in my head when I said things out loud with the intention of making myself look smart/woke/anti-racist. People of Color must lose their minds when they observe White People saying things like:
- “We’ve decided to send our (white) child to an inner city school.”
- “My book group only reads books by Authors of Color.”
- “We hired a new lawyer and he’s a smart Korean man.”
- “Our 250 year old church spent the last year doing research on who’s buried in our slave cemetery.”
Congratulations everybody. But that can’t be the end of the story.
What is your family learning about being part of a school community full of people who don’t live in your comfortable neighborhood? How is your perspective changing by being exposed to Authors of Color? Is your new lawyer a trophy or are you treating him as your legal mentor? And now that you know that there are slave graves on your church property, what are you going to do about it?
Can we talk about repentance? Yes, it’s a churchy word that most people know from signs like this one.
The real meaning of the word “repent” involves stopping and turning in a new direction. “I was once in a group of friends who used coke on weekends and now I stopped that practice and I’ve turned to weekends on hiking trails instead.” It’s not enough to stop a certain way of acting or thinking. We need to take steps in a completely different direction in order to progress into a new way of life.
My theological tradition is big on confession. We believe in confessing our personal sins. (“Ugh, I’m so sorry I lost my temper at work. God, help me stop doing that.“) And we believe in confession the corporate sins of the world. (“Ugh God, this world is on fire. Forgive me for failing to put out the fires I have the power to extinguish.”)
My parents never enslaved anyone. Neither did my grandparents or great grandparents. I never forced Native People off my land, nor have I taken somebody’s property just because I had the power to take it. And yet . . .
I am called to confess the sin of White Privilege and White Supremacy which has enhanced my life by virtue of my skin color while making the lives of Brown and Black people more difficult. Yay if we have read Resmaa Menakem or Ibram Kendi but if all we do is read a couple books, and nothing changes about how we are living our lives – who cares?
I love it when dominant cultures acknowledge the past suffering of those with less power. It’s like admitting that – Yes – this happened in our church, in our county, in our nation’s history. But acknowledgement is just the beginning.
We have some corporate confessing to do.
We have some repentance (stopping and changing directions) to do.
We have some repair work to do.
Churches: thank you for remembering that your campus was built on the land of Native Americans. Thank you for remembering that there are enslaved people buried in your cemetery. Thank you for remembering that your church overcharged the immigrants who came to town to pick tomatoes all those summers ago. We are not finished yet in terms of our response, and it’s not too late.