I Killed Nine People

AMEchurchA week ago, a stranger was welcomed into a church, sat among the people for an hour while they included him in their prayer and study, and then murdered them in cold blood because they were black.

In the aftermath, I’ve been filled with sorrow and grief and disbelief at the callousness with which this act of racial terror was carried out. As a mother, I react in horror at the thought of playing dead, listening to my son die next to me. I feel physically ill and overcome at the thought of waiting hours for word of my husband’s death only to be told that it likely resulted from the very first shots I heard that caused me to cover my child under me as I dialed 911. And then, to tell my children that their daddy is gone, but “We are going to stay strong and we are going to get through this.” I know I couldn’t.

And then these people, these amazing believers, offered forgiveness in the middle of their grief. I am undone.

How could this be that in the year 2015, someone could be so filled with hate at people he lives among that he would kill them? How is it that we don’t recognize that he’s a product of our culture?

I want to point fingers. I want to rail against the talking heads and bloggers and politicians who assure my well-meaning, conservative, white, Christian friends that racism is long dead, white privilege is a myth dreamed up by liberals, and they are fine, good people with nothing to worry about.

I almost did. (Blog post half-written.)

But then I prayed. I cried out to God in my frustration and my pain and my grief and He answered me. With a sudden clarity and white hot horror, I saw truth. I saw the one responsible. I saw myself.

I killed nine people.

No, I did not fire that weapon, but I paved the way. I set the stage. I was complicit in this crime.

You see, I’m a forty-five-year-old white woman and I’ve only been introspective about race and my relationship with it for about a year. I became a follower of Christ as a child at the age of four. So, for forty long years, I pretended institutional racism didn’t exist. I liked to say holy things like, “I don’t really notice color.” In turning a blind eye, I set the stage for atrocities against people of color in spite of my professed beliefs.

I thought racism died out in our family with my grandma. She called people “colored.” I, in my childish wisdom, used to tease her and ask, “What color were they, Grams?” As an adult, I never told inappropriate jokes or said racial slurs. I had black friends and co-workers on and off through the years. I always treated everyone fairly. Of course, I wasn’t racist. That’s ridiculous!

And yet, one by one the memories came.

I remember saying things like, “It’s Black Expo, again? There’s no way they’d ever have a White Expo! Get sued for sure! That’s discrimination.” I remember having real animosity for the NAACP, the origin of which I have no clue. It just irritated me. I remember nodding my head in agreement when others said things like, “If they could just stay out of jail and be fathers to their children.” Even just recently, when confronted with the fact that while black children make up just 18% of those enrolled in a preschool program, they constitute 48% of those suspended more than once, I paused. I knew there’s no way black three-year-olds behave astronomically worse than white three-year-olds, and yet, I briefly wondered. (They don’t, of course. Here’s the truth.) I finally saw that I valued individual people of color in my world, but collectively as an ethnic whole, I viewed them with disdain.

And on and on the truth laid bare my calloused heart. The shame mounted. I want to point the finger at other people. After all, I’m enlightened. I get it.

But I can’t. Because it was me. I created an environment of hate.

  • Every time I viewed myself, along with six out of ten other white people, as superior to blacks (even if I didn’t realize it.)
  • Every time I uttered the words “race baiting” in the presence of real emotion, instead of seeking to understand from where the emotion was coming.
  • Every time I became defensive and stopped listening when someone said “white privilege” because I worked hard to get where I am and I’m still broke, instead of learning that it’s not a moral indictment and “advantage” may be a better word anyway.
  • Every time I stupidly thought racism ended with the passing of the Civil Rights Act, instead of actually learning history.
  • Every time I didn’t think to ask questions about why so many black people live in the inner city, or why blacks are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites, or why they seem to assume the officer was picking on them.
  • Every time I denied a black person her experience by picking apart her story and helpfully providing the correct perspective, instead of following the God-given mandate to weep with those who weep.
  • Every time I chuckled at a racist joke so as not to make the teller uncomfortable, instead of calling them out and letting the chips fall where they may.
  • Every time I accepted the narrative fed to me without first checking the bias.

With a wink and a nod, I was complicit. I violated the humanity of people with my ignorance and the image of God in which they are created with my strict adherence to the status quo. There is blood on my hands. And I am full of sorrow. How I wish it wasn’t me.

I will never be the same. I won’t do it perfectly, but I will do all I can to change our world, to change my world. I promise you my children will know. They will understand that while all people are equal, our culture does not honor that reality. We will fight injustice and we will work for equality. And we will be a voice for truth.

I cannot begin to undo my part or go back in time. There is no rewriting of history, no matter how much we try. Humility is the only way forward, the only path toward healing, my only hope of forgiveness. I am so sorry and it’s not enough, but it’s all I have. And so I ask you, people of color, with heart on my sleeve, blood on my hands, will you forgive me? Is there a place at your table for the likes of me? Can we work together to prevent more wrongs?

A White Woman’s Response to the Ferguson Fall-out

I am a white woman. I live in a diverse neighborhood, but work and attend church in a white world. While I have black acquaintances and neighbors, my circle of friends is predominantly white.

As such, I have not voiced an opinion on the events surrounding Ferguson.

Until now.

Someone recently posted, “My kids tell me there is an app that will tell you which of your friends is racist. It’s called Facebook.” I could not agree more. It has been enlightening and appalling to watch the fall out from this incident on social media.

I’ve un-followed some for blatantly offensive statements, and frankly, those weren’t all that surprising to me. It’s to be expected that some will be open in their leanings. The memes that demean protesters as jobless or falsely assert that whites don’t riot, plainly label those who share them as the bigots they are.

It’s the subtle racism that pops up in my newsfeed unexpectedly by my educated, middle-class, Christian, mostly Republican friends that takes my breath away. When people repost the facts of the case, it’s an affront to people in mourning. When they publish statistics of black on black crime, or stories of white unarmed suspects being shot by police, they ignore the frustration, anger, and grief of an entire people group. It leaves me cold.

I have no answers. I don’t pretend to know anything other than the visceral response I have every time one of my white friends expresses an opinion on this. Four of my white female friends linked the remarks of Voddie Baucham, a male black pastor, which pointed to rampant fatherlessness in the black community as a root cause to many of its ills. The piece seemed directed at other black men, as they are the only ones in position to respond to that charge and yet, these white women felt the need to repost it. Why? They have no dog in this fight. 

Likely for the same reason another FB friend, a white man, “liked” a piece written by a black man with a title similar to “Justice Prevailed in Ferguson Failure to Indict.” Why, as a white man, did he feel the need to click “like” on that?

I know why. Because as white people, if we can find a black person who agrees with us, who sees it our way, we can stick it to all the other black folks who are clearly wrong. We can wave that person’s opinion around as if to say, “See? Don’t you see? One of your own agrees with us. We’re right! It’s not about race, at all!” Because that’s what it comes down to. We don’t understand how this is about race and not simply facts in evidence, and rather than seek to understand where all this emotion is coming from, we will stand on principle and keep spewing facts.

It’s a need to be right over a need to be compassionate. It’s blatant defiance of Scripture which tells us to “weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15)  We are wrong, my friends, when we believe that racism isn’t a thing. If we would simply listen to those who are living the burden of it, really listen to their stories and hear their hearts, maybe then our eyes would be open and our world would begin to change.

I want my friends, my white, Christian, God-fearing friends to do this one thing. I want them to stop talking. Stop insisting on being right. Stop having an opinion on a truth you haven’t lived.

I mentioned that I’m white. I have no experience with racism. But as a mom to kids with special needs, I know a little about discrimination. Several months ago, I was involved in a conversation about the church and disability. I tried to communicate how wounded many of us have been because of rejection our children have faced in the church. I was told, by those on the outside, that we in the special needs community were being overly sensitive, that no actual discrimination was taking place, it could all be explained by over-worked volunteers or misunderstandings. It was infuriating to have our moments of discrimination minimized and ignored by those who haven’t lived them. It was demoralizing to have my lived truth diminished by those without shared experience. I was angry. I was hurt. And I felt impotent and defeated. It wasn’t the first time on this journey and it won’t be the last. I’m grateful for every one of them because it gives me a tiny bit of insight into what it must be like to live it daily.

When people are hurting, you don’t tell them all the reasons they shouldn’t be hurt. When they are offended, you don’t tell them they have no right to that feeling. When they are weeping, you don’t tell them there is no basis for their tears. You simply listen to them tell the tale.

And you weep, too.