To My Fellow White People

I’m tired.

I’m tired and I don’t even have a right to say I’m tired.

I’m tired of seeing our POC brothers and sisters oppressed, abused, murdered, lynched, and ignored. I’m tired of hearing their stories, watching their videos, seeing their tears, and feeling their pain. And yet, I have no right to be tired.

I have no right to be tired because it is exactly the laziness, silence, comfortableness and ignorance of myself and my fellow whites which has allowed for the systematic oppression of our POC brothers and sisters. I have no right to be tired because I’m part of the group who for 400+ years has deemed black bodies inferior, making them our own personal punching bags, as we treat them as if they are property to be owned and people who do not deserve to be labelled as fully human.

Nonetheless, I’m tired.

I am tired of hearing stories of oppression and murder. I am tired of seeing white people refusing to listen to our black siblings. I am tired of seeing posts that continue to make this a partisan issue, an us vs. them issue, an “it’s not me it’s you” issue. I”m tired of seeing whites arguing with POC because they think they know about their experiences better than those who have lived the experiences.

Despite being tired, however, I am refusing to remain silent, because there can no longer be excuses for silence. And I may be tired, but my black brothers and sisters must be more so as they fight against a system which was created to silence them. I’m tired for them and with them, but I am aware that my tired is nothing compared to their tired. My exhaustion comes from frustration, but it is easy for me to say I am tired when I am not directly affected. For those of us in the positions of power, we can turn off the social media and walk away from the exhaustion. But our POC friends cannot. They cannot escape the reality of their lives no matter how long they turn off their social media. I cannot imagine how tired they truly must be.

I have seen a lot of posts about the lynchings (and let’s be honest, that is exactly what they are– a modern day lynching) of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others. and posts about the unjust treatment of Christian Cooper and others. I have seen posts about Black Lives Matter protests turned violent and deadly as riots broke out and chaos ensued. I have seen videos of the streets I have walked here in Seattle and back home in Rochester filled with protesters and then filled with destruction. I am not ignorant enough to post anything expressing disbelief that this is still happening in 2020, or shock that it has happened again, or claiming I am not racist (because it’s not about being not racist, but being anti-racist), but neither am I ignorant enough to believe that I can post things without dialogue. Coming out of that dialogue, I have seen some of the following phrases from my fellow whites:

“I don’t believe systemic racism exists”

“His (George Floyd) death was not racially motivated”

“There are other less violent ways to make their voices heard”

“I don’t think that’s an example of white privilege”

“This article is disgusting… black people shouldn’t have to rely on whites to live. Like they can’t manage life without white people. We should all be treated the same” (in response to a post about what concrete things whites can do to support racial justice)

“Two wrongs don’t make a right”

“Those businesses didn’t do anything to deserve this”

“Innocent people will be hurt”

“White people are suffering too” (paraphrased/ summarized for clarity and brevity)

“All lives matter”

(And don’t even get me started on the President’s tweets)

I have decided there are some battles that are not worth fighting, so I have been careful (except for on Twitter– no shame there) about what I post based on what battles I am willing to fight. This, however, is not something about which I can remain silent. And typically, when I am met with resistance, I try my hardest to remain humble, kind, and respectful so as not offend the other party (or parties) involved. I am not perfect at that, but I do try. Now, however, I am passed the point of not offending. I can no longer hold back, hide the truth, or not speak out for the sake of the feelings of my fellow white people. So, nowhere in this post will I mince words, apologize to my fellow whites for what I say, or tiptoe around anything. I mean what I say, even when it sounds harsh. (And, I am always open to correction by my POC friends and/or fellow whites who have information which may prove educational. I am not, however, open for my fellow whites to fight for the sake of proving they are right.)

I am trying to be cognizant of my own privilege and approach everything with a spirit of learning, a humble mind, and a heart of repentance. Because I am privileged. I am, whether I want to believe it or not, a part of the system– which is why I have chosen to use first person statements even for things which may not directly apply to me as an individual. I am taking time now to do two things. First, I am trying to recognize my privilege and contributions to the system. I am trying to do more than speak, but also act. Repent and seek active ways to stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters as their ally. Second, I am using this post to respond to some of these arguments, which I have already responded to online (mostly) But, I am taking the time to respond with words of my black brothers and sisters. My voice matters, but their voices are the ones we need to be listening to and hearing. We may be listening, but we are not hearing. I want to help us hear:

“As structural or systemic, racism goes beyond prejudice or even bigotry by binding negative or vicious feelings or attitudes to the exercise of putatively legitimate power. Racism is both an ideology and a set of practices. It does not rely on the choices or actions of a few individuals; rather, racism infiltrates, permeates, and deforms the institutions of politics, economy, culture, even religion. Racism exploits the interdependence of individuals in and upon society through the formulation of ideology. Ideology as a mental construction may be defined as a biased way of thinking, which justifies and maintains an iniquitous way of living.” – M. Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being.
“Although white southerners lost the Civil War, they did not lose the cultural war– the struggle to define America as a white nation and blacks as a subordinate race unfit for governing and therefore incapable of political and social equality… The claim that whites had the right to control the black population… was grounded in the religious belief that America is a white nation called by God to bear witness to the superiority of white over black.” – James H Cone The Cross and the Lynching Tree.
White friends, please, do not tell me that systemic racism does not exist. Our country was built on the back of slaves– first Natives, then blacks. We have made a system that works in favor of those with power, and those with power were those with money, and those with money were not the slaves who were being exploited but rather the whites who were exploiting. Our nation became “great” because we decided our fellow humans could be bought and sold. We decided blacks were expendable. Our status and power was based on how many fellow human beings we could control. Enslaved blacks were given 3/5 status. We wanted to count them in our population for political purposes– so the slave states could maintain their power and keep their slaves– but we did not want them counted as a whole person. Then, slavery was abolished and we decided that “separate but equal” was good enough. Except this separate was never equal. We still have the power. We held onto the idea that blacks still only count as 3/5 of a person. It was on this belief that our nation was built and still exists today.

“the accumulated insults and indignations caused by racial presumptions are destructive in ways that are hard to measure. Constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty, and even feared is a burden born by people of color that can’t be understood or confronted without a deeper conversation about our history of racial injustice.”- Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy.
His death was motivated by the underlying belief that black men are guilty– a threat to our lives and our livelihoods— because they are black. Yes, it is an example of abuse of power, which can happen between two whites as well. But here that lack of power exists inherently in the color of his skin because of the system we have created. Regardless of external power dynamics (officer verses civilian), there was already a pre-existing internal power dynamic where the color of a man’s skin inherently either gave him power or stripped him of the right to live.

“People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up as far as, you know, giving freedom and justice and liberty to everybody…Most people don’t want to change. They’re comfortable and set in their ways. But in order to change, you have to be able to agitate people at times. And I think that’s something that’s very necessary for us to improve as a country.” – Colin Kaepernick.
There are less violent ways to make their voices heard. They tried. They kneeled, and we chose to ignore them, ridicule them, call them anti-American (as if they should feel loyalty to a country which has systematically oppressed, murdered, and dehumanized them), and kick them out of the NFL to protect our national image. Then, when they decide to take a stand against injustice in the same way we did when our country began, we call them violent and condemn them. Besides, who really started the riots anyway? From the sources I have seen, the riots (at least in Minneapolis and here in Seattle) were begun by white agitators and supremacists who were in no way associated with the protesters.

“White privilege is an absence of the consequences of racism. An absence of structural discrimination, an absence of your race being viewed as a problem first and foremost.”- Reni Eddo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
Yes, you saying that, and your anger about the riots, is white privilege. You, whether you want to believe it or have consciously taken advantage of it, have benefited from white privilege. If you have gone for a run without fear of being shot and killed, approached a woman in a park and reminded her to put her dog on a leash without having the police called, walked into a store or a bank without being closely monitored, paid for something with cash without being scrutinized, been pulled over without fearing your life, or been arrested and not killed, you have benefited form white privilege. If you can exist in your own space and live in your own home without suspicion, you have experienced white privilege. Even you having the freedom to express your opinions about what is and what is not white privilege is white privilege. If you marched at your state capitol with guns and weapons looking like you were ready for combat to protest rules meant to keep you from dying of a deadly virus and yet had no consequences and experienced no violence, you’re privileged.
“Our police force was not created to serve black Americans; it was created to police black Americans and serve white Americans.” ― Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race
As a young, single female living in Seattle, I am not unaware of the dangers of walking downtown, and I do so cautiously– always in the daylight if I am alone and always in places with lots of people. But, whenever I turn a corner and see a police officer, I breathe a sigh of relief, not panic. My heart doesn’t skip a beat hoping I haven’t come across one of the 40%. I have found a helper, as Mr. Rogers says. That’s white privilege. We don’t get to decide what is and what is not white privilege unless the color of our skin is a mark of inferiority.

“Race is a social system that establishes the personhood of one people through the dehumanization of others…the story of race is the story of the American Dream, a sordid, wicked independence built upon dark bodies…the incarnation [of God] is the taking up of difference, declaring our histories are irrevocably tied up with one another.” – Brain Bantum, The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World
God always intended for us to reign together, alongside each other, despite our differences. As Dr. Bantum (whom I have had the pleasure of studying under for a class this past quarter) says about God coming in the flesh as solidarity with all humanity and our solidarity with each other, “I’m not me without you.” Each of us are different and that is okay, but none of us are better. So, in a perfect world, all of us would need to equally rely on everyone else to live. But we have created a system where blacks are forced to rely on whites to live because we have made it so we can choose whether they live or die. We have taken their lives in our hands, forcing them to become dependent on us instead of us being mutually interdependent on each other.
“Sin is a personal and individual act, yet it affects social or public institutions and structures.”- M. Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom
Treating everyone equally as individuals ignores the reality of systemic sin and the result of our individual sins. When an individual mistreats another, it affects the system. Treating each person equally only works when we decide everyone is equal. Every person is made in the image of God and has God’s Spirit dwelling in them. But we have decided that some people do not deserve the image of God and we have stripped them of the thing that makes us human. We can only treat equally those who we, as a system and community not individually, say are truly images of God.

“There is no right way to protest because that’s what protest is. It cannot be right because you are protesting against the thing that is stopping you… think about that unease you felt watching that Target being looted and try to imagine how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted everyday.” – Trevor Noah, George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper | The Daily Social Distancing Show, May 29 2020
No, two wrongs don’t make a right. But who gets to decide what is right and what is wrong? Especially in a protest. If we go by our historical white ideas of right and wrong, violence, murder, racism, and lynching become right, and existing in a non-white body becomes wrong. We do not get to decide what is right or wrong based only on how it affects white people. (And again, who started the violent protests really? Was it not, in most cases, whites taking advantage of blacks again and using them for their own personal gain?)

“How does it help you to not loot Target?… Because the only reason you didn’t loot Target before is you were upholding society’s contract. There is no contract if law and people in power don’t uphold their end of it… why should the citizens of that society adhere to the laws when in fact the law enforcers themselves don’t?…”- Trevor Noah, George Floyd, Minneapolis Protests, Ahmaud Arbery & Amy Cooper | The Daily Social Distancing Show, May 29 2020
An individual business may not deserve to be looted. But as a member of a society which again and again abuses and oppresses blacks, who’s to say it hasn’t contributed to white supremacy? And who are we to assume we are morally superior just because our sin is different than those of the looters? If we have created a system in which blacks deserve death simply for being black, why can’t their protests create a system where we deserve to be looted because we are white? We have somehow, in our desire for power and wealth, equated taking someone’s livelihood with taking someone’s life. We have decided that stealing goods is worse than stealing lives.

“A black person could be lynched for any perceived insult to whites… ‘blackness alone was license enough to line them up against walls, to menace them with guns, to search them roughly, beat them, and rob them of every vestige of dignity’… lynching became a white media spectacle…often as many as ten to twenty thousand men, women, and children attended the event.” – James H Cone The Cross and the Lynching Tree
You’re right, innocent people can be hurt. So, then, the thousands of blacks who were tortured and lynched for being black were not innocent? What about the thousands more who have been unjustly killed since. Not that I want to condone violence or the injuring or killing of innocent people. But, we cannot decide someone’s innocence based on the color of their skin. We have created a world where we can kill innocent lives because they are guilty of existing in the wrong body but they can’t do anything that could possibly have the potential to put our bodies in danger.

“When somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing and may in fact be contributing to those struggles.”- Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race
Sure, white people struggle. I do not want to downplay the fact that life is hard and no one walks away free of struggle. We struggle with illnesses, homelessness, societal pressures, death, and so on. Except we do not struggle because of something out of our control– our race. When the color of our skin becomes the reason we are struggling, because the society in which we live has made it so, then we can equate our struggles with those of POC. We suffer, but the color of our skin has already given us an advantage because we have created a system where we hold all the power. We suffer, but the systems in place are meant to work to our advantage to help us succeed.

“When God created us, God created us to be like God. God wanted us to love and to be loved. But when you love someone you have to choose them… To love someone you have to see how they are like you and how they are not like you, and you have to see how their differences are gifts, ways of helping you see yourself and God and the world in new ways… That’s what it means to be made in God’s image.” – Brain Bantum, The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World
The basic truths of Christianity teach us all lives matter, yes. To be created by God is to have value. But, we have decided we no longer love those who don’t look like us. We have decided that they are worth 3/5 of what we are worth because their differences make them less than valuable. So here’s the thing, fellow whites. Yes, our lives matter too. But we don’t need to say that because we already know white lives matter. We already know it is not acceptable to kill us unjustly or not treat us with dignity. We don’t need to be reminded. We do need to be reminded that black lives matter. We decided their lives are not equal to our lives and we need to say that their lives matter again and again until we accept that their lives are equal to our lives. All lives matter, but we have decided that blacks lives are not full lives.

The system is not broken because it was never whole to begin with– we made it this way. We made it imbalanced where we hold the power and it is nearly impossible for power to be taken away or given evenly. Now we have to listen to the voices of our brothers and sisters and create a new system. First and foremost, we must take ownership of that. We cannot deny that it is a systemic problem that we created and from which we are still benefiting. We can’t fix a problem if we do not admit there is a problem, or if we are too busy blaming others for the problem. And I say these things not because I want to be mean, or because I have any answers. Rather, I say these things because our words have power. As those with power, we must use our words wisely and choose our words carefully. Most importantly, we must listen to the words of our brothers and sisters. Their voices are filled with pain and brokenness, yet they are incredibly powerful and truthful. If we truly want to live in God’s kingdom, if we truly claim to be ministers of the gospel of Christ, we must listen to understand and not to respond, and our actions must speak louder than our words. We have to take the focus from ourselves, get rid of our pride, and listen to their stories without assuming we have all the answers and know better than they do.

Right now, our brothers and sisters are hurting. Right now, they need our love. Right now, they need us to lay our weapons down and open our eyes. These are not isolated incidents. Racist tension has not increased– our access to the ability to share acts of racism has. This is the reality that POC are faced with everyday in America. They don’t have the luxury of walking away and ignoring it. Make sure your friends are okay. But in doing so, don’t ask them for an ego boost or an affirmation that you’re doing the right thing.

As followers of Christ, we must choose to love each other despite our differences. In fact, we must celebrate our differences, because they do not make us superior– they make us united in the body of Christ. And, we must dare to see the image of God within every person. We must not deprive someone of their inherent value as God’s child because they look different than us. So, I feel like as a leader in the Church I should have something more powerful to say. I should have some answers or some call to action. But, I don’t. Instead I will say this. First, education is key. Our words can be borne from ignorance, and we must fight ignorance in order to achieve justice. So, I highly recommend all the works I have used throughout this post, and the ones pictured in the graphic on the header. I have not read all of them, but I have gathered titles from multiple sources. Seek out good sources. And please, seek out sources written by POC. We have enough white voices, listen to theirs’. Second, I recommend allowing our actions to speak by doing some of the things on this list. Then,, listen. Have conversations with POC and hear what they have to say. Validate their stories. But be aware of their pain and know when a question is better researched individually or a conversation is better had among fellow whites. (because some are. Some hurt more then help and we need places to talk things through and become informed where we don’t hurt those we are trying to hear.) Finally, be humble, open to correction, and repentant. Realize that, while you as an individual may be anti-racist, we as a society are still built on racism. It is our mess to clean up, but we are not to be their white saviors. The only way we will ever achieve change and fix our mess, is if we acknowledge our faults and seek help and guidance from those we have wronged.

One thought on “To My Fellow White People

  1. I think it’s OK to be tired. If you aren’t tired by everything that is going on, it’s probably because you don’t care enough to allow it to wear on you.

    The key is not to allow being tired to stop us from doing what we can to make things better.

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