The Widow and the Judge

One of the first times I used the phrase "liberal racism" was during a Racial Justice Working Group meeting at the National Council of Churches. Canon Harold Lewis, an African-American Episcopalian said, "Liberal racism -- that's an oxymoron." He is probably right. If one holds strictly to definitions, these two words do not belong next to each other.

But look at the political realities of today in the United States, and one sees that the only difference between a conservative racist and a liberal racist is that one is conservative and one is liberal. I include myself as a liberal. I would be far more comfortable calling myself a radical, but I'm not really sure how radical I am. And the radical European-American communities in the United States are not any less racist than the liberal and conservative communities.

Racism courses through the blood of all of us who are European American. It courses through us as individuals. It courses through our families and our relationships. It courses through the organizations we run and the systems we control.

This is a reflection about denial, including the denial of racism at Riverside Church. Riverside Church seems to ask often what leadership it can offer the church, the nation, the world. Denying there is racism here is not the leadership that is needed. Folks know how to do denial; especially when conflict arises, almost always the first thing said is, "The issue here is not racism." Denial is great, maybe even greatest in so-called liberal institutions.

The greatest gift that Riverside Church could offer our nation is some honest self-disclosure of how racism is a reality here. We could model how to let down our defenses -- how to lessen the amount of energy put into denial and honestly face the racism that courses through our bloodstream.

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Sojourners Magazine May 1993
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