It's not about white hoods and burning crosses.
I didn’t see the film Malcolm X in theaters. I waited to see it on video. Big mistake.
I watched it in my home, just off campus from University of Southern California, late at night when everyone else was sleeping. Another big mistake.
At the time I was living in a house with one other black person and a bunch of white and Asian friends. I was attending a mostly white school and a mostly white church and had attended a mostly white institute for urban transformation that was borne out of my church. Ironically, it was there that I was required to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. But I never read the whole thing, only sections.
So, I sat in the dark living room, lit only by the television screen, and watched Denzel Washington bring Malcolm X to life … by myself. And there, in the dark, Malcolm’s words about Jesus hit me to the core.
For white people who care about racism, it’s time we stop pointing the finger at others and start confessing our own sin.
Every white person I know denounces the blatant, tragic racism of Dylann Roof. They abhor that this sort of thing could possibly happen in 2015. They can’t believe there still exists people who are THAT racist, who would fly the Confederate flag, who could possibly say (x and y and z). They shudder and shake at such insanity.
Many white moderates and conservatives I know would express such a view.
And some of those white people are also quick to point out “structural racism.” Chastising the “lone wolf” fallacies of those who think Roof acted outside of a racist context, these folks stress the importance of systems. For them, racism isn’t simply perpetrated by extremist Southerners or a few power-hungry police officers. Rather, it’s sustained primarily in local and national policies. With their cultivated, educated, birds-eye view, these white people expose “white privilege.” They, ahem, get it.
This is the enlightened white liberal par excellence.
But both views enable an understanding of racism that exists outside our own selves. Racism doesn’t exist outside our own selves, white folks. It doesn’t simply exist in THAT guy. It’s not just a vague political force in policy. It exists in you. It exists in me. I am racist. I am a white supremacist. And if you're white and reading this, you probably are too.
Our nation doesn't have to be this way. Churches do not have to be burning. Innocent lives do not have to be lost. Together, we can bring an end to this dark night and step into the light of justice and peace. But it will take a lot more than blog posts and prayer vigils. It's going to take those of us with privilege changing the way we live our lives; changing the way we teach our children; changing the way we interact in the world.
This is hard work, but it's work that must be done if we are to see an end to this violence and injustice in our nation. It begins with a choice to see and live in our world differently, starting today.
White people can no longer afford to deny the violent racism that infects our lives. Rather, we must take responsibility for it. The first thing we need to do is to name it. Yes, name it in people like the terrorist who killed the nine people at Emmanuel last Wednesday. Name it in our political, economic, and entertainment systems that propagate and benefit from racist structures. For example, did you know that currently, “the U.S. has a greater wealth gap between whites and blacks than South Africa did during apartheid?” Name it for the sinful, demonic structure that it is.
But just as important, name the racism that infects you. It’s not helpful to just name racism in others if we don’t also take responsibility for the racism within each of us. Name it in yourself so that you can repent from it. And once you repent from it, name it again and again. Racism is so embedded in our culture that its evil will surely return to our lives.
If, as many of the religions of the world affirm, there is a profound equality of dignity and worth between all human beings by virtue of their humanity alone, then what are we to make of a nation and its citizens who allow an entire group of people, a people once brutally enslaved and still actively oppressed, to continue to be stigmatized in ways that implicitly affirm their inferiority as a group and so allow too many of them to experience the devastating consequences of entrenched racial inequality? That nation and its citizens would stand accused of the greatest of injustices. That nation and its citizens would have a divine duty to end that injustice. The United States and we its citizens stand so accused today. Until we understand the imperative to eliminate racial inequality as an obligation grounded in ultimate reality, we will fail to understand the magnitude of our responsibility.
Whether the issue is wealth, health, incarceration, employment, or education, blacks as a group experience significantly disproportionate negative outcomes compared to whites. What accounts for this difference? Only two options are available. Significant racial inequality over time is explained either by forces external to the lives of black individuals (e.g., economic, legal, and social forces), or by the aggregate consequences of choices made by these individuals. Unless one concludes that racial inequality is entirely explained by forces external to the lives of black people, one is forced to conclude that there is something inferior about blacks as a group that causes them persistently to make more bad life choices than whites as a group.
At this point, some will object that some black people do indeed make bad choices that lead to bad outcomes. But so do some white people. The question is what accounts for the differences in the proportion of bad outcomes?
Laments engage "the most unbearable questions of faith."
Two years ago, Chris Simpson led a white pride march.
Six months ago, he abandoned the white supremacy movement.
On April 15, he was baptized.
Five days later, Simpson sat in the waiting room of a skin and vein clinic, waiting to start the long and painful process of having his tattoos, most replete with Nazi or white pride iconography, removed.
"Hate will blind you to so many things. It will stop you from having so many things," Simpson said. "It consumes you."