Tag Archives: racism

On (white) progressive fragility

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Black folk have been targets of violence in the United States since the inception of our nation. There have been times were the bursts of violence are significant enough for national attention, mass killings, lynchings, church burnings, police violence and more have exploded in ways that interrupt the national (white) consciousness only to fade as we move on to the next (less disruptive to our lives as privileged folk) moment of national attention. But the black community never gets to stop thinking about it. The black community never gets to stop being afraid, never gets to let fear entirely leave their consciousness. The white community’s ability to forget, to not mention, to not think about racism is our privilege. It is our reward for simply being born with lighter skin.

I cannot imagine what it would be like if I knew that there were groups or individuals focused entirely on killing, say, white women named Elizabeth, or Lutheran pastors, or any other group of which I am a part. While, as a woman, I experience a low-grade fear when walking alone, it is nothing compared to what my brothers and sisters of color face every day. While I know what it is like to be talked down to because I am a woman and because I am young (at least in my career field), I don’t know what it is like to know that much of the society in which I live and the culture in which I work values me less because of the color of my skin.

These past few months have once again brought violence against people of color, primarily black Americans to the forefront. We have  been having some necessary conversations about race and privilege in our world and in our church. Yet even with the media attention focusing on killing of African-Americans, even with my church body being intimately touched by the killings at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, we have the privilege to forget. That is privilege. And when that privilege allows a gathering of people for religious purposes to remain silent during a worship service of theoretically progressive allies, that is structural racism.

We can make excuses for our silence. We can say that it wasn’t the right time, or it wasn’t the purpose of our gathering, but if when we gather as a group to worship we reamain silent (as happened this past week at a gathering of my colleagues), we are perpetuating structural racism. Here is how one black woman described her experience of the event. 

This is hard to face. As progressive religious professionals, we want to believe we are good allies. When presented with the pain and anger of members of a community reeling in grief and anger, when confronted about our willful blindness to the pain in our midst, we get uncomfortable. We want it to not be about us, about our behavior, about our privilege. But it is.

When we, as allies, are called out for forgetting, we are called to pause. To think. To consider what it might be like in the shoes of those who are in pain, who are being terrorized, who are straight up pissed off about something that looks and feels like being ignored. Again.

As I write this, I am nervous because I want the approval of my colleagues. I want everyone to like me. I don’t want to hurt anyone by putting this out there. But I also have to say it. Because I was disturbed by our silence. I was disturbed my some of the conversations I was a part of. The longer I think of it, the more it bothers me, & the more my heart hurts. And to not say anything because I want people to like me and because none of this directly affects me is just another way I engage in white privilege.

As privileged people, we have the power. Because of our power, we are called to slow down instead of react. We are called to love, to listen, to put our pride and our own concerns aside to hear the grief and pain in the voices and lives of those who are suffering.

We shouldn’t wait to be confronted to act. We need to always be remembering the marginalized in our world and constantly asking ourselves if we are working to perpetuate or dismantle the system. If a member of our community comes to us and says dudes, you missed that, we have not done our job. 

We should never ask that someone aplogise for expressing that they are angry or hurt at being ignored or having something close to their hearts met with silence instead of prayer, lament and action. 

When we ask those suffering to calm down, to wait, to find a more appropriate time or medium to express their feelings, we diminish their grief. We tell them that they are not important enough to be heard, that their pain is not important enough for us to listen to this minute, that they must wait. That’s the pastoral equivalent of having a student show up in our office reeling in pain and fear and telling them to hold on a sec, we have a bulletin to finish editing first.
Now is the time. Now is the time to listen. Now is the time to be intentional about observing the grief and pain and fear of the marginalized. Now is always the time.

Now is the time to measure our words carefully, to examine our systems and structures and ask who we are leaving out. Not later, not when it is convenient or appropriate. Now.

When talking to a colleague about events this past week, events in my church body at a conference I attended, I used the phrase progressive fragility. I don’t know if that is a phrase, but it definitely is a thing. Those of us who consider ourselves progressive and who want to believe that we are allies and/or accomplices get really, really hurt when called out on our -isms. More often than not, we react to these moments defensively, either attacking or deflecting so that we don’t have to look at the fact that we might have just been not-so-progressive. We don’t want to admit we have failed in our ally-ship. When we react, we diminish and silence. When we react we use our implicit power to perpetuate the system. I have seen this when I have called out men who claim the title feminist yet mansplain things to me, or when people expect me to be less competent because of my age and/or gender. I have felt my face burn when a friend has pointed out to me that I just asked all the guys in the room to lift the heavy thing and when my brain points out to me that I’m being racist. But for true structural change to occur, we have to put down the defenses and listen. Really, truly, deeply listen.

When confronted with the hurt of a (marginalized) member of the community, especially a hurt that was either directly or indirectly caused by you or your organization ask yourself:

1)  Did you stop.

2) Did you breathe.

3) Are you listening?

4) Are you practicing grace, love, empathy and understanding. Be the Good Samaritan. Be Jesus encountering the woman at the well. Be the mother hen gathering in her children.

5) Instead of thinking about what the person telling you of their hurt could have done differently, can think about what you could have done differently?

6) Have you thought about how you might be able to act differently in the future, how you can use your voice to disrupt the system, and how you can tear down the structures that perpetuate racism.

7) will you continue engaging in conversation.

I love my church. This past week I engaged in and overheard some great learning and important conversations about structural evil. I know the people with whom I was gathered want to do better, want to be allies, want to fight racism. I also participated in some really disheartening conversations and observed structural evil at work. I know many people were hurt by conversations, by social media, by snide comments and by silence. We can do better, my friends. We have to. It is our call as ministers in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, as Christians, and as humans moving in this world.

Everything is sacred.

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Confessing the racism in our hearts is the first step to recovery for ourselves and our nation

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun,
or fester like a sore, and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat,
or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags like a heavy load…
or does it just explode?

-Dream Deferred, Langston Hughes

 

A sermon on Romans 12:1-8

Over the course of the past two weeks, we have once again seen the explosion that results from a dream deferred. The protests

A dream deferred

Another dream deferred

and riots in Ferguson started with the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer. There are many stories as to what happened, little is clear about what transpired. What is clear is that an unarmed black man was killed by a white police officer and then left there in the street, dead, for four hours, as though his life had no worth. His community walked past this body, left there to rot, to stink like rotten meat, a visual example of a dream deferred. The argument about what Michael Brown was doing or why he got shot are pointless to a community besieged by violence and poverty, a community that has seen jobs disappear, that was displaced to build an airport that never was, a community that knows it has little value to the police force or the others in the city. Michael Brown was a human being, a human being left to rot in the street for hours. His death and the actions following are a visceral example of how the black people of Ferguson, and the United States, are valued by the rest of society.

It is so easy to say that this is Missouri. But we know this is not true. We know that our police department has its own issues. We know that our neighborhoods have their own issues, that in spite of our thinking of Seattle as an egalitarian place, we are still pretty darn segregated. A friend of mine has had the n word shouted at him numerous times, not too long ago while walking on Queen Anne. We read in the news about a white man going ballistic and screaming racial epithets at protesters at Westlake center, spitting on a black man, the men trading insults and the black man getting pepper sprayed in the face. White guy going nuts, black man gets pepper sprayed.

Those of us who are active on social media and are paying attention to what is happening in Ferguson have seem the numbers, we have taken in so much news about racial disparities in this country, about the worth of life of black people in the United States.

We watched Melissa Harris Perry do a short piece on the fact that from 2006-2012 a black man has been killed by a white police officer on an average of twice a week. Twice. A. Week. All over the country.

We read about the incredible disparities in our judicial system, where people of color are appalling. 1 of every 15 black men and 1 of every 37 Hispanic men are in prison, compared to 1 in every 106 white men. There are those who would say that this is cultural, even genetic. That people of color are genetically disposed to crime, or that their socio economic background leads them to lives of crime. However, when we look at statistics, this does not bear out. In the war on drugs, blacks have been disproportionately jailed and punished. While African-Americans make up 14% of regular drug users, they make up 37% of those arrested for drugs. African-Americans receive sentences that are 10% longer than whites and are 21 percent more likely to receive mandatory-minimum sentences than white defendants and are 20 percent more like to be sentenced to prison. (source). There are the horrible polling numbers on how different races are viewing the events in Ferguson, the fact that people are more likely to vote for the death penalty if the person is black.

I could stand here all day and quote depressing statistics on the state of race in this country. You get the picture. Something is wrong. But what can we do? I’ll tell you what we can’t afford to do. We can’t get paralyzed. We can’t ignore this if we want any semblance of a just society. If we want this kind of violence and injustice to stop, if we want to put an end to explosions caused by dreams deferred, we must act. We must not conform to our society’s rhythm of spending a few weeks a year thinking about race and then ignoring it until another explosion. We are called not to conform, but to be transformed. Before transformation, though, there must be confession.

I have been active in one way or another in anti-racism work since the 8th grade. I have given speeches, written blog posts, given sermons, taught classes on privilege and race. I have had black friends. I have traveled. I have read. I have studied racism and prejudice.

And yet

I confess to you today that I am still racist.

I don’t want to be. Most people don’t want to be racist. That’s why we deny it so fervently. It is a horrible thing to judge someone by the color of his or her skin. It removes the humanity from a brother or sister in Christ and turns him or her into an object, a mass of skin, something not even worth an ambulance or 911 call. Something that can be left in the streets to decay and stink like rotten meat.

While I was studying the works of Dr. King and Malcolm X, while my parents were working hard to get me to events in Cleveland that would allow me to at least be around people of color, I was growing up in the 4th least diverse city in the nation. I was growing up in a town that had probably 10 people of color, 4 of whom where in my high school. I grew up around people who used the n word as an adverb – it would go before words like rig, knock and lip. People from my high school once joked about wearing white sheets to a basketball game to scare the referee. While I did react strongly to the white sheet “joke” there were so many things around me that were racist that I didn’t even notice. That’s the worst kind, the kind of racism that is so subtle you can’t call it out. That’s the stuff that gets into your bones.

It was not easy to see my own racism. After all, I am a good progressive, I do the work, I had a shirt in 8th grade that said Love See No Color. I had black friends! That’s always the thing, right? I’m not racist, I have black friends!! How could I be racist?

Then I moved to Chicago’s south side and I began to see… I began to realize that those phrases from my childhood were racial slurs – seriously, I head them so often I didn’t hear the n word attached to them – I came face to face with my assumptions about black people and the beliefs I had inherited from the place in which I grew up, the attitudes I had unconsciously absorbed from the media. Many of the things I have thought are far too embarrassing and stupid to share. They are things I confess to God. But I will say that I distinctly remember seeing a young black man running an my first thought was, “I wonder what he stole?”

Yup. I did that.

And, every now and again, I still do.

In spite of myself I have conformed to the world around me.

I am in need of transformation. Each and every day.

How about you?

This is important.

Admitting we have a problem is the first step to recovery. And we have a problem. We don’t like to look into it because we don’t like ugly truths about ourselves. We don’t want to admit that we judge others based on their appearance. It’s so… unprogressive. But the transformation process is never pretty and never comfortable. Transformation is painful. And before we can transform the way our nation behaves about race, before we can really change the inequality in our schools, in our judicial system and in our government, before we can fight the systemic racism that sends people of color to jail more often and longer than their white counterparts, before we can put an end to the school to prison pipeline, we have to look in our hearts and admit to ourselves that we have racism in our hearts. That every now and then we clutch our purse tighter or cross the street when people of color are around, that we occasionally think stupid stuff regarding a person based on their color. We have to admit it and then we have to try to change.

 

This is transformation. This is not conforming.

 

If we want to put an end to the violence, if we want to work to never see an unarmed black person die at the hands of a white person, if we want to put an end to these flare ups in racial tension like we have seen these past weeks in Ferguson, and before that in Florida, and before that in Oakland, Toledo, Cincinnati, St. Petersburg, Harlem, LA, Miami… (These are the moments of racial violence I found on Wikipedia since 1990)… if we want to put an end to the violence, we have got to look at how we contribute to and benefit from the problem. We have to dismantle the racism in our own hearts before we can dismantle the system.

I mean, we don’t have to. We can do what we have been doing. We can get really upset at these images we see on tv, we can protest and post about it on Facebook until we get bored with it or it gets too hard or we get tired of thinking about race all of the time and then forget that it is a problem until the next time it blows up somewhere in our nation. Maybe next time it won’t be in Ohio or Missouri. Maybe next time it will be at 23rd and Cherry.

But when we do this, when we go on pretending that we don’t have a problem we are injuring the body of Christ. The leg is being bludgeoned on a regular basis and we just keep limping along. Occasionally we bandage it or we put on some shin guards, but we do little else. It is too hard, to painful, too much. It is exhausting. Why do we have to talk about race all the time?

This is one example of our privilege. One of many. As a white person, I rarely have to think about my race. From what I hear and read from people of color, this is a luxury they do not have. This is a luxury we should give up, part of our being living sacrifices to the lord. Give up the comfort afforded by ignoring issues of race.

Transform through the renewing of our minds. Learn about racism. Learn about white privilege, break down barriers. There are organizations within the church and in Seattle that work to educate white people about race. Go. Learn. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Don’t be afraid to call yourself out on racist thoughts. And don’t be afraid to call out people in your life who do it too. Silence is permission. As much as it is easier to not say anything, as it is easier to be comfortable and quiet, we are called to more. We are called to not conform.

I was taught in seminary to always end on a note of grace. You don’t want people leaving thinking everything is awful, I’m awful, this is awful.

And, well, the state of race relations in this country IS awful. But, there is good news.  The grace of God is with us. The grace of God is the power that allows us to look at the ugliness in ourselves and know we are loved beyond belief. The grace of God is what gives us the power to change, the love of God is what shines on the darkest places within us to rid us of our shadows, to clean out the darkness, the sludge, the dirt and to be transformed into people who love without ceasing, who know good from evil, and to transform the world. With God at our backs and in our hearts, we have the power to change ourselves, to be transformed. We have the strength to be living sacrifices, and the love to see each and every other person as a member of the body of Christ. This is the gift of God. Where God challenges, God gives strength. Where God calls, God will travel with us. God wants us to be transformed nonconformists, to follow God’s will against the world’s, and God will give us the strength to do so through prayer and through community. We don’t have to do this alone. We can confront our own racism with our family in Christ, with the people in this very room. We can support each other with the power of the holy spirit that moves through our lives and through our communities. God will not abandon us even as we admit our uglier selves. God calls us to do this. It is why we pray thy kingdom come, thy will be done…

God help us to be living sacrifices, help us to be transformed nonconformists.

Your will, not ours, be done.

Amen

 


How to be a Christian without being a jerk about it

Dan Piraro so often gets it right.

Dan Piraro so often gets it right.

A few weeks ago, the marvelous Lindy West over at Jezebel wrote an excellent post called, “How to be an Atheist without being a dick about it.” As someone who has been the target of my fair share of dickish Atheists in my life, I really appreciated it. However, the behavior of dickish Atheists pales in comparison with some of the behavior of my Christian brothers and sisters. So, dear people, I give you some recommendations on how to be a Christian without being a jerk and turning everyone off to not only Christians, but to Jesus. (I’m going to try to cut back on the language in the event that some Christians who need to hear this are turned off by the swears. Let’s see how I do.)

1) Stop threatening people with hellfire and damnation. Nobody likes it. It achieves approximately nothing so far as spreading the gospel is concerned.

I don’t even know where to begin with this one, and I’m not going to get into my thoughts on hell and the existence thereof. I have no idea what threats of hellfire are supposed to accomplish. It’s like screaming at someone, “I think you’re ugly and awful! Date me and I’ll fix all of your flaws!” Sign me up? Not to mention the fact that most people who don’t believe in the Christian concept of God DON’T BELIEVE IN HELL. Therefore, your threats are meaningless. How does threatening someone with something they don’t believe in do anything other than make you (and by extension all Christians) look silly? That’s like telling me that if I don’t behave, Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy will boycott stopping by my home with their treasures.

“Oh, you think I’m going to hell? Well, then I’d like to be a part of your community and worship your God!” said no one, ever.

2) Stop “speaking truth in love” or whatever you call it. This includes love the sinner, hate the sin (which sounds more like hate than love every time).

Let’s be honest, the most often I see this line used is in the attempt to “correct” the gays, so that’s my primary focus here. Look, I get that for many Christians, correcting someone on their behavior can be a soul saving act. But, let me be clear: speaking the truth in love just about never feels like love. It feels like judgment, anger, hate, prejudice, bigotry, evil, immaturity and a bunch of other negative adjectives (and often times, that’s because that is what it is). Now, there may be times someone needs to be called out on their behavior, like when they are being a total jerk (see this post) or when they are harming themselves or others. Usually, it is best when someone has given permission to have truth spoken into their lives. That means they are ready for it, and what you have to say is valued. Proceed with caution and love. It is important that, in the event you feel the need to correct someone on their behavior, you ask yourself some things:

A) How well do I know this person? If the person you are about to “speak truth in love” to isn’t a close friend, stop yourself right there. Just stop. The phrase “speak truth in love” comes from the letter to the Ephesians, a worshipping community of the early church. These were people who lived in community together, not random people shouting at each other what they were doing wrong.

B) Is anyone getting hurt by this person’s behavior? And by hurt, I am not talking about the state of their everlasting souls regarding eternity in heaven or hell (which is up to God, BTW, not you or me). Drugs destroy bodies and relationships; abuse of a partner or child is life damaging and soul killing. Have the talk. The sex lives of consenting adults (unless they are cheating, knowingly spreading a disease, or engaging in super risky compulsive behavior) are not hurting anyone.

C) Have I thoroughly examined my heart to make sure I am acting out of love, not fear, prejudice, or wrong teaching? If I am not engaged in a regular prayer practice that involves looking into my own heart and confronting my own sin, I am are in no place to correct someone else. And I don’t know about you, but I still have a lot of confronting to do. A lot. Try thinking of what love is according to 1 Cor 13: 4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Which brings me to #3:

3) STOP WITH THE JUDGING ALREADY

In the gospel of John, Jesus comes across a crowd of people about to stone a woman who was caught in adultery. He says to them, “If you are without sin, go ahead and cast a stone. If you have sin (which face it, is all of you) go ahead and stone her but make sure you throw some stones at yourself for good measure after you stone her.”

Wait, that’s not the story.

All too often I hear people talk about other’s sins, convict others of sins, then add at the end, “But, I mean, I’m a sinner too, I know that.” Dude, that’s not what Jesus said to do. Jesus said to stone her only if you were without sin. How about instead of stoning/judging each other, we love each other? Real, deep, compassionate love that sees the brokenness and aches to see it healed with love.

4) Stop saying that God is acting in destructive ways because of the gays, feminists, Muslims, Atheists, abortionists, communists, socialists, Obamacare, liberals, pornographers or whatever. I’ve already written about it here. These storms are happening at an increased rate not because of our personal “immorality” but our corporate sin of degrading the environment and acting like we’re just gonna get another one.

5) Get right with science. I don’t even know how to explain this one. Climate change is a thing. Evolution is also a thing. The ancient people who wrote the Bible would have looked at us like we were nuts if we told them we were taking their stories as actual fact. The United States is falling behind in global education ranking because of our math and science scores. Kids from very religious households are going to college unprepared for intro science classes because they haven’t learned about evolution and they think the Earth is 6,000 years old. There are plenty of scientists who are people of faith and believe that there is an unmoved mover behind all of this. In fact, many people believe that knowing more about science actually makes God all the more wondrous.

If you can’t get right with science, try to understand that there are very valid reasons to believe in science (I really can’t handle that I just typed believe in science, like it is a choice). We would do a better job of spreading God’s love and salvation if we listened and loved instead of shouted and judged.

6) Understand that there are people who are never going to believe, for whom the idea of God makes no sense whatsoever. Faith, according to the Bible, is a gift of the Spirit. Some people don’t have it. Be cool about it. Be friends. Love, laugh, chill and talk. Have conversations about ultimate things, come to understand why a person wouldn’t believe in God. Even for those who have been given faith, it is a hard thing to sustain in this world. Know someone who doesn’t believe in God? Love her. Be salve to his wounds. And let up on the witnessing.

7) Empower women. Paul had women working with him. The woman at the well brought her village to belief, women were the first to witness the empty tomb and tell others. Women are smart, strong and equipped for leadership at home, in the workplace and in the congregation. Our bodies are not made to be ogled at, commodified or make medical decisions about. How someone else feels about my body is not my fault. I will show others respect and Christian love. I don’t owe anyone fielty or subservience disguised as complementarianism, and I don’t have to wear long skirts or cover my head, TYVM.

8) If you know/hear/suspect someone has been molested, sexually assaulted or sexually harassed by a church member/leader, listen, trust and report it. That’s just a big old duh.

9) Stop trying to legislate using the Bible as your main argument. The Bible can’t be used to make public policy. It can certainly influence reasoning for supporting or opposing a policy, but it must not be the sole reason. Evidence, studies, economic impact, human rights and constitutionality — these are reasons to make or take down laws. Not because the Bible said so. Even in situations when our religious beliefs call us to end injustice, we must (as people living in a democracy, not a theocracy) find reasons to supplement/complement our Biblical reasons for legislation.

10) Focus more on corporate sin than personal sin. Care more about racism than what a woman is wearing or who someone is sleeping with. Get more outraged by war and poverty than something scandalous and/or titilating on tv. Worry more about the melting glaciers than who is marrying whom.

11) Understand you lose any and all moral high ground when you decide to support a racist, xenophobic, sexist, petulant, lying, cheating, oppression supporting demagogue WHO DOES NOT BELIEVE HE NEEDS TO CONFESS SIN TO GOD OR ATONE FOR ANYTHING for president. You cannot talk about the sanctity of marriage and at the same time support someone who has been married three times, cheated on his wives, and likely continues to sexually harass/intimidate women (and who will be on trial in December for raping a child). You cannot talk about how you value life and support someone who a) refuses to allow people seeking life into this country b) seems to be fine with people threatening the life of his opponent and c) still thinks innocent men should get the death penalty. And you can never, ever ask others to repent when you claim into the Christian family someone who believes he is above that.

When I was going to church camp, we used to sing a song with the refrain, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I want that to be the truth. I want to know that when I tell people I’m a Christian, they will think of all the work my people do on behalf of the poor and outcast. I want to be proud not only of my God, but of my people. But that’s really hard. Because, right now, our public image is more like, “They will know we are Christians because our leaders say weird things about AIDS and storms, support sexist, xenophobic racists, would rather refugees die, and we yell a lot about who can marry whom.” So, let’s cut that shit out, shall we?


White Christians sleep while young black men die

If you're white, there's a good chance this person scares you. Deal with it. Sit with it. Think about it. Then try and do better next time.

This is largely addressed to my white brothers and sisters, particularly those in the church. I’m a white woman, was raised in an almost all-white town and have spent most of my life in predominately white faith communities. White people don’t like to talk about racism. We like to pretend it isn’t real and we don’t benefit from it. This has got to stop.

When Barack Obama was elected president, there was all kinds of talk about the United States being a post-racial society. This was, and is, total bullshit. It was (and is), however, a really nice bedtime story us white folk can tell to our kids and to ourselves. Rest easy, everyone. Racism is dead. No need to worry about race anymore. Go to sleep, sleep. sleep…

Every once in a while , we (by we I mean my white brothers and sisters) wake up from our little racism-doesn’t-exist slumber. When a celebrity says something out loud that we know is something you just don’t say (inner voices, white brethren) we get all up in arms and demand an apology. Then we go back to sleep. While we sleep, some of us clutch our purses on the train, lock our doors when we drive through minority neighborhoods or cross the street when groups of dark-skinned men stand in our path. We tell ourselves that we are doing it for our own safety, if we realize we are doing it at all. We make assumptions about people’s intelligence, responsibility, work ethic and a whole host of other things based on the color of a person’s skin. I do not exclude myself from this description. I do it too.

Then, in the middle of our nice black-man-is-president, post-racial dream, a young black man is killed for walking through a neighborhood in a hoodie carrying some skittles, an iced tea, and talking to his girl on the phone. We wake up. We are sad, we are shocked (really? shocked?), we are horrified. We call for the ousting and jailing and public shaming of all involved. Our eyes are getting heavy. All of this sadness and dismay about racism is tiring. We’d like to go back to sleep.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD PEOPLE, STAY AWAKE!

Jesus said this to his followers a lot. Maybe not in those exact words, but he did tell them to stay awake directly and in parables. Jesus knew his followers would have a hard burden to bear once he left. He knew that they would want to fall asleep. He knew they, like most humans, would prefer a life of comfort to the life of the cross he was walking them towards. He implored them to keep awake.

What did that mean to Jesus? Be aware of what you are doing and saying, be aware of who is around you, be aware of your inner thoughts and your prayer life. Be aware. Be awake. Know yourself — know your weaknesses, know what sets you off, know what you are afraid of. Keep awake. Know the difference between what the world tells you and what God is saying. Keep awake. This is how you stay faithful to God and keep the devil at bay. Keep awake.

2000 or so years later, we are asleep. This is, in no small part, a fault of the church. Christian pastors and churches want to keep our numbers up, so we strive to keep people comfortable. We profit off of people staying asleep. I know that there are good Christians out there and good churches working hard to keep people awake. But this shouldn’t be the work of a few churches well suited to social justice work. This is the work of all of us.

We (white people) are complicit in the murder of Trayvon Martin and all of the other non-white folk who have been killed over the years. We are complicit in the wage gap between people of color and the pigment-challenged. We sit idly by as we watch the number of young black men in prison grow as the unemployment rate for the same demographic in the United State is around 17%. This happens because we are asleep.

We are asleep to our fears. We deny that we are afraid of people of color because it sounds so ugly. No one wants to be that person. But we all are. In some way, we all are. We are asleep to our assumptions. When we make assumptions about a person’s intelligence or capabilities on the basis of the color of their skin, we shrug it off. We tell ourselves that some stereotypes are that way because they are true. When someone defies our expectations, we assume that it is because that person is exceptional, not because our assumption was wrong. Most of all, and I believe, most importantly, we are asleep to our power and privilege.

If you need a primer on the benefits of being white, check out the essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. What can you think of off the top of your head? How about not being afraid of the police (unless you’ve actually done something illegal or are high and therefore, paranoid)? That’s a great privilege. I had a black friend in high school who refused to visit me because he knew he would get pulled over in my 99% white town. Not getting followed around in a store — that’s pretty cool. Most of the people of my race I see on TV are heroes. Nobody looks at my skin and assumes I have a bad credit score. Read the essay. Learn. Be aware. Be awake.

And another thing: rid your mind of the idea of reverse racism. Reverse racism is not a thing. Yes, white people are occasionally judged on the color of their skin. This is race prejudice, and it happens. Racism is different. Racism = race prejudice + power. And white people, as a whole, still hold the power. I know that this is complicated and there is a hierarchy of power that includes all sorts of things like wealth, education, gender, sexual orientation, nation of origin, immigration status and color. But the top of that hierarchy of power is white. And until white people like myself are ready to talk about this, nothing will get better, it just won’t.

Next time you find yourself clutching your bag or crossing the street or making an assumption about a person stop. Think. Ask yourself what you’re doing and why. Admit that you might have been racist right there, for a moment. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?

Next time you get a sweet interest rate, your credit check is waived, you get out of a traffic ticket or have the police drive right past you without even glancing your way stop. Think. Ask yourself what’s happened and why. Admit you have power and privilege. Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery, right?

Most importantly, my white friends, wake up the people around you. Wake up your churches. Talk about race. Deliver sermons about race. Have workshops about race. How much do we not talk about race? I was hard pressed to find a friend who went to a white church where Dr. King was talked about on Martin Luther King Day. We can’t even talk about it when we’re honoring one of the greatest prophets of our time. We are comfortable. We are asleep. People of color in our country don’t have this luxury.

In Jesus’ stories, the ending is never good for the people who fall sleep. Stay awake, therefore. Stay awake. Stay awake. For the sake of the world, stay awake.

If you want to talk about race, racism, power and privilege in your community, check out CrossRoads. They do excellent anti-racism training.