Dear Members and Friends of FCCI,
Devastated, outraged, frightened, overloaded, sad – these are some of the feelings church members have expressed to me over the past week as we watch protesters and police clash in U.S. cities. COVID-19, mass unemployment, a partisan shaping of facts, and the death of George Floyd at the hands of police led Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times to write, “America is a tinderbox.” The constellation of events that precipitated this wave of protests is distinctive but it follows a pattern.
People of each generation in our church have witnessed street protests like those of the past several days. Many of our church members can recall the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Those in my generation remember the riots in Los Angeles after the acquittal of four police officers for the beating of Rodney King. Some of our younger members and children may not remember the uprising in Ferguson, MO, but they are now seeing images in real time that will be etched in their memories. I think we all know what the underlying issue is that unites these events.
As you know, I am a white male that has married into an African American family and my children are mixed race. I have been exposed to racism over the years in ways I was never raised to process because I never had to: the awkward glances from those watching a white man holding hands with an African American woman in public; seeing my brother-in-law pulled over by police for no other reason than that he is black; learning the meaning of white privilege. Like too many other white people, I once thought of racism as a personal hatred for another human being because of their skin color – a bit like prejudice. Most of us don’t feel hatred for another person because of skin color, so being called a racist is, as Beverly Daniel Tatum writes in her book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, “the ultimate insult.” But racism is far more insidious and omnipresent than personal hatred. It is like “smog in the air,” she writes. “Sometimes it is so thick it is visible, other times it is less apparent, but always, day in and day out, we are breathing it in.”
Most of us know that racism is more than just personal hatred. Racism is, according David Wellman in his book Portraits of White Racism, “a system of advantage based on race.” It’s systemic. It’s bigger than any one of us because it’s everywhere, like smog. The killing of George Floyd has made the smog visible in recent days.
It’s okay to feel devastated, outraged, frightened, overloaded, sad. These are authentic emotions that we all feel. But let’s also take some steps to become more aware of the root cause that has driven protesters (including me) into the streets. Reading books like Beverly Daniel Tatum’s Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? or Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me is one way to do this. If you are interested, I would be willing to lead a book study that delves into the issues of race and privilege. I will also be talking about these issues in upcoming sermons.
As we do this important work, let’s not lose the vision of hope that is so foundational to our faith tradition. Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America, Michael Curry, was asked in an interview this week whether there is hope. His answer was unequivocal: Yes! He said,
“I believe … if people of good will and human decency come together and say we’re going to be a people of love, we’re going to be a people of compassion. … If we … will stand up, speak up, and join hands across racial differences, across religious, across sexual orientation, across all of our differences – join hands as brothers and sisters and siblings, and … stand up and make this nation a loving, decent, freedom-loving, justice-reigning nation … , then there will be peace in our streets.”
June 3, 2020