I’m not completely sure when the shift began. The opening of my mind and heart to the truths of another’s experience has been a long process. I’m sure the seeds we’re planted when I began reading books that presented a different view of the Gospel than the one I had grown up understanding.
I know my heart became softer when I stopped watching the news channel that rhymes with “box” and stopped listening to talk radio. A softer heart meant fertile soil for those seeds to sprout.
I know it was the work of the Spirit convicting me and removing the blinders from my eyes. And the Spirit has continued to change me and grow those seeds of compassion and understanding within my heart.
And then there were the more recent things. An acknowledgement of my own implicit biases in certain instances toward people of color, and being shocked to realize that I held them, even while I would have sworn that I wasn’t prejudiced.
But there were the assumptions I made on pretty much a daily basis: driving around town, watching national news stories, at the grocery store. I was critical and judgmental in the way I viewed and thought about others around me, especially those I perceived to be “other” than me.
The first and main assumption I made shaped all of the others: that everyone in America experiences the world in the same way I do. That the opportunities afforded to me reflected the reality of opportunities available to all Americans. “Bootstrappers” some might call this attitude. (Or I might have just made up that word, but I think you know what I mean.)
Another assumption was that if people who fell outside of my perceived reality would just “conform to my understanding of what it means to be a good American” things would go better for them. This would include things like getting a job, pulling up their pants, not being lazy, not resisting arrest, not living in bad neighborhoods, not doing or selling drugs, not having children out of wedlock, not being an absent father, and the list goes on.
Then there were the more specific assumptions about specific situations.
He/She deserved it. He/She shouldn’t have… been wearing a hoodie, run away, walked in the middle of the street, been drunk, etc.
The pronouns I used betrayed me: They, Their, Them, Those people.
And while I don’t believe I ever said these words/terms myself, I nodded right along with those who used words like Thugs, Criminals, “people”, animals.
I am deeply saddened and ashamed by my thoughts, words, and actions.
And so I come before you today to admit that I have been a part of the problem.
The problem of assuming I could ever understand the reality of a life I have never lived. The problem of allowing my experience as a middle class white woman to blind me to the very real oppression of people in our country. The problem of justifying – just obey the police, just don’t run, just get a job, just don’t have babies out of wedlock (but of course, just don’t abort them either), just live like I live and everything will be fine.
But the problem is, it’s not fine. We are not fine here. I am not actually fine, because if I am not purposefully resisting the system of oppression that has been in place for our fellow black Americans for hundreds of years then I am complicit in it. Even though I didn’t mean to, I was perpetuating the prejudices, biases, and assumptions that uphold the status quo and protect my privilege.
And so I confess. And I pray, if your heart has been pricked to see that you could be part of the problem too, you will confess with me.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.
Episcopal Book of Common Prayer
I wanted to share some ideas for next steps if this post resonated with you and you are interested in changing and growing in your own heart, mind, and life. I’ve been on this journey consciously and actively for about a year, but unconsciously/Spirit-led for much longer. I continue to listen, read, and learn as much as I can. I want to encourage you to do the same.
If you’re just at the very, very beginnings of this journey, I want to encourage you to read at least some of the books on this list: 6 Books that Changed My Life, specifically Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne, The Myth of a Christian Religion by Greg Boyd, and The Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns.
If you’re ready for a more in depth look at the plight of people of color within our justice system please read The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. It will help to remove blinders from your eyes, and change your paradigm about the way our justice system works in our country.
For a more stories about how the justice system has impacted people personally, please read Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.
Then move on to this list from Dooce: Required Reading on Racism (language warning in the post) – I just got The Warmth of Other Suns on Audible (you can get two free audiobooks when you sign up here). I chose the audiobook version because it’s quite long. I just started listening to it and it is fascinating.
And if books are too much for you right now, then read as many articles as you can.
Start here: 28 Common Racist Attitudes and Behaviors and here: America is Not for Black People and here: White Privilege Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Means and here: From Ferguson to Baltimore: The Fruits of Government-Sponsored Segregation. Then watch these short videos: Ask Yourself this Question and Criminal Justice, in Black and White.
And watch some movies (thinking about how these things happened within our grandparents and probably some of our parent’s lifetimes): The Help, The Butler, Selma, and 12 Years a Slave which of course was much longer ago but provides much needed context. Also watch the documentary 13th, now on Netflix.
And when you’re done then read and listen and watch and read some more. Here’s a list of over 70 Race Resources for White People.
And finally, listen and believe. People of color have been trying to tell us about their experiences of living in America and we have not been listening well. Now is the time to listen to their stories and experiences and to believe them.
If you have suggestions of books or articles to read, movies to watch, or other actions steps to help people begin on this journey, I would love to hear them in the comments.
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