September 6, 2015: Pentecost 15
About fifty years ago Ed Rodman, my African American friend, mentor, prophet, said to me, “Racism can’t be solved by moving toward economic equality alone”. When African American Youth and their parents and allies raise the cry “Black Lives Matter” it’s because the white system doesn’t see them, doesn’t know them or make attempts to know them and controls the systems and institutions that perpetuate racial misunderstanding and division. I believe their passionate confrontations with Bernie Sanders and others are an appropriate way to shake to consciousness the great Sin of our society: Racism.
Racism isn’t only prejudice. Prejudice is endemic in most societies and groups. Racism is different because it includes power and prejudice and mixes them in a lethal brew of Institutional discrimination, fear and dismissal of a Black person’s humanity.
Of course white lives matter too. So do police, so do other races and religions and nationalities, but sometimes you have to yell in the ear of the powerful for them to pay attention, or for us white folks to pay attention.
Black Lives Matter because there is systematic discrimination, different standards of behavior by our institutions. Written into the constitution was the perpetuation of Slavery. While a war was fought over slavery, the institutions of segregation and discrimination continue. As the Freedom song says:
“Those who believe in freedom shall not rest:
Until the killing of Black men, Black mother’s sons are the same as the killing of white men, white mother’s sons”
It seems to me the task before us for the sake of our souls is to see our black men as our brothers and sons and fathers, and our black women as our sisters and mothers and daughters.
We can work on changing our institutions, elect an African-American president, put in place an African American Attorney General, but unless at the local level, with our police, our elected leaders, our churches and schools and institutions and businesses we will re-create the great divide.
Civil Rights leaders have said that a “change of heart” will be a long time coming. White privilege will not give up its place or power without confrontation. And yet it seems to me that the very way into the heart of love and the heart of the divine is, as white people, admit that we have been given a pass that our black brothers and sisters have not had. Admit it, look at it and let it go. For this privilege is not ours alone but belongs to every child of God.
I began as a white boy who wanted to be in the Black community. After many years of stumbling and confrontation, I was both tolerated and welcomed. I was at a Baptism at an African American Church in Roxbury. It was 1968. As the only white man in the large group I turned to Helen and blurted out, “Helen I feel uncomfortable.” “How do you think we feel”, Helen responded.
What an incredible invitation to enter a process of discovery. And it really helps with my racism, my white privilege, to try to see with another’s eyes, to put myself in the shoes of my Black brothers and sisters. I’m convinced that there is a massive shift of heart and mind that is required. The process now is to see that Black Lives Do Matter. That our institutions need to be held accountable for racial discrimination. That our police and public officials need to learn how the system of racism works in their own lives. How it works in our churches where still the most segregated hour in American as ML King said 50 years ago, is the 11 o’clock hour on a Sunday morning.
Let’s take a look at how we experience and behave as we encounter African-American men and women and children. Let us pledge to confront expressions of racial prejudice in our conversations with others and within ourselves. Let us begin or continue the process of opening our hearts to our Black brothers and sisters and to see them as children of God. I suspect that will mean we’ll have to see ourselves a children of God as well.