I woke up on May 26th, and watched the video of George Floyd’s murder. The names came flooding into my brain: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Philando Castille, Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many more.
I thought up a million reasons why I shouldn’t go to the protest. Those reasons made it clear that my privilege was my shield. We are not called to comfort, but to transformation.
So, on May 31st, I put on my clergy collar (pictured above), a mask, and headed for downtown Baton Rouge. I came prepared in case of tear gas, ready with my ACLU protest guide, I “location shared” with my husband and set out to be present as a clergy person in a place of pain and longing.
A unique perspective
My perspective is unusual. My sisters and I do not look alike. Our varied skin tones and hair colors have awakened within me a fuller understanding of just how privileged I am.
My older sister is blonde. I am brunette. Our younger sister’s hair color changes with her braids. She is adopted from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and her experience is not like mine, even though we share a family, upbringing, and love of bad TV. This has never been clearer to me than when our mother told me this story.
My sister and her friends went to dinner at a restaurant. It was the kind of restaurant where you pay at the counter after you’re done with your meal, or at least it used to be. When my little sister and her friends got up to leave and pay for their meal unaware the system had changed, workers at the counter informed them they were to pay their server.
When they returned to their seats, an older white woman said, “I bet you thought you were going to get away with it!” while wagging her finger at this group of young black women.
I tried to imagine what I would do if had I been there. Would I call out the racism? Would I shake my head and hurry my sister and her friends out? Would I try and explain to that woman it was simply a misunderstanding? Would I freeze up?
Every time I see on the news that a black person was killed by police in the arrest process or in custody my first thought is of my little sister. What would happen if she got pulled over? Would they believe she was in her neighborhood? Would they know that she is a daughter, a sister, a friend, an aunt, a child of God? Would they know she has a particularly dry sense of humor and makes the best chocolate chip cookies? Would they see her as a human being? Or would they take one look are her skin and see a threat? Would they mistake her soft-spoken nature as disrespect?
Silence is violence
At the rally, I saw signs. “Momma!” - George Floyd. “I can’t breathe!” - Eric Garner & George Floyd. But the sign that convicted me most said, “White Silence is Violence!"
Silence is violence. We cannot be silent anymore. We cannot be more concerned about offending people than we are about people of color being killed by police. We cannot simply condemn racism, we need to be anti-racist.
My commitment to racial equality comes not out of shame or guilt, but a deep love between sisters, and a deep love of Christ. Christ calls us out of our own brokenness so we might serve others through loving God and neighbor. That deep love makes me want to examine my own behaviors and actions. That deep love has given me the opportunity to see my privilege, and to call me out of apathy.
What can we do for racial equality?
Perhaps our first step is to call out the injustice done to our brothers and sisters of color, to recognize that what is happening is not okay, to use the platforms to call out the sin of racism. We need to get the plank out of our own eye so we can help others with the speck in their own.
There is a great reluctance by many pastors to speak out such challenging topics in the pulpit. That reluctance, that silence is violence. As pastors, we are called to be prophetic voices– to be like Elijah, Hosea, and Isaiah calling the people to reexamine the covenant they’ve made with God. It is not an easy calling or a comfortable one, but then again, Elijah got so fed up with the people he was called to preach to, he wandered out to the desert to die. Jonah pouted under a shrub. This drive for social justice is not about scolding or shaming. The call to social justice comes from our baptismal vows. “Resisting evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”
To be an ally is perhaps the modern call of discipleship. To be an ally, we must know who we are hoping to support and encourage. We must love them, listen to them, hear their experiences as valid, and accept that we might be part of the problem. We, as white pastors, need to educate ourselves and our congregations on racism and how to be anti-racist. There are many lists of books to read, resources to look into, and ways to engage in productive dialogue. But perhaps our first step is to call out the injustice done to our brothers and sisters of color, to recognize that what is happening is not okay. The first step is to use the platforms (and pulpits) we have to call out the sin of racism. We need to be willing to get the plank out of our own eye so we can help others with the speck in their own. To be an ally is perhaps the call modern call of discipleship. To be an ally, we must know who we are hoping to support and encourage. To know someone, we must love them, listen to them, hear their experiences as valid, and to accept that we might be part of the problem. This is the work before us as the church, to actually listen instead of debate.
We cannot continue to put the burden on people of color. It is not the job of the oppressed to teach the oppressor. It is not easy, but transformation never is. Love is not colorblind. Love is seeing each people for exactly who they are. Love is celebrating the vast diversity of human kind and remember each is made in the very image of God.
Let’s accept that it’s uncomfortable to talk about, but let’s talk about it anyway.
For more ideas on engaging in the difficult conversations and work, check out these resources on racial justice.
Rev. Ali Young serves as one of the pastors at University UMC in Baton Rouge, LA. Rev. Young is committed to helping the church continue to learn and grow in the pursuit of social justice. She and her husband, Wesley have 3 sons.