The pandemic and protests of 2020 have stirred reflection on and conversation about the ramifications of racism in the United States.
This is not the only result, but it does seem more people may be acknowledging the debilitating and deadly consequences of racism that is embedded in systems and structures of the country.
I hope White America does not decide to adopt the words from the 1970s hit single by the group 10cc and decide “it’s just a silly phase I’m going through.”
The disproportionate rate of illness and death of Black people from COVID-19 has reiterated the long-term problem of health and health care for this segment of the population.
The dramatic video of Derek Chauvin murdering George Floyd (with the aid of fellow Minneapolis police officers) has brought more people “face to face” with the violence that African Americans endure – directly or through complicity – from law enforcement officers.
It is tragic that death on display has been necessary to awaken the consciousness of many white people.
Black folks have called out systemic inequities for generations. To borrow words from a communications company’s commercials a decade or so ago, “Can you hear me now?”
While many people rightly call for continued conversation about race, I am weary about conversations and resolutions.
Consequently, I challenge more of us to start working for liberation. Then we can work on reconciliation.
A couple of examples that might move us in positive directions follow:
White folks need to do their own work with each other about confronting white entitlement.
Robin DiAngelo’s work on white fragility and deconstructing white privilege have gained increasing notoriety lately.
While she is not the only person with good work, she and other white thought leaders can help white people deal with white entitlement as white people.
It will help Black people to listen in on this conversation for information, but white folks need to do their own work too.
White and Black and all people also may want to hear the voices and hear the work of Ibrahim X. Kendi and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
In this season of protest, you particularly want to hear the insights of Angie Thomas in “The Hate U Give.”
After exploring the thoughts of these four persons and others to whom they refer, engaging in cross-cultural or multi-cultural conversation groups can lead to honest conversation and imagination of ways to work for more just communities, country and world.
These are not the only voices to heed, but they offer a reasonable place to start.
White folks need to join communities that Black folks lead.
Martin Luther King Jr. said in a 1960 “Meet the Press” interview, “I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies that 11 on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour in Christian America.”
Six decades later, many offer the same critique. However, white people usually want Black people to join them.
I have said to friends who long for more multicultural churches, “Join a Black church.” Why is it normative for “multicultural churches” to have white pastors?
There is too much racism embedded in Christian theology and national ideology to trust that normative concentration of power.
And to have one Black leader with an almost all white board is a nice gesture, but it does not count much.
Beyond the challenge for white people to join Black churches and white churches to join Black church networks, white people can join Black-led justice organizations.
The Poor People’s Campaign led by Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Pastor William Barber is an example of a justice coalition built on “fusion politics” that is multicultural, interfaith and intergenerational with a Black leader.
Local NAACP branches provide opportunities closer to where people live. White folks will be uncomfortable without their cultural leadership, but Black folks suffer non-Black cultural leadership all the time.
It will take work, but progress requires such.
If you are feeling “some kind of way” about my (a Black person) talking primarily about what white people can do (in addition to conversations), ask yourself why?
The country and church have followed white leadership for centuries, and we still face racial inequities around education, employment, wealth, housing, health, incarceration and death.
Rather than doing the same thing and expecting different results, it will likely be profitable to follow the advice of Black voices. We have something significant to offer.
On a final note, my examples above address a Black-white binary concerning racism in the United States. While this is not the only horrific expression, it is distinctive.
The heritage of enslavement of Africans and the American descendants of slavery are uniquely barbaric and further compounded by segregation, stolen labor, exploited wealth and criminalization.
Destroying anti-Black racism is not the only work to be done. If we make progress on this stubborn and sinful reality, however, we will handle the rest.
David Emmanuel Goatley is Research Professor of Theology and Black Church Studies and Director of the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School.