I can hear helicopters circling over my city as I write these words.
It’s a few hours after the attorney general’s announcement about Breonna Taylor here in Louisville.
Sickness settles in my stomach as I begin to digest the news that one officer was indicted because of the bullets that haphazardly went through the drywall of neighboring apartment buildings, and yet no officer was indicted for the six bullets that went through Breonna Taylor’s own body.
Malcom X once said, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
Over 50 years later, and Malcolm’s words still ring true. When will Black women’s lives really matter? How long, oh Lord?
I was once on a panel at a women in ministry conference, and the first question we were asked was, “How has your race affected your journey as a woman in ministry?” The other two women on the panel, beautifully gifted ministers whom I call friends, were eager to respond.
One woman, a Hispanic minister from Fort Worth, Texas, shared about growing up as the child of the church janitor in a predominantly white church in west Texas, and how, despite “white niceness,” she was always treated differently than all the other children, as if she and her family were the “mission project” of the church. She always questioned how someone like her could ever grow up to be a minister in the church. What church would even want her?
Another woman, a Black minister from Houston, talked about how she always kept a skirt in the backseat of her car in case she went to a church meeting where women weren’t allowed to wear pants. Or how sometimes she was told to have a seat on the first or second pew in the sanctuary while all the other pastors were invited to sit in the pulpit. How she has had the door closed in her face while the other male ministers met in the pastor’s office, and she was left in the hallway.
I was blown away by my friends’ responses.
When my turn came, I didn’t know what to say. Sure, I could share countless stories about my struggles as a woman in ministry, but that’s not the question that was asked, and I didn’t know what to say about how my race had impacted that. Which is precisely the point.
My response was that I didn’t have one because my race hasn’t affected my journey as a woman in ministry, at least not in any sort of negative way. That’s what privilege is; it’s when we didn’t even know the question existed.
Now, I’m a white woman serving as a new pastor in a city that is literally pulsating with emotion over the unjust murder of a Black woman. But I cannot be surprised by the everyday challenges of my Black and Brown sisters anymore.
I cannot shrink back into the comfort and familiarity of “white niceness.” And I cannot be quiet, even as the buzz of helicopter blades overhead beats loudly against my office window.
In the gospel of Luke, we read about a woman who relentlessly kept going to an unjust judge to ask for justice against her oppressor. The Message translation says that the judge “never gave her the time of day.”
Nevertheless, she persisted.
If there is someone we ought to emulate in the story, it’s not the judge, who continues to drag his feet until the woman simply becomes an annoyance to him. It’s the widow, whose persistent faith finally brings about the long-overdue justice she deserves.
When I read this story, I think of the varied layers of injustice my colleagues in Texas have endured and their persistent faith and witness as ministers today.
I think of Rep. Attica Scott, the only Black woman in Kentucky’s state legislature, and her daughter, Ashanti, who were both arrested last week amid peaceful protests downtown.
Upon her release, Attica Scott said she plans to keep protesting. “I have the responsibility as a woman, a Black woman, a mother, to keep the fight going.”
I think of the female clergy in my city who have continued to have a faithful presence at Injustice Square for the past 120-plus days and have offered refuge and support from nearby churches.
I think of Breonna Taylor, whose portrait now hangs in my church office, just miles from where she was shot. She serves as a daily reminder to join in this hard and holy work of faithful persistence as we seek justice in our city and beyond.
How long, oh Lord?
Until justice rolls down like the waters of the Ohio River.
Until Malcom X’s words no longer ring true.
Until Black women’s lives really matter.