As I Understand It: Racism, White Privilege, and White Supremacy

I have talked with many white friends who are angry with the Black Lives Matter movement. They generally think of themselves as good people, and feel that BLM is an attack on them personally.

But the real problem is that few of my white friends have even taken the time to research BLM, and the motivation behind it. The Holy Spirit has been needling me to do or say something about this problem. I have no illusions that I am the expert on the subject, and if some of my Black sisters and brothers would offer me some creative criticism, I would appreciate it. Please remember I am a 59 year old white pastor trying to bring understanding to an issue that is impossible for me to experience first hand, but I’m trying.

Racism, White Privilege, and White Supremacy are right before our eyes. We see it every day the murder of George Floyd, or Breonna Taylor, or #SayTheirNames too many others whose deaths go ignored. If you haven’t viewed the many sites that list names of Black Americans who have keen killed, then you need to. Because failing to care enough to take this problem seriously, saying

“It’s their problem not mine.”

is the quintessential example of Racism, White Privilege, and White Supremacy.

Here are some sites to look at:

https://sayevery.name/

https://saytheirnames.io/

And that is what Black Lives Matter is all about. The fact that Black Americans, our sisters and brothers, are shot to death and the majority of white Americans act as though it’s simply another day in the life and death of “those people.”

The words of a black mother haunt me, she said, “Every time my son walks out the door I fear he will be shot just because he is black.” I cannot understand what that must feel like, because I live in a quiet Iowa town I have no cause to fear when my daughter announces she is leaving the house, other than the things every parent, no matter the color of their skin, worries about.

And that, my friends is White Privilege.

I live a privileged life free from the fear that my child will die needlessly and senselessly at the drop of a hat. Like 17 year old Trayvon Martin who was shot to death by George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012 because Zimmerman saw the color of his skin and automatically assumed he didn’t belong in the exclusive gated community where he was patrolling as part of the Neighborhood Watch. The chances of that ever happening to my child are so low as to be nil.

Because of the color of her skin, and BTW she is adopted from China, she can go wherever she wants and feel safe doing so (although one kid on the bus told her to “Go back where you came from.”) And I am assured of her safety and go through my day without fear. And that is my White Privilege. The color of my skin assures me of my daughter’s safety and my peace of mind.

And I take it for granted.

You may say, “If the neighborhood in which they live is so dangerous, why don’t they move somewhere else?” That may seem like a logical and simple question, and to us white people an easy solution. But that question is a very racist question. Yeah, I know you’re angry because I just called you racist and you vehemently deny that you are racist. So, let me ask you some questions:

  1. Where would “they” be welcome? Next door to you? And if you feel even the least bit uncomfortable with that question, ask yourself why?
  2. Would “they” even be able to buy a house in your neighborhood? Would the bank lend the money? Would the realtor show the house?
  3. Why should “they” have to be refugees in their own country? The fact that white people can so carelessly talk about black people uprooting their families and moving to a new community where “they” will likely be viewed with suspicion and their children experience hatred and bigotry?
  4. Why do you think of Black and Brown Americans as “they” in contrast to “us” white people? And yes, I know that’s not what you intend. However, that is what the listener/reader perceives.

White Supremacy is another term being used that is either not understood at all by white Americans, or misunderstood as referring primarily to Neo-Nazi and White Supremacist radical groups. While that is true, White Supremacy is the fundamental understanding that supports and encourages white privilege.

It is a philosophy that undergirds all aspects of American culture, the idea that by virtue of being white we deserve to be on top. We deserve to be rich, and live in gated communities, and always be at the front of the line. We deserve, because we are white, to run the country because “they” aren’t as smart as we are. The concept that white people are just plain better than anyone else.

When you hear a black or brown person speaking in a voice, or accent, or verbal syntax different from we were taught in school, do assume that it is because “they” aren’t as smart, or educated as “we” are? How many people were confounded by President Obama’s manner of speaking? Did you ever think, “He sounds too intelligent, well reasoned, and eloquent to be a Black man?” Because, “we” assume intelligence, reason, and eloquence are reserved for white people.

I know you, my friends and readers, don’t think that way. Because you have convinced yourself, “I’m not racist.” So, let me give you an example:

In his interview with Laura Ingraham, Trump stated that Democrats are “trying to destroy the suburbs,” he said. “They want low-income housing, and with that comes a lot of other problems, including crime.”

When you read the phrase “low-income housing” what was the first image that came into your mind? Was it of black or brown people living in low-income housing? Be honest. I mean really be honest. Because the white supremacist culture in which we live has conditioned us to believe that. Good hard working white people live in the suburbs because they deserve to live in the suburbs, and black and brown people live in the inner city where “they” belong. It’s the way the world works, that’s just the way it is.

WRONG! That’s the way white Americans have created the system to work, to our advantage. And that is systemic racism, white privilege, and white supremacy all rolled up in one false claim.

White supremacy, white privilege and racism are the motivating factors behind President Trump’s WALL. “I’ll build the wall and Mexico will pay for it.” And if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

So, as a white man, why does this matter to me? Because my life is dedicated to serving Jesus Christ my LORD.

Matthew 25:31-45

The Judgement of the Nations

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 

Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 

Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

Jesus instructs us to treat each person we meet as though she/he is Jesus himself. And I teach confirmation students to Christ in others. And by the way Jesus did not have blonde hair, or blue eyes, or white skin as in so many of the pictures that hang on our walls. He looked more like this:

Jesus Christ's REAL Face Has Been Discovered - British Scientists Claim -  Information Nigeria

Richard Neave, a medical artist retired from the University of Manchester in England used the science of Forensic Anthropology to create this image of what Jesus might have looked like. He was of Hebrew descent, living in or around Jerusalem in the first century. Compare this image with the ones we have grown up with and see hanging in our churches and on our walls.

And so you may ask, “when was it that we saw Jesus hurt, or hungry, or thirsty, or in danger, and did not help him?”

And the King will answer, “When George Floyd was murdered and it was just another tragic story on the news. Or when Breonna Taylor died because police shot indiscriminately through the walls of her home and you were not outraged at her senseless death. Or when you demand good schools for your children and ignore the horrible conditions of schools in the inner city. And on and on and on.”

Oh, BTW, school funding is another sign of our racist system. White people have set it up so that rich white people’s taxes go to fund wonderful schools for their privileged children, while inner city schools are funded by the taxes paid by those who live in the inner city.

White privilege is real! White supremacy is real! Racism is real! Yet white people refuse to believe it or admit it, we like to think of ourselves as good people. We couldn’t possibly be complicit in the kind of heinous activity as racism. White privilege? Bah, we worked hard for what we have, we deserve everything we have earned.

It’s way past time we stop trying to fool ourselves. And sincere confession and repentance is long overdue. In our traditional Lutheran liturgy we make confess of our sins with the following:

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

White Supremacy, White Privilege, and Racism are sins that pervade our nation: our culture, our financial system, our political system, our educational system. To deny that is to “deceive ourselves” and continue living a lie. Because good people abhor injustice no matter whom it is aimed at. Justice for Just Us is not Justice for anyone.

Again, as a white man, why does this matter to me? Because in Lutheran Confirmation Class I learned that as someone who is baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is calling me to work to make the world into the place God intended it to be from the beginning. And as one who worships every Sunday, and prays the Lord’s Prayer multiple times each week, I know that when I pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven” that is not an idle request, but a call to action.

When I was confirmed in the Lutheran church in June of 1975, I was asked to make certain promises:

Brothers and sisters in Christ: In Holy Baptism our Lord Jesus Christ received you and made you members of his Church. In the community of God’s people, you have learned from his Word God’s loving purpose for you and all creation. You have been [nourished at his holy table and] called to be witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, therefore, I ask you to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, reject sin, and confess the faith of the Church, the faith in which we baptize.

Do you renounce all the forces of evil, the devil, and all his empty promises?

And I responded: I do. Before God, my church, my family, my friends, and my grandmothers who were also my baptism sponsors.

You have made public profession of your faith. Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in Holy Baptism:

to live among God’s faithful people,

to hear his Word and share in his supper,

to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed,

to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus,

and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?

And I responded: I do, and I ask God to help and guide me.

So you see, I made a vow before God and everyone I hold dear “to serve all people, following the example of our Lord Jesus, and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth.” And my conscience is bound to that vow. Please do not think it arrogant of me to quote Martin Luther at this point, but his words echo through my soul.

“it cannot be either safe or honest for a Christian to speak against his conscience. Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; God help me! Amen.”

In case an appeal to righteousness before God and faith in Christ don’t motivate you, here are a few reminders of what America stands for:

Our pledge of Allegiance ends, “… with liberty and justice for ALL.”

From the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Racism is an affront to everything America claims to stand for. It dishonors the flag, is an insult to those who gave their lives to insure the freedoms we cherish, and is a disease that eats at the heart of the Constitution upon which our nation is founded. It is an attack on every aspect of the lives of Americans. Not “their” lives. American lives. Lives that matter to “us.” Because as a nation our fundamental character is defined by these words:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

In case you don’t recognize those words, they are the preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America.

To me, that’s what it means when I say Black Lives Matter.

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