I am white.
This is not true in the strictest sense of the color white; I do not match the many papers littering my desk. I am, in fact, a sort of mottled peach covered in light brown freckles. The insides of some of my fingers are a burnt orange; I’ve never figured out why. The veins that show through my black tattoos are lavender and teal.
When I was a kid, my family had a foster kid who was black. This was not true in the strictest sense of the color black, either; she was a deep brown with palms even lighter peach than mine and frizzy black hair. I called her my chocolate baby because I was three and she was two and the only thing I’d ever seen before that was her color was a Hershey’s bar. I thought she was beautiful, and I still remember when I figured out that you don’t grow out of your skin color like you can with hair color and that I was, in fact, always going to be white. It broke my heart.
This week has been so strange in the utter nonsense of the Dolezal mess and then the heartbreaking stupidity of the Charleston massacre. I have everything and nothing to say to this. In fact, I would love to let Dr. Greg Hills speak for me, because I agree with what he says. And I would love to have Jon Stewart speak for me, because I wholeheartedly agree with what he says, too. I would even let myself speak for me from three years ago, because it’s still true.
But those are easy. Those are leaning on the words of others so that I don’t have to respond here, now, to the fact that we as a nation are continually ignoring the deep split between our rationality and our actions. My father sometimes tells the story of growing up seeing segregated water fountains in public places and I always thought oh, how far we’ve come. How good it is that we would not stand for that anymore.
Is it better or worse that we “allow” everyone to drink from the same water fountain but refuse to stop segregating safety? Is it better or worse that I can teach a class of students of every shade but know that the darker kids will fight twice as hard to go anywhere with the lessons? Is it better or worse to know that racism has buried itself in our marrow rather than boldly flying its colors?
I cannot in good conscience look my black, brown, peach, yellow, white, or beige friends in the eyes and say I am beyond angry about the murders in Charleston or the appropriation of oppression of Dolezal if I am myself still shading away from “them” in any sense, if I am not refusing at every opportunity to point out the places built to exclude, if I am not paying attention to the thousand small ways that I keep my comfortable little bubble intact. But I cannot even begin to understand, Reader, what to do. I can mourn, as Reverend Gafney calls for, and that is good and necessary. And I can, in the little daily interactions, refuse to turn away from someone simply because s/he looks different.
But what else? I’m not much of one for storming the capitol or even organizing a prayer vigil, yet God did not call me to be His feet so that I could sit on them. Christianity is a faith that walks, runs, leaps through the places where hate destroys to be the light that saves. It is a faith that demands we hold ourselves and each other accountable to a Kingdom view that says this shit won’t be tolerated, cannot stand in the presence of the God Who Himself was rather darker than the Europeans when He was in human form. It is a faith with no patience for injustice, and the deaths in Charleston are quite simply that.
Hate is not just. Unprovoked violence against the defenseless in a sacred space is not just. Blaming the victims is not just. Pretending that our social system did not create a place where someone felt it was not only possible but right to plan and enact the murder of nine people is not just. And we must face that. We must say it to ourselves, the shocked whispers building to the outraged roar that we are part of injustice and we cannot stay there. We must not stay there; we must refuse to accept that this is Somewhere Else, that it is a fluke or an accident or a tragedy unconnected to the conversation we have in every level of a society that promotes weapons as though they’re intrinsically harmless, that connects skin color to human value, that belittles the mentally ill by classifying hate as an uncontrollable malfunction.
I have no idea how to do this, but I know that it must be done. To continue repeating this cycle of violence founded in racial prejudice is to ignore all that we learn every single time about the worth of God’s children—and what good is it to be thinking creations if we do not learn?
And Jesus said, “The things that come out of people are the things that make them unclean. All these evil things begin inside people, in the mind: evil thoughts, sexual sins, stealing, murder, adultery, greed, evil actions, lying, doing sinful things, jealousy, speaking evil of others, pride, and foolish living.” (Mark 7:20-23, NCV)