Dear White Christians,
While confined here in the prison of my Blackness, reeling from the latest round of Black death at the hands of police, I’ve come across your deafening silence of my pain once more. I’ve often asked myself how we can serve the same God, be washed by the same blood, and yet remain so divided as sisters and brothers of our Savior. I’ve grown exhausted of the weary echoes of these questions in my mind and have now turned to you seeking answers.
I’ve not only heard your silence loud and clear but I’ve heard your criticisms. I’ve heard you welcome Lecrae onto your inspirational Contemporary Christian songs but criticize him when he reminds you of his Blackness. I’ve heard you run popular Instagram accounts with inspirational proverbs but block people when they questioned your selective silence on injustice. I’ve heard you quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in response to all things race-related. You love to often quote that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” as a battle cry for causes near and dear to you. But, I’ve yet to hear a serious and collective answer to our challenge to you to be vocal and visible against injustices done to us between Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and today. You deplore the demonstrations taking place by Black Lives Matter & similar organizations across the country. To quote Dr. King myself, your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.
What is Black Empathy?
Black Empathy is the burden that allows me to both mourn and be filled with rage. I mourn the lives of those killed at the hands of irresponsible police officers. Commission of a crime, nor mere existence within a Black body, is justification for officers playing judge, jury, and executioner in the streets. I am filled with rage at continued miscarriages of justice but before I can sit with my justifiable anger, Black Empathy forces me to mourn the loss of new life. On Friday I woke up mourning the loss of 5 lives of officers who were senselessly killed in Dallas. Imagine the anguish of my sorrow in the tears I spilled at the deaths of those who represent an organization that has participated in the mass genocide of my people. Imagine the empathy that requires that I care about Blue and Black Lives because they are intersectional and inextricably woven together. Yet, dear White Christian, you cannot be bothered to offer even a bit of empathy for my plight?
I’m aware of the crime statistics among Black people.
I know more Blacks kill one another than cops that kill us. White on white crime is also incredibly high. People violate those communally closest to them. I also know that despite only making up 12% of the population, Blacks account for 27% of police murders. I know that Black Christians actively speak against violence in our communities. I know our Black pastors are constantly preaching to our young black men the politics of respectability. That if we get educated and obey the law that we will be saved. Their sermons that Jesus will be a fence around us each day fall on deaf ears when the news tells a different story. The efforts of our Black Christian pastors and parishioners are ineffective as you, white Christian, remain inactive. Our pulpits echo with battle cries for justice and peace. The silence in yours on our plight of socioeconomic disenfranchisement do not reflect the active pursuit of justice of our Christ.
Racism is bigger than the individual
You see racism as an individual sin, white Christian. You see it as an individual choice of hate and that if an individual allows God to touch their hearts, racism will vanish. I have lived Black long enough to tell you that this is a comfortable lie you tell yourself in order to avoid confronting what’s hard. Racism is collective. As my dear friend Danielle of Mamademics would say, “Racism is built into America’s capitalistic society and changing individual attitudes helps stop “prejudice,” but it does not end the larger systematic and institutionalized racism.” I see your silence as an endorsement, your dismissal with “all lives matter” as an offense, and your justification of the actions of officers that snuff the lives of civilians without cause as a crucifixion of my existence.
Has Christ compelled you to ignore injustice by embracing a colorblind ideology? Your decision to not see my color not only erases the richness of who I am but removes your obligation to recognize the privilege of your whiteness. Yes, both you and I can be poor. Yes, both you and I can be women. Yes, both you and I can be LGBTQ identified. Yes, both you and I can be persons with disabilities. Yes, both you and I can be working hard to overcome hardships to make better lives for ourselves. Yet, you have to understand that the presence of one disadvantage doesn’t negate the presence of privilege.
Your privilege allows you to turn on the television and see someone who looks like you portrayed positively. My Blackness means when I turn on the television or go see a movie, I’m hard pressed to find representation period. Your privilege means that you can celebrate patriotic holidays of this country with pride. My Blackness means I celebrate in conflict, knowing that I’m still not entirely free and certainly not equal. Your privilege means that you know if you’ve been pulled over, you’re certainly not being profiled for your race and you’re likely to drive away alive. My Blackness means that my heart pounds in my chest at the mere sighting of an officer, despite knowing I’m a law-abiding citizen.
Your White Christian Privilege is Killing Me
Your privilege as a White Christian means you can practice this faith free of intellectual conflict. You needn’t worry about being taunted for choosing to believe and practice our faith because it was used to persecute and enslave your ancestors. Your whiteness shields you from the need to decolonize our religious text so that you can digest it. White Christian Privilege means you feel comfortable and welcomed walking into our sanctuaries and worshipping, even as I am not allowed to seek membership in yours. White Christian privilege is being able to condemn the acts of Dylan Roof while feeling no conflict with your identity as a Christian.
Imagine how it felt for me to know that Dylan, a devout Christian, worshipped and prayed with people who look like me only to open open fire and kill 9 people because he desired a race war. Dylan, baptized and given the right hand of fellowship by the same Jesus we both claim to have faith in. You, dear white Christian, will never understand the pain of having others in your race belittle, berate, and denigrate you because you choose to identify with a religion that has been used to teach others to hate everything about you. You will never understand the tears that fall freely when trying to defend yourself and your God against what you know makes no intellectual sense: you are hated, you are not loved, you are not recognized as fully human. Your whiteness privileges you to worship God freely, blissfully ignorant of my pain as I cry out to the same God for courage to do what is right in the fight for the safety and freedom of my people.
Your whiteness means you don’t feel led to question the existence of a loving and just God in the wake of global persecution of people of color.
You cannot change being born white and privileged any more than I can change being born Black. Once you gave your life to Christ, however, you gained a new charge and duty to support your brothers and sisters in Christ—even the ones who don’t look like you. Romans 12:2 calls us to not be conformed to this world. Systemic oppression and institutionalized White Privilege are things of this world yet, by and large, white Christians continue to participate in and uphold these systems. White Christians are justifying and rallying behind Donald Trump as the next president, despite his promises to continue systemic disenfranchisement of Black & Brown bodies. White Christians like Bill O’Reilly, Pat Robertson, and Rush Limbaugh incite hate towards marginalized groups daily. Your neutral silence in the face of these acts are killing me, dear White Christian. Do you not care?
My Blackness cannot be ignored because of my Christianity.
Or is it that you feel that the blood of our savior washed away the inherent sinful nature of my Black skin so you no longer recognize me as one of “those” Blacks? Is that why you silence my pain? Is that why you don’t use your position of privilege and platforms to advocate for Christians of color? My Blackness is not absolved by my faith. The weight of my Blackness, in a world that has repeatedly shown it fears and cares nothing about me, is sustained by my faith in a God of love and justice. But I have not been called to carry this weight alone.
Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. — Galatians 6:2 NASB
You can bear the weight of my burdens by accepting that you do benefit from privilege. You can bear my burdens by being ever aware of your benefit from systems of privilege. You can bear my burdens by understanding that I do not ask that you carry white guilt for the privileges you neither created nor asked for. But most importantly, you can bear my burdens by recognizing that my Blackness comes with a burden of historic oppression, racism bias, and even death at the hands of white Christians. You can bear my burdens by not continuing a slow death of spirit by remaining silent in what you know is not the will of God for Her children.
I already know your criticisms before you utter them.
I hear the criticisms even as I pen this letter. I hear you calling me a race-baiter with an inherent victim mentality. I hear you saying if I got off my behind, straightened up my life, and obeyed the law that I’d have no problem. I even hearing you saying “not all white people,” a fact that I know quite well. I hear you saying that my address of race is only continuing the problems of racism. But 550+ dead bodies at the hands of police so far in 2016 tells a different truth. When over 150 of those bodies are black, I know that my respectable absence of a criminal record along with a masters degree and corporate job do not save me.
If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth, forgive me. My perspective is weighted beneath the burden of generational trauma and post-traumatic stress. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.1 I’m no longer begging for your respect and participation in my protection, I’m demanding it.
I will not beg you to love or honor my Blackness. Instead, I will remind you of the charge to keep that you inherited when you united with me in the body of Christ. You cannot love Christ and allow a fellow Christian to be senselessly and continually oppressed. You cannot love Christ and gleefully participate in white supremacy. You cannot love Christ and remain rooted in the culture of indifference that your parents and theirs before them taught you.
I have heard your noncommittal and dismissive retorts that ALL lives matter. All lives matter includes the fact that Black Lives Matter. And what matters to God? What matters is that what the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8 NASB). You cannot do justice in silence. You cannot do justice in willful ignorance. You cannot do justice by ignoring the pain, my pain, of fellow Black Christians. We have given you grace and patience in years of oppression. We have given you grace and patience while your not-so-distant ancestors spat in our faces at lunch counters, strung us up from trees as public spectacles, and burned our communities.