I have spent the last few weeks listening and reading. Not because I didn’t have anything to say…but because I have learned over the last few years just how ignorant I am to the experiences of anyone who is not like me (race/gender/sexuality/Socioeconomically). So for the past couple of weeks I have spoken when asked, and listened (read) when ever someone different than me spoke or wrote. Everything…especially if I found it difficult, painful or uncomfortable in anyway.
I was trained (and raised) to lead from the center…meaning not to alienate myself from either side of theological, political or philosophical positions or beliefs. The premise is that leading from the center allows you to better advocate for change because people have a tendency to shut out anyone they deem to view the world differently than they do. Many of you reading this have supported my leadership over the years because I led from the center, because I wasn’t overtly political or leaned too much in any one way that would leave other’s feeling alienated. If fact, because I led from the center…many of you assumed my position on most issues was the same as yours. If that is the case you are not going to like this post, because THERE IS NO CENTER FROM WHICH TO LEAD HERE. JUST GOOD OR EVIL. I cannot and will not lead from the center when my close friends, my mentors, children who have been important to me continue to live in a world that does not treat them justly, fairly or even equally. Racism, blatant, accidental, incidental or systematic is a SIN.
A good friend (and member of a former congregation) Crystal Bacon, who happens to be a black woman, shared in a social media post this week: “AMERICA, Our children are WATCHING. If you don’t talk about it at home, society, television, friends, SOCIAL MEDIA will definitely do it for you! #WeChallengeYou.” I baptized her children and reaffirmed my vow to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of the world, and repent of my sin as we stood together at the altar. Earlier in the week while commenting on the responses to current events from friends and family she also said “I see and I hear the silence and it’s absolutely devastating.” We cannot be silent any longer…silence makes us complicit. My friend, her daughters and every other person of color deserves not just better…but best.
I have been blessed to have friends and colleagues of color patiently help me see my ignorance. I’ve sat in restaurants with friends of color and have not seen how they were being treated differently until they showed me. When they did it became glaring. My daughter-in-law pointed out how people are treated differently when I was motioned through a traffic stop without even showing any identification. She said her car would have been searched when they saw her last (maiden) name. When I had “the talk” with my sons it was about sex. When my black friends have “the talk” it’s to help their sons come home safe at night. When my wife and I had conversations about delaying one of our children from getting their drivers license it was because we didn’t feel they were mature enough. Last week one of my black friends and his wife made the same decision, but because they didn’t feel like society would treat their son justly.
I was raised to be color blind, but I have come to realize that colorblindness only helps make you more ignorant. It helps fool you into thinking that racial and gender bias is a thing of the past. You assume that because you are treating everyone equally…society is as well. After all we tend to believe that we are “normal” and most others are “like us.” It makes us complacent and complacency leads to regression not progression. In the words of a friend and colleague, Rev. Ed Stallworth, “I do not want to be color blind. I want to see the beautiful mosaic that defines our nation.”
In listening these last couple of weeks, it has also occurred to me that there are more people of color sharing their stories. It could be that I’m just paying more attention right now. Maybe it’s both. After reading some of the suggested writings this week, I am left wondering if this might be the first time some people have felt like they could give voice to their stories. For those of you who feel like the media is blowing this out of proportion, because your friends of color haven’t told you they feel this way. Well maybe they haven’t felt free to speak their truth to you without the fear that you will try to rationalize their experience to fit in your world view.
An article by Elyse Cizek speaks to this. In it she writes, ” I know you know not what you do. I know you don’t know what you’ve always done. I never told you. I never opened up because I was afraid my Black story would be judged by you. My shame was hidden for so long under this skin. It got me drunk. It made me desperate for your love. It made me lie. It made me cut. I was so ashamed to share with you how you’d hurt me because I knew you wouldn’t listen long enough, let alone agree.” I know that has been the case with me, and to all I have “whitesplained” I am sorry. Please call me out when I do it. I am still trying to learn and recognize my own sin and I need your help.
All of my life I have been told that progress was being made, that things are better than they were. Here is the problem…better has never been our goal. Better is not BEST. I didn’t grow up hearing, “It’s ok. just do better.” I heard, “It’s ok, just do your best.” This is not our best.
In my listening a colleague and close friend, Rev. Morris Waymer Jr. challenged our Covenant Group to speak the names of the men and women of color who are living in a world where racism has never died. For me the naming keeps this issue in front of myself. It keeps their faces in front of me. So I am going to name those who have helped form me, teach me, guide me, love me, even follow me. I am also going to give links to social media posts, blogs or shares from them that have been impactful for me. I’m not asking you to agree with them. I’m simply asking you to listen to them. This is their story, their experience. Hear them.
Rev. Granville Hicks thank you for teaching me the difference between being someone’s minister or being their pastor. Rev. Ed McDowell, Jr. & Rev. Ernest Etheredge thank you for helping me grow as a person and leader. Rev. Amiri Hooker, Rev. Barry McFadden, Rev. Morris Waymer thank you for taking me along on those road trips years ago. Your friendship and patience with me made me more human. Rev. Ken Nelson, Rev. Tiffany Boykin, and Rev. Robin Dease thank you helping me begin to open my eyes. “The little white man” may be the first time I every understood that I was truly naive and ignorant. Rev. Ed Stallworth thank you for your genuineness. You always help me see my blind spots. Rev. Derrick Cattenhead, your honesty is what we all need right now. Travis Rice thank you for allowing me to sit at your bar and ask questions about things I don’t understand. I’ve always been able to count on your honesty. And Crystal Bacon, thank you for being part of my family and letting me be part of yours.
There are many more. I am sorry for any and all ways I have been complicit in action or inaction, in word or silence. Each of you deserve my Best. God deserves my Best.
Take some time to read some of these posts, shared articles, blogs or sermons that were shared by some of those named above. These were important enough to people who are important to me for them to post. Again I am not asking you to agree…I am asking you to listen to their stories.