For six weeks this summer a group of us on Wednesday night, at the invitation of our mutual friend, Ana, zoomed together and discussed, So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo. Our last night together, one member, Jess, told us her greatest takeaway, “After reading this book I’ve come to one conclusion,” enter a pause like a seasoned actor, “I’m racist.” After a collective hesitation, (or was it a gasp?), all of us half-raised our hands or nodded as if trying on this confession for the first time. Upon hearing the appreciation of our fearless leader, Ana, who proclaimed, “My job is finished.” We tried it on with more vigor and acceptance using our voices, “Yes! I’m a racist” think popcorn prayer style, until if felt just right. I’m grateful for Jess and her confession because her vulnerability helped me accept my own brokenness and here in this place, I found great relief replacing a unconscious guilt that I hadn’t been fully aware of nor did I want since my fellow Black friends and influencers let me know guilt does nothing to change a system that’s begun with genocide and slavery.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t find relief that I’m a racist. In fact, I’m deeply burdened by this reality and hope I won’t lose friends over my brokenness. But what’s become the most figural in this confession is that I do indeed need the Holy Spirit, along with friends, revealing to me all the ways this is true. My confession has paradoxically lightened my personal burden of sin at the same time it’s created a need for redeeming what I’ve been a part of breaking. Here’s how our psyche is created, when I don’t take responsibility for a problem, I will find thousands of ways to make it someone else’s or blame those most impacted by it.
The thing is, it’s humanly impossible for me, for us, not to be racist according to our neurobiology. (This declaration does not give us permission to do nothing about it.) We are all created with a mechanism in our brains that determines a me versus them simplification and as a result, we as a nation and more specifically, our collective mainstream, White Christian theology has created a great divide of believer and non-believer. If science can’t convince you – division is part of Jesus’ and Paul’s message – “No Jew or Gentile” – Jesus claimed the power and status found in the Kingdom of God in direct opposition of human ideas of power and status. We are asked to do likewise – eliminate our “us-ness” with self-awareness which can then turn into confession followed up with a dependency on the Holy Spirit. I think Father Boyle right-sizes the way to look at healing. He says, “You don’t go to the margins to bring the marginalized into the fold. Rather you go to the margins (those suffering under oppression) to join them…and stand in awe over what the poor [suffering/traumatized, etc.] have had to bear rather than criticizing them over how they are carrying it.” Here’s what I’ve found, when I put my own racism front and center, I lose tone policing. I lose judgment over how the protests should or shouldn’t be done or how rightful rage should or shouldn’t be expressed. I lose the temptation to make someone else or a community all bad and myself — all good (or in the right).
As John Lewis so observantly stated, “We all live in the same house.” The house of God is supposed to be one that is a light in darkness, a love that has no bounds, a transformation that can only come from a relational God yet this is not what the American church looks like. There has been a long history of looking after it’s own interests, hating certain people groups, discounting other religions, and putting their own suffering above others (like the hostility toward Christianity which has been a direct result of it’s failure to protect equality for all). Yet in scripture, Jesus didn’t humanize and protect people AFTER they believed in his gospel. Jesus humanized and protected regardless of their belief in Him. In fact in the last day of his life, as He lay tortured and beaten, He proclaimed in Luke’s gospel, “‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”
I’m learning. If I could redo a conversation a couple months ago it would say, “You’re right,” when my Black neighbor said, “Well the good of these protests is that maybe you can be more aware of what’s going on.” Instead, I tried to reassure him I’ve been trying to do things like writing letters to local officials.
In part, I’m publicly declaring my own racism because I found acceptance from both Black and Brown friends alike who have given me forgiveness while they’ve shown me their wounds that I played a part in afflicting. I’m grateful that in their own way, they have made those proclamations, “Father forgive her for she doesn’t know what she’s doing” and continued their friendship with me, knowing my racism will never be healed, the consequences can only be lessened.
So I end with how I began – I’m a racist and I’m so sorry. I want to do better (I realize my lack of better has cost lives, not only physical, but also immaterial where Black and Brown trauma has robbed someone of a thriving and full existence). I genuinely want you to thrive and not be burdened by racism. May my confession give permission to others, just like Jess’s confession did for me, to own your racism so that you can heal a very broken nation that was founded on genocide, slavery and equality for White Male property owners. More importantly, may your confession bring with it a spiritual healing both individually and collectively. I have a vision that someday our National Day of Prayer will offer equality for all religions because at Jesus’ table, he welcomed everyone, especially the oppressed and marginalized.
All photos taken in southern Utah at a photography workshop with Stephen Matera, (@stephen_matera) whose photography work continues to bless me and provide a momentary respite from my urban living.