I have been reluctant in recent weeks to add my voice to the plethora of commentaries on race and white supremacy. Careful listening, honest self-examination, and prayerful reflection have seemed a more appropriate approach.
I’ve tried to be attentive to the voices of the victims of racism and white supremacy. I have also attempted to probe my own experiences for residues of racism and participation in the benefits of being white in this culture.
White privilege has been my lot for almost eighty years, and I continue to reap the advantages of systemic racism.
Extricating myself from these sins has been a lifelong struggle. I have made progress from my childhood days of segregation and Jim Crow. But, I still have work to do!
In the sermon I delivered at the worship service in which I was received as the bishop in Mississippi in September 2000, I acknowledged my own participation in systemic racism and white privilege. I called racism a diabolical sin from which I want to be delivered. I invited the clergy and laity present to confront me whenever they detected prejudice or racism in my actions, adding, “I may be embarrassed by your confronting me, but I’d rather lose face than lose my soul.”
Following the service, a Black member of the Cabinet pulled me aside. He affirmed my openness and commitment to justice and reconciliation. Then, he added, “But, bishop, we Black people can’t cure your racism. Don’t put that burden on us, too!”
He spoke the truth! Racism is a problem we White folks have created, and we must work diligently to root out this deadly personal and systemic sin.
For too long, we have put the responsibility onto Blacks. If they will only respond, behave, do, act, and believe as WE want or expect, then racism would disappear. Such an expectation or projection is clear evidence of our White privilege and presumed superiority.
A first step toward a solution to racism is for us White folks to humbly acknowledge that WE are the problem. We must get beyond our defensiveness and engage the long process of repentance, turning toward the “beloved community” where reconciliation rooted in justice is possible.
The Cabinet member and friend who refused to take responsibility to overcome my racism contributed to my ongoing healing. I am grateful to him!
I’ll continue to listen, learn, reflect, and repent. Perhaps I will share more about my ongoing journey toward the beloved community. I want to contribute to the solution rather than add to the problem.