We Must Not Go Back to Normal

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Love means we’ll sacrifice our desire to get back to “normal.” I’ve read some excellent blogs reflecting on sacrifices we white people need to make if we are serious about dismantling racism. I strongly encourage you as a pastor, church leader or member to read This is Going to Hurt by Kate Kooyman. Normal has not been good for everyone. It is time for a normal that restores an identity in Christ in us and all of our neighbors, especially our black neighbors. 

One morning, several days after the egregious and lethal treatment of George Floyd became part of international conversation, I felt exhausted as I took our dog out for a walk. I felt frustrated that even on a glorious late-spring morning, I couldn’t fully step away from the feelings of frustration, anger, hopelessness, and despair that I had been feeling. The Lord used that moment to give me a snapshot of the tension African Americans live with on a daily basis from which they can never step away. African American brothers and sisters need to be wary, on guard, careful about their surroundings and the people near them 24/7 whether going for a run, a drive in the car, shopping, or bird-watching. 

My normal does not require me to think about who might be watching me or how my actions might look to someone else. Had Christian Cooper not recorded his encounter with Amy Cooper, he could have ended up in jail or worse. Her word would have been believed over his. That’s normal, and we must not go back to that normal. I can pass by neighbors, most of whom are strangers, without people perceiving me as a threat or wonder what I’m doing. That’s my normal.

Widespread protests about the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police officers, sky high unemployment, restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19, and sickness and death from that virus have disrupted most of our lives dramatically. At some point we all would like to get back to some kind of normal. But we must not go back to a dysfunctional normal.

Maybe you’ve seen the meme from poet and activist Sonya Renee Taylor (sometimes attributed incorrectly to Brene Brown): “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalize greed, inequity, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.” 

I’ve heard some people of color say that working from home has significantly reduced the stress of microaggressions they experience daily at their workplaces. A recent analysis in the Washington Post shows that a financial chasm separates blacks from whites with divides as bad as or worse than they were in the 1960’s. Median black household wealth was only 9.4 percent of median white household wealth in 1968, but in 2016 that percentage had shrunk to 8.7 percent. This is a reality we have learned to live with and part of “normal.”

Sometimes I find myself feeling helpless and hopeless about the racism that permeates our society. The problems that racism has wrought seem so huge, so intractable, that I’d like to get away from these feelings and just have life be “normal” again. I pray that God will never allow life to go back to normal.

We who are white can do something, and if we wish to be faithful to God in doing to others as we would have them do to us, we must do something. The racism baked into the systems of our society will not change unless we take action, especially we whites. We must not go back to normal. Black leaders are speaking and creating a new path forward. It is time for a normal that listens and seeks to understand the terms and the definitions to those terms. We will be misunderstood and feel threatened, but what will be threatened most is our normal. For the sake of and in the calling of Christ, let us listen to and trust black leadership. 

In a recent statement that several of us CRC staff created, we listed a variety of actions we can take. I hope we all do, not just in the heat of this the moment when racism dominates our national dialogue, but long after the headlines have moved on. I pray that God will give all of us who are white enough discomfort that we take actions so that we never go back to the sinful and racist “normal.”

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Thank you, Mark, and earlier Kate Kooyman, for your contributions. For some time I've felt paralyzed into inaction, even though for a very long time (dating back to the late 70s when I really began to understand my white privilege as a "trusted traveller" all over Latin America, especially when I wore a suit) I'd waltzed through life heedlessly. Recent--and I pray--continuing conversations w/ other CRCNA staff following our discussions about White Fragility opened my mind and heart more deeply and widely than ever about my own ignorance and complicity. Then yday a friend challenged us/me to open our purses also, a needed step to still more, whatever that is. I hate hurting, but it's maybe about time. Blessings and courage to all and prayers for those of us who don't get it and in fact justify.

Guide

Jim, thanks for your comment. Yes, African American friends have said to me that if I'm serious about being an ally of theirs, it will cost me. One of the costs is that when I speak up, I'll make mistakes, I'll say things that are tone deaf, I'll think I'm doing good when I may hurt brothers and sisters who are people of color. May God grant me, and all of us who seek to be allies, humility and teachable spirits. 

Mark, I don't necessarily agree with all of the underlying ideas and assumptions of the theory of white privilege and systemic racism. But I definitely agree with the goal of preaching repentance and forgiveness for the sin of racism (by the shed blood of Jesus Christ), the goal of removing obstacles that prevent people of color from achieving their full potential, and the goal of ensuring equal justice.

When I read things like the article you have written, or pieces authored by other people of privilege who are already entrenched in positions of power, it is sometimes difficult to discern what specific actions or changes are being recommended (other than general agreement with the author's fundamental assertions, and an acknowledgement of the virtuous nature of those assertions).

What would you say are the TOP 3 CONCRETE ACTIONS that white members of the CRC should take to help bring about an end to white privilege and systemic racism, and make things right?

Guide

Hi Dan, For me, here are three key actions:

1. Listen. I keep listening to the voices of people of color, through personal relationships and by reading. I'm just finishing Prophetic Lament by Soon Chan Rah and The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Among the many specific actions suggested in the linked article in the final paragraph is watching Just Mercy, which several of us in our family did last weekend. 

2. Confess. God, forgive me for my racism and cleanse me. Keep revealing to me the ways in which I engage in racist thought, action, and systems.  

3. Repent. God, teach me empathy. Open my ears to hear the stories of men and women of color. Show me what small step I might take today to turn from my wicked ways and to take one step closer to loving black and brown people as Christ loved me. (See John 13:34, 35)

Guide

Dan, another thought. The term "white privilege" does not refer to a theory but to a variety of ways in which our society provides advantages to people who are white compared to people of color. This happens in nearly all aspects of society including banking (redlining is one example), hiring processes, college admissions, people's ability to choose where they are going to live, shopping (with blacks, for example, more likely to get followed around by clerks than whites), and law enforcement. Our sister denomination, the Reformed Church in America, wrote a report about white privilege in 2013. Although the CRC hasn't explicitly addressed "white privilege" in any synodical reports, we have addressed institution racism many times over the years. 

Thanks Mark.

A number of years ago I landed on a document entitled "The Cost Of Being Black". The document listed opportunities provided to white Americans but not black Americans.  Examples include

 - the right to stake a mining claim 

- the right to stake out and make a land claim

- the right to receive the post WWII GI bill given to help returning soldiers get loans to purchase a home

The list is long.  I don't remember everything on the list.  I do remember that "the cost of being black" was not taught in any significant or memorable way at the Christian day schools I attended.
What I do remember is that from the beginning the loudest voice in our country - and consequently the most power in shaping the systems that govern the politic and economics is the white man voice.  The white man voice wrote treaties with native Americans - the white man voice decided to allow women to vote - the white man voice wrote and enforced Jim Crowe laws in the south - the white man voice decided and enforced the segregation of day schools - the white man voice at Chase bank decided to loan 1.9% of mortgage loans to Black families and approx. 80 % of mortgage loan money to white families in my city that is about 30% African American.  The white man voice decided that the war on drugs could best be fought by incarcerating African American teens and men.

Just as significant- the white man voice failed to speak against the violation of treaties - the white man ignored and failed to enforce the post slavery promises made to former slaves.

For many people returning to normal means returning to a world shaped by the 'loudest' and wealthiest voice - the white man  live.

thank God - more and more people recognize that the kingdom we prayerfully seek is not a kingdom shaped by the loudest, wealthiest and most powerful voice.  Normal in the kingdom of God takes place when the loudest voice gives away power - lays down their life even - for their neighbor.  It will take a huge - beyond our imagination - power shift for a recognizable shift in the nature of race relationships in this country.  I am hopeful that the loudest voice may be ready to do more than than simply lament and listen.  I'm praying that the loudest voice will lay down its power - like Jesus did.  I trust that God will do more than we - who have taken and held on to power - are even willing to imagine - for the sake of the kingdom of God.