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.”