I have been reflecting on the trauma, anger, and violence that has been re-awakened across our country following the murder of another black person by a police officers. It is a reaction to injustice that has been tolerated for too long– and it can feel paralyzing. Again and again I find myself asking what am I called to do in this moment? -as a mother, as an ally, as a white woman, as a person with some financial security, and a person who has the immense privilege of living in a place where white residents are insulated from the realities of racism, violence, and extreme hardship in our world.
I am seeing and talking with many of you who are recommitting to the fact that we have work to do to help create a future where this kind of violence and hatred is no longer tolerated. It is a part of my job at South Church to support each of you in this work to the best of my ability*, and so here is a beginning, as I ask what am I called to do in this moment?
Keep working to dismantle white supremacy within myself, find ways to take action, and teach children how to practice anti-racism. The path toward dismantling white supremacy in our country requires that white families teach our children how to be anti-racist; we need to talk to our children about our country’s 400 year legacy of oppression, and teach them how to help end that system. There are so many clear resources and strategies for having these conversations in age-appropriate ways. Black and brown families do not have the privilege of protecting the innocence of their children in the United States; they are all to aware that there is a different set of rules and risks that their children will have to navigate. They are forced to prepare their kids for the potential risks they will face in myriad ways, and that means, as white folks, we have an equal responsibility to address this ongoing reality.
Many of you are familiar with our OWL sexuality education program at church, and the framing of that program is helpful to keep in mind. Teaching our children how to be anti-racist is ongoing work; for white folks, it is conversations and learning moments that build on one another and slowly form a comprehensive understanding about what it means to be white, as well as how white people have benefitted in this world at the expense of black, brown, and indigenous people.
As part of this reflection, parents, please stop reading now, and watch this time for all ages offered by Lauren Wyeth, the religious educator who serves the UU congregation in Minneapolis. Recorded for worship this past Sunday (May 31, 2020) in the wake of a week of protests following the murder of George Floyd: https://youtu.be/95EXM-pGmgQ
When you watched that segment, I wonder how many of you found yourself wanting to soften it’s message a little? Wondering if the conversation could be a little less specific about what happened. We want to protect our children from knowing how violent human beings can be when they dehumanize others, but her words are so true: “Knowing hard things is still easier than having questions that we can’t ask, or feelings that we can’t express.” When we actively insulate our children from the truth that exists for so many others, we might protect them from “knowing hard things” for a while, but we also prevent them from developing an understanding of themselves in the context of our larger world, we slow their development of an understanding of whiteness. The longer you wait to start to develop an understanding of what it means to be white, the longer you accumulate bias, and the longer it will be before you can begin to truly embody a practice of anti-racism.
When my colleague was asked if people could share her children’s message in other congregations, she responded: “Yes, please do, so long as you don’t make edits that shift the focus onto the needs and perspectives of white people. This means, among other things, do not add mention of exceptional white cops or fail to call this murder or leave out the demands of Black communities. I understand your congregations may not allow you to tell the truth about George Floyd and police violence; if that’s the case, I’m with you in your despair and rage.”
She also shared that she worked closely with several colleagues and families within her congregation to create that message. “And here’s the bottom line:” she said, “it’s not that hard. This is a *simple* message. No bells and whistles. Just talking to kids about real things, directly and with love. That’s all it is.
I think that’s a good place to end this part of an ongoing conversation. I send love to all of you, as you navigate the hard work of living in this complicated and broken world, and reminder that you are not alone. Please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are all doing this work together.
*There is a collection of resources to support conversations on race, racism, and resistance HERE