Waking the White Woman: Christ's Freedom and Anti-Racism
originally posted by For The Mama Heart on 6/1/2020
To the women I hesitate to call sisters of color for how often it’s used without any backing action: I apologize for writing something that may feel as if it excludes you. I’m writing a piece on wanting to de-center whiteness and in doing, I center it completely. Please forgive me for this, and for the countless years of my life spent ignorantly asleep. I love you and I’ll spend my life trying to find ways to show it.
(Disclaimer: This is a long one but it’s desperately needed. Settle in and open your heart. And the title of this piece is a lie. I don’t think I’m fully awake. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to decentralize the narratives of whiteness which ubiquitously inform my life and decisions. To let you think deconstructing the inherent and systemic racism we participate in knowingly and unknowingly by simply writing something would be a grand adventure in missing the point, with tragic consequences for people of color. This is and always may be a beginning for me, but I’ll carry the fight to the end. Do I think everyone should join this cause? Yes. Do I believe you should observe and work toward deep motions of reconciliation and true equality in your own life, family, and city? Yes. But do I believe my article capable of being your Jr holy spirit so that you may do so? No. To do this work you must participate deeply, fully, sincerely, of your own volition, and never for a second accept the lie: “good job, you’ve done enough.”)
CONFRONTING THE CONTINUED PRESENCE OF RACISM
Normally when I write mad, I write with the fear of saying something I don’t mean. Right now, writing angry I fear not saying enough. But my fear of not saying enough or saying what I need to say but incorrectly is all part of the force at which I am furious. The force which offers me as a white woman, the option to stay silent while mothers of color cannot, because their children’s survival depends on it. So, bear with me. I may mis-speak. I may use incorrect terminology. I may say things that are unknowingly insensitive but by God, I’m willing to learn and listen. My email is Mollified9@gmail.com and my Instagram is @mollified—you can find me there. I’m trying to learn, but it’s not anyone else’s responsibility to teach me because my predecessors established silence as an option. I’m willing to do the work, and I hope you are, too.
A couple weeks ago I googled the word “microaggression” and began researching, again. My hope was to reveal, acknowledge, and do work toward confronting the continued presence of racism in my own life. For nearly 30 years, privilege kept me blind and capable of scrolling away from unjust tragedies and the subtle and violent oppression of people of color without tasting bile, but that time has passed. I googled the word because I’d read and shared a post from a woman of color I was fortunate to know in school. She shared her heart regarding Ahmaud Arbery. Here’s a portion of the post:
I’m Lischen Gibson. I love Jesus. I follow laws and rules. Heck, I’m still afraid of the dark. I have three degrees—one from the number one school of journalism in this country; one in education curriculum design; and a J.D. I’m not sure how or why the Lord blessed me, but he landed me at my dream job after law school at a wonderful law firm. I’m a business litigator at a top national law firm. My husband and I bought a newly built brand new home two years before I graduated law school. We were young and very much aware that owning a home as a black person in America is an accomplishment. We even have a great lawn (it’s all green and perfect, just like how it is supposed to be). My finances are in impeccable order thanks to a mom who taught me so well. I have a beautiful family. My siblings are gainfully employed, incredible members of society. They love their families and are raising my nieces and nephews well. They do not participate in crime. My grandparents were well-learned, educated, kind people. My aunts and uncles are top-notch humans. I won’t even talk about my mom because you’ll be here all day! YET, I experience subtle and explicit racism and microagressions on insane levels weekly, if not daily.
(Her post in its entirety is linked below the article and it deserves to be read, entered into, and held while placing your life under a microscope bearing the definition of freedom given to us by Christ—the one we pledge to live by.)
Lischen’s post details just two brushes with racism in what I’m positive, has been a lifetime of them. One with a police officer and another while in the emergency department with her sister recently, who was severely ill. In both settings, she and her husband faced abuse for no reason other than the color of their skin and the prejudicial narratives on the part of the police officer and nurse involved. Another tragedy of this post is that its clear Lichen knows and understands ‘whiteness.’ She knew that to get us to listen and issue the basic human dignity every one of us deserves, she would have to list her accomplishments, degrees, the stability of her home and employment. Even though, to place and revoke belonging and respect on a basis of how someone shows up in the world is nothing other than the judgment Jesus condemns and died to set us free from.
Lischen’s post helped me recall a conversation from a few years ago. I’d told my husband I didn’t want to see the movie “Black Panther” and after saying so, he looked at me from the driver’s side and said, as unemotionally as he would the day of the week, “that’s because you’re racist.” If I had pearls, I would have clutched them then. How dare he accuse ME, an emotionally intelligent, self-aware, and socially-evolved individual of something so offensively inaccurate. Yet, this came from the one who knows the actual state of my heart underneath my words, masks, and clean-up efforts. So as I moved to challenge his observation with “I’m not racist!”, the reality of racism I’d placed in a small container suddenly expanded with a visceral recognition of nothing other than truth. How could I, a white woman, make any sort of definitive claim of racism at all? And then, the reality of what I’d considered myself “far above” sank deep, instead. I wanted to stay quiet in the shame of this revelation, but there was no time for that, enough time had passed already. It was time to get to work.
THE EXISTENCE OF RACISM IN SELF
I’ve spent the last two years angry, deeply remorseful, and confused. I often alternate between feeling lost and found as I uncover more areas of my own implicit and complicit racial bias. I’ve sorted through the things I’ve said to justify stereotypes I believed, I’ve called myself out for the egocentric thought I held in high school about one of my friends who seemed to act different around his African-American friends. He was never changing how he spoke while with them. His African-American friends were ‘home.’ He suffered from pressures which told him he had to tidy himself up to talk to me. It hurts deeply. Some days, like today, the shame threatens to render me motionless all over again. But how does that change what has been the very painful reality for people of color forever? Yet, something good must be happening. I no longer wish to exist without my certainty taking a hefty step back so I can see and participate in life from reality… that the rest of the waking world lives far outside the comforts I daily take for granted. I’m trying to move for continued awareness of my white-centering, ignorance, and privilege so that I may work with all of me toward expelling every sliver I find in the name of Jesus, equality, goodness, truth, freedom, and just basic human dignity.
I now believe that to stand as a white woman with any “absolute” denial regarding the existence of racism in myself, an institution, anyone or anywhere else perpetuates the white-centering I’m trying to dispel. It reinforces the illusion that so long as I, a white woman, can declare with finality that I’m/he’s/she’s/they are “not racist” then someone expressing their daily experience of racism, becomes “wrong” or “other.” The “absolute” nature of my denial invalidates what is their absolute reality. Thus, a division is born based on the experiential variances of people of “different races.”
Simply stated: conflict is born between two parties belonging to different race groups. That’s just one way, in an ocean of trillions of ways I’ll never completely uncover, that race-ism gathers its fiery breath.
I’m heart-smote that I used to believe myself capable of saying anything about racism outside of words which would acknowledge, validate, or profusely apologize for. Now all I want to say is this: “where are my body and voice needed in order to stand by and for the inheritance you deserved at my side when God created us all?” Then, to vow to do everything in my strength to educate, inform, and model social justice for my boys. But none of this happens by sharing posts on our socials.
So no matter how archaic and false the construct of “race” may be, the longer we the white cower away from the word “racist” reserving it for a small box that holds ‘Klans’ in the deep south or pre-civil rights images of lynch-mobs and hooded figures burning crosses, we remain blind to the racism enculturated into us so damn deeply we don’t even know it’s there. Worse still, we fertilize the soil for the continued cultivation of ‘socially acceptable racism’ to grow. The very soil our children will grow and move within.
And yet, the pain returns when recognizing we do ALL of this while people of color are dying in front of us every day at the hands of this “acceptable” racism as if it’s 1956. How many of us cried over George Floyd? I’d venture to say even fewer entered the vulnerable space of trying to describe this atrocity to our children. And why? We avoid it because we fear not knowing how to discuss what our privilege allows us to continue calling an “unspeakable” tragedy. Yet, there are mothers of color whose children’s very survival depends on this tragedy being not only spoken but acted upon. Mothers who, right this moment are teaching their babies that cruel forces of ignorance exist which oppose them based purely on pigmentation. And that they, as victims, are responsible for making the necessary accommodations for survival. “Be twice as good, to get half as far” is a leading aphorism for persons of color but that doesn’t capture the urgency of cooperation one must feel when encountering an officer with a gun on their hip and head full of prejudice shouting FEAR so loudly their own eyes don’t work. This is America.
HEARING THE CRIES OF INJUSTICE
So white women: those of us currently recoiling from the name “Amy Cooper” and praying like hell we don’t find ourselves reflected in her, this is your job: talk to your children about George Floyd AND Amy Cooper. Expose the still-rampant existence of racism, implicit bias, microaggressions, and what the God we believe says of freedom and love. Study these things together and insist on change. But then, live it. This is how we move to shatter the reflection of Amy Cooper within us. We raise the children who will become our police officers knowing that they stand with their brothers and sisters of color to rebuke, root-out, and repent for any continued toleration of racism or oppression.
Now for those of us who can read the names Trayvon, Freddie, Sam, Philando, Terrance, Alton, Jamar, Jeremy, William, Walter, Eric, Tamir, Akai, Michael, Anthony, Ezell, Rekia, Korryn, Ayaina, Keith, Timothy, Renisha, Abdullahi, Meagan, Andrew, Mike and the countless others who never have or will reach the news or receive justice, who now read the name George Floyd and can still think “being a police officer is hard and they’re underpaid. These deaths weren’t racially motivated.” First, allow me to say that with the inherited covert racism of my family system, I once had these thoughts too, but they now pain me to a place of questioning my humanity and the forgery of God’s love I must’ve lived from in order to permit their existence. Second, allow me to say once and for all, enough. In truth, “enough” came a long, long time ago but our ability to have thought this even for a second, stands proof of white privilege, white-centering, and white ignorance. Time’s up. Good morning.
But here’s the deal, I’m not special. If I’ve been woken up to this, I know you’ve seen the same invitation in the mail. Sitting silently in shame for what you haven’t done is the game for the one who colonizes. We simply don’t know what we don’t know until we do. But now friends, you do. So make certain your kids, friends and family do, too. In the words of my friend Kate Gomez-Moore, a woman of color ten years my junior and infinitely wiser than I’ll ever be: Satan is The Colonizer. You wanna be on the side of Christ? Then ‘talitha, cumi’… wake up. And don’t try to ‘a la carte’ your support; to pick and choose which aspects of progress are appropriate or inappropriate. How in the world would you even know? If you choose to stand on the side of change, then stand fully. If you find yourself resisting ‘how’ injustice is cried out, I implore you, stay silent and present long enough to hear the “why.”
It’s time we let the cries of injustice reach not only our ears, hearts, and the damn ‘share’ button, but our hands and voices, too. We need to move with the humility and grace-filled recognition of the privilege-ignorance, white blindness, and white-centering that people of color have encountered daily while still choosing to show up at our sides. But it’s time to repent from considering our side was ever the one to join. From here on, we move for them, toward them, and above all, with our sisters and brothers of color.
The longer we remain incapable of or unwilling to do the work of identifying overt and covert racism we’ve knowingly and unknowingly participated in, the more violent the voices crying for justice must become.
Two years ago, what I believed was an innocent observation; that movies like Black Panther, Madea, or Barbershop were written for a certain audience to which I didn’t belong and wouldn’t understand, was a racist thought unknowingly borne of a woman who claimed, rather loudly, to be “not-racist.” A woman who’d spent her whole life with African-Americans calling them “brothers and sisters” but who carried her bag more tightly when walking through certain parts of town and vilified all rap artists on the grounds of substance abuse and misogyny. Even when inappropriate sexual remarks, disrespect of women, and alcohol abuse were present at every function she called “recreation,” including those involving family. Now, I’m just a white woman who knows very little. I know very little of the racism that shows up in me or anywhere else but I resolve to fight it with all the mess I am and to listen, receive, and validate the experiences of others in the name of a new identifier. “Anti-racist.” It’s almost as if the One we follow told us what to do a long time ago but we’ve been too busy putting His words on calligraphy signs for our bathrooms to comprehend or live it. The greatest is least. Take your absolute assurance of “not being racist because you have black friends,” and the ego-centric comfort which allows you to say “yeah but, all lives matter,” the stubborn ignorance which says “decentering whiteness means centering blackness” or your pride and judgment which have you simmering in silent anger toward any of my words, and go re-read the words of the One whose way we claim to follow.
“It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery. — Galatians 5:1
Taking verses out of context as we like to do makes this verse sound like Jesus’ own robe would read #blacklivesmatter right now, but what do I know, except God’s love? The Apostle Paul said in his letter to the Galatians, we have been set free by Christ, but what you may miss in this verse is that it comes with a commission. It’s causative. It is FOR freedom, that Christ set us free.
So gather all the freedom you daily take for granted, and MOVE. Set freedom fires in others and plant freedom trees in the God-loaned children in your home knowing freedom begets freedom. While you go about freeing others, you can’t help but identify and release your very own areas of bondage. Maybe even the weighty, wounding, shame-filled, invisible ones The Colonizer specializes in like: “white privilege,” “white-centering,” and “not-racism.” Little girl I say to you, Arise.
I hesitate to provide resources because I desire that you will want to embody this change so deeply, you’ll seek it out on your own. But I fear in our culture of distraction and pain-avoidance it won’t happen and the change so desperately needed will be delayed for more centuries than it already has. So, below you will find not even close to exhaustive lists of resources in various mediums. But I challenge you to see the ways we’ve white-washed, watered-down, and have attempted to place social justice in molds that feel convenient to not only our race but our motherhood, schedules, and safeties. I urge you instead, to rebuke your pretty conveniences and to show up, research, confess, and initiate conversation on the terms of people of color and to weather any emotions you meet with humility and devotion to the cause we’ve claimed to live by since encountering and entering relationship with Jesus Christ.
But maybe it’s time to review our definition of the word.
RESOURCES Link to Lischen Gibson’s original facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/lischenr/posts/10102241584569175?__cft__=AZWPdicRDElyw42dGZ0cCK3yCgW29nAPiBXX815wTj3_2SUXWERl9UZOSBlUPl8sVTcQFBH7zNxZYtIvqe_lzg34R1T6DlFU-O_iMbP5Lc2VTEsZvBwEU419RZlXGVzY6N8&__tn__=%2CO%2CP-R
A is for Activist: Innosanto Nagara
Same, Same but Different: Jenny Sue Kosteki- Shaw
Counting on Community: Innosanto Nagara
Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness: Anastasia Higginbotham
We’re different, We’re the Same: Bobbi Jane Kates
Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s story about racial injustice: Marianne Celano
Young Water Protectors: A Story about Standing Rock: Aslan Tudor
Separate is Never Equal: Duncan Tonatiuh
The Skin You Live in: Michael J. Tyler
Racism and Intolerance: Louise Spilsbury
I am Human: a book of empathy: Susan Verde
Books for adults:
How to be Anti-racist: Ibram X. Kendi
I’m Still Here: Austin Channing-Brown
The New Jim Crow: Michelle Alexander
White Fragility: Robin DiAngelo
The Fire this Time: Jesamyn Ward
Stamped from the Beginning: Ibram X Kendi
Citizen: Claudia Rankine
The Color of Law: Richard Rothstein
The Warmth of Other Suns: Isabel Wilkerson
Have Black Lives Ever Mattered: Mumia Abu-Jamal
Just Mercy: Bryan Stevenson
Tears We Cannot Stop: Michael Eric Dyson
Mindful of Race: Ruth King
Good Talk: Mira Jacob
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
An African American and Latinx History of the United States: Paul Ortiz
When They Call You a Terrorist: Asha Bandele and Patrice Cullors
Between the World and Me: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Me and White Supremacy: Layla Saad
So You Want to Talk About Race: Ijeoma Oluo
Stamped: Ibram X Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Eloquent Rage: Brittney Cooper
America’s Original Sin: Jim Wallis
This Book is Anti-Racist: Tiffany Jewell
Why are the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria:
Killers of the Flower moon: David Grann
Rap on Trial: Erik Neilson
Pushout: Monique Morris
All my relations
1619 through NYT
Maeve In America
Latinos who Lunch
Long Distance Radio: Stories from the Filipino Diaspora
Self Evident: Asian-America’s stories
See Something, Say Something
The Activist Files podcast
Hope and Hard Pills
Solidarity is This
Bound for Justice
Pass the Mic
Stepping into truth
Pod Save the People
Alysia Nichole Harris
Mahagony L Browne
Instagram Hashtags to follow: #antiracist #decolonizingtherapy #decolonize #wp4bl #blacklivesmatter #justiceforfloyd #icantbreathe #antiracism #ahmaudarbery #breonnataylor #justiceforbreonnataylor #justiceforbre #irunwithmaud #justiceforjoaopedro #dreasjonreed #schooltoprisonpipeline #bethechange #intersectionality #racisminamerica #trayvonmartin #ericgarner Instagram Accounts to Follow:
It’s immensely valuable to engage any type of media that centers people of color and are written/created by people of color follow #decolonizeyourbookshelves and seek out whatever form of media speaks to you.