… but I know a change is gonna come.
It’s been 51 years since Sam Cooke released his hopeful song he was inspired to write (in part) after being refused service at a hotel in Shreveport, Louisiana. In the years that have passed, overt Jim Crow laws have been abolished, leaving behind more covert ones born in the dark recesses of a racial divide that is allowed to widen because nobody wants to address it.
But now, we must. We must because nine people were shot because racism is not brought up in polite company. Nine people died in a place of sanctuary because nobody wanted to name the evil that is only taught, not birthed. Nine people died because, despite a myriad of examples that no, having a black president doesn’t mean we are in a post-racial America, we were complacent.
Nine people died on our watch. While we were praying with our church family, while we were putting our children to bed, while we were paying our bills or cleaning up after dinner, nine people died because nobody wants to do what being a true ally requires.
To me, being an ally is hard. You have to set yourself up for true vulnerability, to be willing to hear that everything (or at least many things) you learned and thought is wrong. You have to be willing to recognize that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. You have to be willing to listen to the suffering of our neighbors and realize that as much as it hurts to hear, it hurts them more. You have to be willing to realize that your privilege as a white person means that you will always be able to hear these things, but truly never have to experience them.
And because of this, being a true ally requires humility. It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read, or who you’ve broken bread with. Yes, these are noble first steps. But humility is required to be an ally, because you must be willing to listen to what is required of you, what is needed, and then do that. Being an ally doesn’t mean we get to tell our black neighbors what we want to do for them. It means we listen, and go where we are needed, in the ways we are needed.
But don’t get me wrong, this whole go where asked doesn’t imply stasis, either. We must be aware of ways our biases are holding us back. We must be aware of ways we can reach out in friendship. We must be aware of places we should speak up when we see injustice. We must be aware of ways that we can show our children how to be good stewards of our church, and good allies to our neighbors.
I know that some say that discussions about race do not belong in church. Or that now is not the time to engage in them. But I can’t help but look around at the myriads of ways our friends and neighbors are suffering and think, “If not now, when? If not here, where? If not me, who?” If anyone can come up with different answers (based on Jesus’ teachings and actions), please let me know.
I know just enough about race and injustice to know I know little. It is a learning curve I will never catch up with because the most knowledge comes from experience, which I will never have, as a white lady of fairly comfortable means. But I do know I can listen. I can learn. And I can do.
Can you? Will you?
(Tomorrow, hopefully, I will be sharing a sermon from Rev. Andy Stoker at First United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas. Just waiting on the church to post the link.)