Ok, do I wish former Spokane NAACP branch president Ms. Rachel Dolezal had been honest about her race? My goodness, yes! If she had been truthful about her race, Ms. Dolezal would have been rightfully and cheerfully counted among the untold numbers of courageous White people who have labored honorably and sacrificially alongside African Americans and other people of goodwill to defeat the often discounted and always unnecessary systemic evil which is racism. Having established that, I would caution the scores of people who seem quite willing to denounce Ms. Dolezal.
As a former NAACP branch president, I can bear witness to the fact that the road toward racial justice has significantly more bystanders and onlookers than travelers. It seems to this writer that those who are heaping hot coals on Ms. Dolezal’s head should check to make sure their résumés reveal evidence of public anti-racist activism and advocacy. To be sure, racism is an equal opportunity destroyer that consumes both the oppressed and the oppressor. America’s racial house is experiencing a multi-alarm fire and we need anyone with water, regardless of their race, to help extinguish it. I offer my thanks to Ms. Dolezal for her dedicated work to dismantle systemic racism, and I pray for healing within her family and the Spokane branch of our beloved NAACP.
One of the most difficult realities for many to accept is that the contaminating sewage, which is racism, continues to seep into social, political, and religious systems and remains there, untreated and very lethal to African Americans and other People of Color. It goes undetected by many power/privilege-possessing people because their perspectives, values, and fears form so much of what is called valid or “mainstream.”
Mainstreamed racist contamination leads to institutional callousness and arrogance that discount the realities, perspectives and aspirations of African Americans and other People of Color, and nullifies their existence except in fields such as arts, entertainment and sports. This happens every day, even in the church. In fact, church racism is quite debilitating because people confuse smiles and “we love you” sentiments with justice. They are not the same! The presence of an African American president or as other senior leaders in church and societal realms DOES NOT mean there is no racism in their systems. In many ways, it just gives license for many to believe that systemic racism is cured. I can tell you, it remains untreated and deadly in church circles.
Fixing systemic racism in public education, church organizations and society requires power/privilege-possessing people to admit they hold these advantages, while using their positions to create avenues for anti-racist power analyses, listening, truth telling, and power sharing en route to building and maintaining diverse, multicultural systems that have justice at their core, valuing all while trivializing none.
On July 4, 2014 my family and I were part of a massive crowd of people that attended an outdoor concert when out of nowhere the elements of fear and self-preservation were released into the crowd causing a stampede. Several people, including one of my daughters and me, were knocked to the ground. Scores of people on a nearby hill stood motionless as they watched the rampaging crowd. For a moment, I thought my daughter and I would be crushed! By God’s grace, we collected ourselves and sprang up in time to witness a small yet bold and dedicated security crew diffuse the mayhem and prevent serious injury and loss of life. After calm was restored, my daughter and I had our injured knees bandaged by Red Cross personnel visibly on the scene.
Four learnings: 1. Fear and self-preservation can lead people to believe they must engage in irrational, unjust acts that can harm the life and well-being of those around them; 2. Many people stand and watch as others are consumed by fast moving, dignity-nullifying groups who have numbers on their side; 3. It doesn’t always take a large group to end chaos and establish justice. Small yet bold and dedicated crews of people, motivated by a sense of goodwill and fairness, possess the ability to effectively work for change; 4. People who are injured by those who have numbers and power on their side need places to go for healing.
I pray that the church of 2015 and beyond will never allow fear and self-preservation to give it the ill-conceived view that it must lead or be part of stampede-like actions that hurt others, or even to live as bystanders to social and ecclesiastical mayhem, for such inactivity erodes Christian credibility and gives consent to systemic misbehavior. Instead, I hope we follow Jesus and adhere to the love-justice ethic of our faith and work together to establish and maintain human dignity and to end injustice wherever it exists – in social and economic realms, and within church operated corridors. I hope we will acknowledge the brokenness of people all around us and position our churches as visible stations of healing and hope for victims of the stampedes of life.
Thanks be to God, our knees are better now! Praise God for the security crew and the Red Cross personnel on the scene. Amen