Saturday, June 20, 2015

Let's Be Honest, White Christians: We Dislike Accountability

I'm not done yet writing about the terrorism in Charleston, not by a long shot.  And I'm definitely not done with writing about how we continue to react to it.

Every time I heard some politician, talking head, or stuffed shirt on the telly say, “We’ll never know/understand why he did this,” or "could this shooter have been motivated by religion/faith/tin foil hats?" instead of just being honest, I wanted to reach into the television and smack the pixels of that person’s face.

We know exactly why this terrorist did what he did—he spelled it out for us, broadcasted it, shouted it from the rooftops, he did everything short of walking into our bathrooms and writing it on the fog of our mirrors.

It is because he is a racist.


Full stop.

And when we say “We don’t understand why he did it,” we’re acting like we couldn’t possibly countenance someone being racist in 21st century America, even though far too many people, in fact, are racist, and are racist in no small part because we continue to tolerate circumstances that allow them to be racist without punishment.

We chalk up racist attitudes as aberrations without looking at where those attitudes come from, without recognizing that such attitudes come from somewhere, that we don't come out of the womb racist.

We dismiss the stories and personal testimonies of people of color and their experiences of racism as "that couldn't have really happened," or "I'm sure they weren't really racist."

We fly the Confederate battle flag alongside (edit: originally and mistakenly read "atop" -E.A.) a statehouse in full defiance of the treasonous, racist heritage that flag represents.

We attribute racist attitudes not to being a despicable human being, but to mental illness.

We let our police officers kill black men with criminal impunity.

And I’m not using the royal ‘we’ here, talking only about myself.  I’m talking about all of us whiteys.  We tolerate all of this because we benefit from it, directly at the expense of our neighbors of color.

How do we benefit from such racism?

We benefit from it because we don't have to have the same set of fears people of color do: fears of racial abuse and harassment for attending a pool party, fears of being pulled over for driving while black, and fears of being shot and killed while at a church built on the name, existence, message, and resurrection of the Prince of Peace.

We benefit from it because we not ever accused of "race-baiting" or "playing the race card" because we have no race card to play or ever need to play.

We benefit from it because we live in a country, great though it is and may one day be, that was built on white men's visions and black men's enslavement, and you can't undo that in just the fifty years since the now-gutted Voting Rights Act was passed.

And we can talk, talk, talk in our homogeneous churches about the virtues of accountability, and how it is necessary to hold one another accountable in the name of Christ, but we are a lot better at talking about holding all those OTHER people who are ruining America—atheists and gays and lesbians and, yes, those social-justice-preaching black churches and pastors—accountable rather than holding ourselves accountable for all that we have done and, in some cases, purposely left undone.

We conveniently forget that as recently as fifty years ago, “race riots” didn’t refer to Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death, but to white racists bombing black churches and setting flaming crosses on the front lawns of black families’ houses.

We conveniently forget that as recently as fifty years ago, the right to vote was conditioned on patently racist measures like literacy tests and poll taxes…and that we have resurrected poll taxes in another form today with voter ID laws, requiring voters to hold a government-issued ID—an ID that, surprise, surprise, costs money to maintain.

We conveniently forget that even the great bastion for defending minority rights against the oppression of the majority--the judicial system--for centuries ruled against African-Americans in shameful rulings like Scott v. Sandford and Plessy v. Ferguson before getting to the glorious rulings like Brown v. Board.  (And to be honest, if you don't know what each of those rulings entailed, that's part of our problem.)

And when something like what happened in Charleston happens, we forget what communities of color ask us to do to be in solidarity with them and instead immediately rush to defend the trappings of our own culture—the Confederate flag, guns, and the like—rather than stepping forward to offer to heal the culture that was just brutally and lethally assaulted.

We forget all of these things because we don’t want to be held responsible for them, even though we continue to benefit from them, even though they are a part of the context in which Charleston happened, even though to forget history is often to repeat it.

And that sort of forgetfulness, on such a grand scale, is indeed a sin.

We are sinners, fellow white people.  Not because we are white, but because we don’t hold ourselves accountable for what our whiteness has afforded us.

And until we do, to borrow Morgan Freeman’s characterization of the word “rehabilitated” in The Shawshank Redemption, “accountability” is going to just be a bullshit word we tell ourselves in our churches.

Let us finally, at long last, begin to change that sad reality.

Yours in Christ,

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