[Editor’s Note: People of color are encouraged to participate in discussion in this post, positively or negatively. I just wanted to say up front that I am a white person writing for a white audience whom I hope will listen.]
A phrase that endures in both liberal and conservative Christianity comes from an award-winning Christian author named Barbara Johnson. That attribution is difficult because great minds think alike, so theologians like Anne Lamott have also said it…. as has my father, which is where I heard it first in one of his sermons as a kid. It has stayed with me for almost thirty years:
We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world.
Good Friday is all around us.
There is a global pandemic.
American cities large and small are burning in protest over decades of post-traumatic stress disorder while “Nero fiddles.”
The president, regardless of party, would usually have something to say to calm the nation after 100,000 deaths from COVID-19…………. perhaps an additional acknowledgement that these protests did not come à propos of nothing.
Whites have (of course) been affected, but the virus has disproportionately hit areas with high concentrations of people of color, magnifying inequities in the health care system that have existed since the United States won its freedom from the British Empire……. and still hasn’t moved for significant change.
It is akin to schools in minority neighborhoods not having the resources that white schools do. Though the country is becoming more integrated in some areas, there are others where black families move into those white neighborhoods to give their kids better education, and whites sell their houses. The inequality begins anew.
People of color have been crying for help; their sorrow has fallen on deaf ears… and then, a nine minute video of a policeman choking the life out of a black man surfaced on social media.
For people of color, it does not matter whether they personally knew the person killed by racially motivated violence. In fact, it was not even the murder by law enforcement of one Minneapolis man named George Floyd that threw the first match.
Racism is an institutionalized top-down system of oppression, carried out in education, health care, housing, workplaces, and many, many, many people of color killed by the police for no apparent reason other than they “looked suspicious.” Perception is in the eye of the beholder, and looking suspicious is relative given that white people wearing the exact same clothes as people of color are seemingly off their radar.
For instance, Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people in a Charleston church was taken quietly (meaning still alive) and given Burger King on the way to the police station. Eric Garner was harassed on suspicion of selling single cigarettes out of boxes without tax stamps. When he said that he was not selling cigarettes and tired of being harassed, the police choked him to death.
Good Friday is not only egregious inequality, it is the refusal to acknowledge it exists. Phrases by white people like “I don’t see color” and “we should all belong to one race… the human race” cease to acknowledge complete ignorance.
White people have never been segregated like people of color. White people have never lived through being stolen from their homeland and enslaved, being counted as 3/5ths of a person, Jim Crow laws, and now racism that is every bit as entrenched, just couched in more politeness (which never matters because people of color see it for what it is).
To be an Easter person during this particular Good Friday, you must challenge your own assumptions about race. You must ask yourself what you can do to promote equality in every aspect of your life, because it touches every aspect of theirs. An axiom in our society that needs addressing immediately is that it isn’t that white people’s lives aren’t hard- they’re just not hard because they’re white. The link I’ve included in terms of promoting equality is an article written by a white woman, because I think that our responsibilities are separate from minority communities.
We do not need to put people of color in the position of comforting us, making us feel better, telling us ways we can help when we are completely capable of doing our own research.
To add to her list, white people, get out of the protests. Stop. Just stop. Stand on the sidelines with cold water, masks, and/or bail money. Do not even think about moving from your station. When white people are involved in these protests, we are again off the radar. The police aren’t likely to grab us, but the nearest person of color instead. They will pay for what we have done.
On Good Friday, Jesus said, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” This makes our own Good Friday even more covered in ash, because we do not have that excuse.
Most, if not all white people see racism every day, but do not call it out.
Hiring managers do not even bother to wonder why they automatically put resumés with names like “Tyrone” or “LaToya” in the “I’ll pass” pile, even when Tyrone and LaToya have over and above the required qualifications and experience.
White “boys will be boys,” but boys of color are liable to be arrested by school security. The prison pipeline starts early, because once there is one arrest, it all too often snowballs.
These are concrete examples, but it’s more than that. White people fail to call out racism in simple conversations, particularly when all participants are white. In fact, the white people who heard the racist comment and didn’t call it out are likely to think that they aren’t racist, the person who said it was…. they were just standing there. It is not enough, and never has been, that white people remain quiet and let the moment pass.
Being an Easter person in a Good Friday world is not one decision. It is a lifestyle choice. It is a commitment to do everything you can to help the world progress.
My analogy for this is that I didn’t decide I loved women at 13, told one person, and that’s all I ever had to do. I come out to everyone who is new to me. It’s a choice to come out every single day, not that one time once. Advancing the nature of humanity is the same way. It begins with new behavior every day, not that one time once.
If you only have one story in which you stopped racism, I am giving you an invitation to create more- hopefully one for every day of your life from here on out.
We, as white people, do not have an ability to apologize for the past- at least, not in words. “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean anything without changed behavior. We have shown to people of color over and over that words of contrition are just that.
A Good Friday white person is one that says “my ancestors didn’t own any slaves. Inequality doesn’t have anything to do with me.” An Easter white person recognizes that the way racism has been woven into the fabric of our flag, inextricably interrelated with our culture, means that they have benefited from a system built on the backs of the people living here when we arrived, and the people we stole to build our own infrastructure. An Easter person recognizes that we’ve made people of color participate in our own delusions of superiority…. our own ridiculous narrative that has lasted far too long.
The more we try to dismantle it, the closer we are to bringing Easter to the masses, rather than keeping it for ourselves. The enduring phrase becomes more meaningful, because we will have a concrete idea of what it means to be Easter people in a Good Friday world.
We don’t have to take it lying down, as if the world will always be Good Friday with a few people willing to make it Easter on their own.
Moreover, the world will always have Good Friday problems. There is no way to eradicate them. The difference made is the number of people willing to stand up and claim Easter as their own….. a groundswell of hope outweighing despair.
Changes by Easter people, from small to sweeping, will help in more ways than we should be able to count.