I had a migraine yesterday. I realized in the afternoon that I had been livid for the previous seventy-two hours creating the perfect setting for my body to revolt against my constant horrified scanning of Twitter and Facebook.
Livid is not strong enough a word. I wish there were a stronger word. Perhaps fuming or furious, incensed or outraged. I kept waiting for my anger to dwindle, and I kept learning more things that continued to stoke the flames of my rage.
Like I said, my body shut down. I cannot maintain that level of fury for that long.
I am still angry. But I have gone back to the baseline anger that has accompanied me since November 8, 2016 when I realized that the balance had not shifted as far as I had imagined, and that hate would continue to beat out hope. We are not the country I wish we were.
Demons continue to haunt us and tell us that we are only good enough if we can point to a group of people that is not as good as we are.
I hate being part of a “We” especially when the “Them” is unspoken. It is far too easy to label people when the labels are assumed.
So I’ll name it.
I am a white, millennial, Christian, straight, cis-gendered, married, southern woman living in rural North Carolina. (I’m also a mother of one, expecting a second, and currently my husband is the only one who earns money and works outside the home.) I’ve never gotten a speeding ticket, I’ve never had a negative encounter with the police, I’ve earned a master’s degree from a prestigious university, and my family holds no debt. My family has been in the United States for over five generations. Both of my parents earned master’s degrees. I have multiple medical doctors in my family, at least two family members own their own business, and most of my family owns their own home.
I benefit from each and every one of these privileges. (The only thing I’d need to be more privileged is to be a man… and I wasn’t born that way; trans men don’t have the same kind of privilege.)
I benefit from a system where my faith and skin color mean that I am part of the assumed “Norm” of the country. I benefit from a racist system of power.
Hundreds of people have written far more brilliantly about racism than I will ever be able to do, but it is impossible to read everything in the world. I am going to exceedingly oversimplify the issue here, but there are two basic forms of racism: personal and systemic.
Personal racism means that as a white person it is when I have a conversation with a black or brown person and say or think that they are lesser than me because of our different skin color. It is far too easy for me to deny this kind of racism. Look, I don’t do this, I’m not a racist. This can also be called prejudice: a judgement based on a difference between a self-identified people group and one that is different than the self.
Systemic racism is harder to define because it is so pervasive. It involves housing segregation, disparity in sentencing for crimes and prison populations, education access, home ownership discrepancy, poverty and unemployment levels, and a thousand other injustices.
They manifest in myriad ways, but these are the two forms.
It is because of systemic racism that I am a racist. I hold more power because I have white skin. I can’t just say that I don’t have this power. I do.
Racism directly refers to the group or person who holds the power. Those who do not hold the power are not racist. Black people are not racist. They don’t hold the power in this country. They may be prejudiced against others, but they are not racist.
So, why should I be angry? I benefit from the way that the country distributes power. True.
But I was baptized into the Church and I vowed: to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of my sin; to accept the freedom and power God gives me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves; and to confess Jesus Christ as my Savior, put my whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as my Lord, in union with the Church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races.
Racism is the original sin of our nation and I have to fight it or risk betraying everything I promise in my baptismal vows.
And then I started hearing the news on Saturday. I saw that there were a group of White Supremacists flying Nazi flags and carrying tiki torches and confederate flags and shouting that they needed their land back. I heard that a domestic terrorist drove his car into a crowd of people who were protesting the gathering of White Supremacists and killed a woman.
And my heart broke again. And then I got mad.
And on Sunday I was driving to a vigil honoring her life and reclaiming the power of light in the darkness and as I drive to get on the interstate at my exit I see a newly erected flag pole with a brand new flag flying from it. I’m fairly certain it was erected this past weekend. It was a confederate flag.
It’s still there.
And I know, I live in the rural south, and I know that there are a lot of people who want to claim that flying the confederate flag is about the southern heritage and not about racism or wishing white people could still own black people as enslaved persons and claim their property. And I know that a lot of people who want to fly the confederate flag say that the civil war was fought over economic freedom and state’s rights, not slavery. Oh, and there were racists in the north, too.
But the confederate flag is a symbol that the KKK reclaimed during the Jim Crow era, after the experiment of reconstruction had failed, and the confederate flag is a powerful symbol. Yes, it may be a symbol of heritage, but it is a symbol of our heritage of hatred. Shane Claiborne wrote eloquently about his struggle with the flag two years ago for Red Letter Christians.
The confederate flag belongs in a museum, with an explanation that it was the banner flag of the southern states in the Civil War, when good men died on both sides, but after the north won, it was no longer legal to count persons as property.
(And yes, I am aware that the history is muddy, and that some places that were not yet part of the United States of America were slow to catch up with justice.)
By all means, we should keep the flag and with it the confederate statues that were erected during the Jim Crow era reminding every single black person that they were still “not as good” as any of the white people around them. But it all belongs in a museum of hatred.
We should not forget our history. But we should never celebrate the hatred of our past. We must confess it and work to remedy the harm that our systemic hatred continues to inflict on our neighbors.
Part of the remedy work is confessing our own blind spots and privilege.
Part of the remedy work is listening to people who don’t look like us.
Part of the remedy work is me listening to you if you disagree with me. (Honestly, call me and we’ll talk.)
Part of the remedy work is learning about the Black Lives Matter movement and why it is necessary. (And why All Lives Matter twists the issue away from the fact that black bodies are killed at an alarming rate by law enforcement with little to no redress whatsoever.)
Part of the remedy work is educating yourself and looking to multiple sources, not always ones that agree with you.
Part of the remedy work is showing up.
Part of the remedy work is humility.
Part of my remedy work is knowing when I need to be angry and learning when I need to take a break before I get a migraine.
Part of my remedy work is taking time to show my daughter what love means. And when she is older, I will teach her that she holds privilege simply because of the color of her skin, but that she should do everything in her power to help me tear down that system of privilege.
It is not simple work. It is not easy work. It is necessary work.