by Sarah Keough
(This post is especially directed toward white evangelical Christians. To view the original post, click here.)
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Yesterday, fulfilling many of our worst fears, a racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, classist xenophobe was elected to be our president. I have undocumented friends who have been here since childhood who are worried they will be deported. I have friends with undocumented family members who are worried their families will be torn apart. I have Muslim friends who are afraid that they will be harassed or victimized for wearing the hijab. I have friends of color who are terrified because Trump’s rhetoric about people of color has caused a resurgence in the Ku Klux Klan. I have LGBTQIA+ friends who are afraid that their marriages are going to be declared void, that they will be targets of hate crime or that more youth will be forced to undergo conversion therapy. I have friends with disabilities who are worried because Trump has made it okay for people to openly mock them because their bodies function differently than others’.
People are literally scared for their lives. And what’s truly awful is that this is an evangelical problem. White evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for this bigot. All of this racial hatred is being espoused under a “Christian” umbrella. Yes, sexism likely played a role as well. But the reality is that white women also voted in majority for Trump. While sexism is not absent from the conversation, it is not the primary cause of Trump’s ascendance to the presidency. From Clara Jeffery at Mother Jones, this is “not just a protest vote by rural whites who feel left behind, but the coming out of a burgeoning white nationalist, authoritarian movement.”
So white people: if you’ve ever been that person that’s afraid to speak up, afraid to get involved, not wanting to stir the waters… the time to step up is long past, but it’s not too late. We MUST stand together against this hatred. White evangelicalism shaped this mess. If white evangelicalism is at all a part of your heritage, it’s time to step up and change the narrative to bend toward justice.
“What can I do?” Here are some ways we can start.
Continue to educate yourself. Form book clubs and begin talking about these things together. The point of a book club is not just to educate. It is to build and prepare a coalition of people who not only begin to learn about these things, but also begin to form energy around the cause in order to work together toward change. When these coalitions are strong, they will be ready to act when the time comes.
Reading a book together is not the only way to begin this sort of coalition, but my word to fellow white people is that our anti-racism activism must always be paired with continuous education. Here are some great resources to get started:
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World by Brian Bantum
- Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith
- Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God by Kelly Brown Douglas
- Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology by Pamela Lightsey
- Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation by Jennifer Harvey
- Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World by Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel
- Roadmap to Reconciliation: Moving Communities into Unity, Wholeness and Justice by Brenda Salter McNeil
- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times by Amy Sonnie, James Tracy, and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
- White Allies in the Struggle for Racial Justice by Drick Boyd and C.T. Vivian
- This previous blog post of mine listing resources for education on racial justice issues might prove useful as well.
Start reading some of these news sources by following them on Facebook or checking their websites regularly. By keeping informed of what’s going on, it makes it a lot easier to know how to get involved. (I’m clearly biased toward HuffPost, so if anyone knows other really great sources, please comment and I’ll add it.)
- The Root (http://www.theroot.com)
- HuffPost Black Voices (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/black-voices/)
- HuffPost Latino Voices (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/section/latino-voices)
- HuffPost Queer Voices (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/section/queer-voices)
- HuffPost Asian American Voices (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/asian-voices/)
- Disability Scoop (https://www.disabilityscoop.com)
- Urban Cusp (http://www.urbancusp.com)
- Colorlines (http://www.colorlines.com)
Do some research on organizations doing this work in your area by googling something like “anti-racist group [my city].” Or find out if the following organizations have chapters in your area:
- Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)
- European Dissent (Facebook is probably the best resource to find a local chapter)
- Black Lives Matter
- The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond
The last link is a compilation of a few different white anti-racism groups in various locations.
Getting involved in a local group will inform you of the issues you can begin to advocate for in your particular context. (I know this isn’t always easy. If you are like me and struggle with social anxiety, it can be intimidating the first time attending a meeting with a group of people you don’t know. Bringing a friend or emailing one of the organizers beforehand about what to expect might help to ease any feelings of uncertainty about jumping into a new social situation.)
Use your influence in your workplace, school, and community to begin racial justice education and advocacy in your context if it’s not already happening. Every institution has a need for these conversations. If you are in a predominately white institution, recognize that being a part of these institutions means leveraging your privilege for the sake of those who have not yet been invited into these spaces. It’s uncomfortable, and people probably won’t like you for it. Start an anti-racism group dedicated to dismantling white supremacy in your context (and understand the significance of using the words “white supremacy” instead of “white privilege”). Meet regularly. Build relationships, educate one another, hold one another accountable, and get involved in the work. That last part is important. Don’t just talk. Get involved in the work.
Most importantly: if you are in a context that is racially diverse, make sure you are not “taking over” the conversation from people of color. It might be that these conversations are already happening in your context — find out who is having them and figure out how you can offer solidarity to people of color who may already be doing this work. If the conversation is truly not happening yet, or if you are in an all-white context and you want to start a conversation, that is good — but make sure you are talking with and seeking advice from people in other organizations who are doing anti-racism work also. Collaboration and accountability is necessary — the last thing we want is to reinforce the very systems of racial hierarchy that anti-racism work is meant to dismantle.
Make a concerted effort to deconstruct your privilege. By this I mean, remain aware of how privilege is functioning in the spaces that you are in. Are the voices of those in marginalized social locations being heard, or are they being overpowered by those in more dominant social locations? If you are in a more dominant social location, make sure you are noting how your presence is affecting the room. This is a never-ending process and no one is ever going to be perfect at it. When you make mistakes (as we all inevitably will), correct it, but then move on and don’t let feelings of shame or inadequacy stop you from continuing on.
If you go to church, figure out how to make efforts toward reparations in your ecclesial contexts. The Episcopal Church is trying to figure out how to do this right now. If your ecclesial context doesn’t have space for this to happen in any kind of significant way, figure out how a group of you and your fellow white evangelical friends in your church context might begin to do this yourselves and model what it could look like for the wider congregation.
Give your money to organizations that will need it in the coming days. Here are some ideas on the national level, but be sure to look at local organizations that could use assistance too. If you have any friends who do community organizing full-time, consider giving to them, as well.
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Southern Poverty Law Center
- Human Rights Campaign
- Black Lives Matter
- Planned Parenthood
- NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
- Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund
- International Refugee Assistance Project
Be willing to put your body on the line as you stand in solidarity with those who are going to bear the consequences of a Trump presidency on their bodies. This might mean protesting. It might mean getting arrested. It might mean feeling scared and putting yourself at risk for the sake of others. It might mean putting your reputation on the line if people in your context “just don’t get it.”
This is hard work. Anyone who has been doing racial justice work for any significant amount of time knows that participation in this work invites very real trauma, interpersonal struggle, feelings of isolation and disillusionment, depression, anxiety, and a host of other incredibly difficult things. I have lost more relationships than I can count. But it is necessary. It is our moral obligation. We cannot shy away simply because the work is hard.
White people created this mess. It’s time for us white folks who care about these things to stop feeling helpless and start doing work toward fixing the harm that white people have caused. It’s time to stop letting our worries about saying or doing the wrong thing paralyze us into inaction. It’s time to stop letting the fear of pushback from other white folks prevent us from getting involved. It’s time to stop toeing the line because we don’t want to offend anyone.
I have heard people say that they shy away from conversations about race because it is “too divisive.” We are already divided. Stop pretending we are not, and start facing the consequences of what white supremacy has done. Get in the conversation. Start acting. People’s lives are on the line.
And to my friends of color who might be reading this: I am truly, truly sorry for the role that white women in particular have played in this. Nothing can really repair the damage we have done. But I commit to pouring all my energy toward a future of justice.
Sarah Keough is a PhD student at Boston University School of Theology. Before coming to Boston University, she received her Master’s of Divinity from Seattle Pacific Seminary.