As we take down one calendar in order to put up the new one (if you are still using a paper calendar, as we do in our kitchen) or learn to write a new year on checks (if you still use a checkbook with paper checks)–or simply notice that the annual cycle of birthdays and holidays begins again on your phone and/or other device–it is right to pause.
In terms of my work and my personal life, the amazing string of victories for marriage equality (not “gay marriage”) in Virginia and many other places ranks at the top. This has been an amazing year. Incredible. Simply incredible. Who would have guessed on February 4, when a small knot of us braved bitter cold to stand across the street from the Federal District Courthouse in Norfolk to support the plaintiffs and their lawyers and Attorney General Mark Herring in the suit to bring down the Anti-Marriage, Anti-Love, Marshall-Newman Amendment that eight short months later, on October 6, victory (for marriage, but not other freedoms) would be complete?
And there were many other good things, too, and some personal ones, too (our youngest daughter, Robin, married Christopher–a match made in heaven, e.g.). I hope that you had some good news, too!
Much that is not good happened, too. Wars continued, and famine wiped out children and families, and preventable disease injured and killed too many. And many, perhaps most, of us lost friends and family, too.
But in my book, the saddest–and ugliest–story of the year is the continuing failure of our society (our nation and our state) to deal with white racism (what I prefer to call white supremacy). We will never become the society we can be, the community God creates and calls us to be, until we finally really deal with the deep and pervasive stain on our individual and collective identities.
Why do I say this? Here are a few signs of the times, in addition to not being able to talk in a civil and reasoned way about, and really deal with, the killing of too many black men and boys by too many public safety officers. How about outrageously high incarceration rates (the highest in the world by many counts) that are particularly harsh on African American men? Or this: Black women (and poor women generally, among whom Black women are disproportionately present) have the highest rates of HIV infection. Or this: income inequality, already significant, continues to rise between white people and all others in the United States. Or this: new studies showing that charter schools, supposed to help our ailing public education system, are in many cases re-segregating our schools–60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education.
And here’s another interesting situation. Many people now expect President Obama, our first Black President since George Washington was inaugurated in 1789–and he, the (rightly, in many ways) revered Father of Our Country, owned slaves–to lead a national dialogue on race. Once again, “we” expect the Black people to do the work.
Sure, it is a good sign that as a nation we finally elected a Black man–and maybe we will finally elect a woman, a white woman, no doubt, soon–but way too many of our fellow citizens remain hostile to him at least as much, and in many cases more, as they oppose his policies (and some of them are unable to sort this out because he is the policy in their view).
But it is not the skin color of our President that matters as much as the skin color of those who really run so much in our culture–the corporate leaders and politicians at all levels and the judges and the opinion makers and media moguls and billionaires and others who make decisions that touch millions every day in so many ways. Together, this white-dominated group, I think unconsciously most of the time, seems to make sure that white people are not displaced from our dominant rung on the social ladder (and some of them actually do things to change this).
Unconscious or not, most of the time white supremacy just keeps being replicated, even as more Black people and other people of other colors do make it up the ladder.
But the basic system remains in place.
Here is a simple test: when you, if you identify as a white person, describe someone you just met, or a person you just heard about on the news or internet, do you mention their skin color? Do you do that equally for both white and Black, or other, group (Native American, Latino/Latina, Asian, African) members?
Most of us who are white only mention race when it is someone not white. That is what white supremacy, in a seemingly mild way, looks like. Race only matters when it is not ours.
If that is not true of you, Hallelujah! You are helping the rest of us move forward. But if you are like most, do not despair. We can fix this, and so much more. We can be untrained and retrained, especially if we do it together, and we hold ourselves accountable not only to each other but also to the Black people in our lives and in our wider society.
Over the course of the coming years, I will write more about this, and I hope it may help at least some people begin participating in a national process of dismantling racism and reconstructing a new society (and I deliberately use the term, RECONSTRUCT, to highlight the last time we had white leaders who were determined to change us, in the era known as Reconstruction, from 1865-1877).
In the meantime, let us pray for healing, and let us begin it by admitting our personal share in the national wounds.
All lives matter. Yours and mine, of course, and everyone else. And that means Black lives matter, because they are human, of course, and because they are Black.