My privilege limits my perspective in many ways. While I didn’t choose to “have” while others “have not,” if I’m not actively working toward equity, even my passive participation enables systems of inequality and injustice. Richard Rohr
A Word of Hope
Saturday a friend and I joined others on a three-hour tour of “Hidden Dallas,” a journey to selected sites of African American history in the city. While the tour featured statues of iconic African Americans like Ernie Banks, stories of extraordinary women such as Juanita Kraft, and introduced us to historic neighborhoods, overall our guide unearthed a painful past. We toured an area grotesquely nicknamed “Bombingham” where in the early 50’s angry groups of whites tossed dynamite onto the porches of African American families who “dared” to move into the formerly white neighborhood. One tragic episode occurred in 1860. After a conflagration which destroyed downtown, some white men, purportedly to thwart a John Brown style slave revolt, formed vigilante groups which terrorized African Americans—killing at least 30 people. Near Dealey Plaza a plaque marks the spot where 3 slaves, suspected of instigating the fire, were lynched while a crowd of men, women, and children looked on. https://www.dmagazine.com/frontburner/2019/09/how-a-bus-tour-helps-illuminate-dallas-black-history-hidden-in-plain-sight/
Former SMU professor Dr. William Farmer said about Dallas’ relationship with its past, “It’s like a family going through a trauma but suppressing the memory. The past is forgotten, but essential to coming to health, essential to racial reconciliation, is recalling.”
Such painful knowledge, the continuing violence against people of color, and the intransigence of systemic racism can be a spur to action. Yet the problems seem so large that many people of conscience ask: how can my small efforts make a difference.
In a piece called “Justice Begins at Home,” Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC Associate Minister for Justice, reminds us that on February 1, 1960, “four North Carolina A&T University students who were deeply disturbed by the tortuous murder of Emmett Till sat down at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Greensboro, NC, challenging the restaurant’s “whites only” policy.” Within 5 days, that number had grown to 300 protesters, disrupting business. “By March, this movement had gathered massive media coverage and spread to 55 cities in 13 states to protest segregation in libraries, beaches, hotels and other establishments.”
And, as Rosa Parks’ bold action reminds us, it only takes one.
For those of us committed to being allies, let us continue to unearth hidden histories and become aware of subtler forms of discrimination and the toll daily microaggressions take. Let us continue to do our own work—layering down into an understanding of how white privilege operates. Let us confess before God our sins of commission and omission. Let us pray Psalms of lament for the wrongs of past and present. And may we step forward to do justice—even if it’s just one person, one act at a time.
Let us not turn away, O God, from what we need to see to become true agents of transformation in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Dr. Pat Saxon