It was an honor to participate in this important Rally for Greater Williamsburg. The number of neighbors in attendance on June 7, 2020 approximates 800. I am grateful for all who spoke, the civic leaders, religious leaders, the police Chiefs of Williamsburg and James City County and Sheriff of York County, and Virginia legislative leaders. I am especially grateful to Pastor Corwin Hammond of CBC World Ministry for his invitation to offer a word to my White brother and sisters. I am thankful for his friendship and leadership.
The renewal of the Historic Triangle Covenant of Mutuality, Inclusion and Understanding with the African American Community was an important moment in our city. It will continue to bring our community together and create accountability for us all. My invitation to speak included a request to speak mostly to my white brothers and sisters in attendance.
I share this speech here because of the number of requests I’ve received.
As a man and Christ-follower who is still learning about the implications of my own personal formation in white supremacy, and about my unconscious bias still at work in subtle ways, writing this was important for me. I wrote it with much trembling, prayer and at times, tears. I pray it is helpful.
Here is a video of the speech
Here is the text.
Dissent is not disloyalty.
Love of truth and love of country should go hand in hand. We are a country whose foundation was laid upon the political, economic, and religious system that formed a larger racialized cultural system built to uphold White citizens and press down Black citizens. The roots of our nation’s laws, structures, and institutions grew deep into this soil. The seeds of all beliefs, values, and family systems formed by every man, woman and child were scattered along this ground.
I would like to speak to my white brothers and sisters for a few moments.
First, to my white brothers and sisters that share my religious tradition of the Christian faith, it is possible for someone to have their soul redeemed by Jesus, but still be caught up in a system shaped by sin. The brown-skinned Jewish Savior that we confess as Lord and King may take away our sins, but he doesn’t take our minds. We must do the work of liberating our consciousness and think humbly and deeply about our nation’s long history of white supremacy, anti-blackness, or state-sanctioned violence. The public murder of unarmed black citizens is our nation’s ancient legacy.
Too many of us have, in the words of Dr. Cornel West, become well-adjusted to injustice and well-adapted to indifference. We cannot let our well-adjusted and well-adapted ways lead us to a willful blindness that schools us in denial.
Our refusal to believe what our fellow citizens, members of the same faith have told us, reveals our timidity.
When we do not say something we are saying something.
I come from a tradition where there’s a belief that when God doesn’t have your attention He will disturb what does.
Protest, like the Blues, is the language of disruption. It is meant to disrupt the well-adjusted and well-adapted by disturbing the status quo. Protest gives voice to injustice and allows the suffering to speak. Imagine having to demand that your country stop killing you for hundreds of years, and being told time and again to be patient.2
After fighting through 246 years of chattel slavery, 89 years of segregation with the promise of equality without equity, and with most of those years fighting Jim Crow, then fighting the Neighborhood Composition Rule and Redlining, should we be surprised when our brothers and sisters of color say, “We can’t breathe?”
With 62 known hate crimes committed against Black Virginians in this last year, the highest in our state, should we be surprised when our brothers and sister of color say to us, “We can’t breathe?”
While being only 14% of the City of Williamsburg’s population but 47% of the city of Williamsburg’s incarceration, and hundreds of years of standing before and unjust legal system, should we be surprised when our brothers and sisters of color say, “We can’t breathe?” I wanted to share JCC and YC but the statistics aren’t readily accessible or available. Chief and Sheriff, it would be helpful to all of us if we could know the statistics. It would go a long way to include the community, as you’ve expressed.
White supremacy suffocates Black lives. White silence suffocates Black lives. White fragility suffocates Black lives. The language of, “You shouldn’t say white supremacy, white silence, and white fragility because you’ll turn people off,” suffocates Black lives. The White moderate mindset suffocates Black lives. A desire for tranquility and the status quo suffocates Black lives. Not listening to the pain, anger, and rage, suffocates Black lives. Not being willing to share in it suffocates Black lives. Being too afraid of losing a paycheck or your job suffocates Black lives. And if I am of the Christian tradition, and especially if I am a Christian pastor, weak gospel proclamation will suffocate Black lives.
My white brothers and sisters, if we choose not to suffocate Black lives we will lose white friends. Some of us will lose family. But Ahmaud Arbery’s mother lost a son. Breonna Taylor’s family lost a daughter. George Floyd’s daughter lost a father. The parents of 14-year-old Emmett Till lost their son to a lynching in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. I think the least we can do is lose some friends.
Now is the time we must join with others to live the protests we have marched embody the cause of this rally. Integrity will demand that we live the speeches we give and embody the social media posts we write. It won’t be perfect. It won’t be enough.
But it will be something more than a momentary effort or meaningful word in a status. It will be an embodied commitment to faithful presence and participation in anti-racism action to break down the systems that uphold injustice and racism, and promote liberty and justice for all. It is the freedoms struggle brothers and sisters of color have so resiliently lived even til now. Let us be faithful. Let faithfulness be our witness.
Because Black Lives are worthy. Black Lives are beloved. Black lives are needed.2 Black Lives are sacred. Black lives matter.
1 I owe Pastor David W. Swanson for first posing this question publicly.
2 I got this phrase from a viral picture on the internet