Charlottesville has awakened, in a big way, the collective moral conscience of white Americans. Myself included. The events and aftermath of Charlottesville have brought to us, in High Definition, the ugliness of the racial tension that has long-existed in this country. And we want to respond. And we should. We must.
But before we do, I want to put this stake in the ground for white people (myself included):
On the issue of racial tension in America, you and I do not have the ethos to lead.
It’s time that we submit ourselves to the leadership of our brothers and sisters of color.
We have not been the ones in this fight day-in and day-out. For over a century. Or Three centuries.
We are not the ones who heard stories from our parents and grandparents about when they were oppressed by the country they pledged allegiance to.
It is not us who suffer from gerrymandering, profiling, and an upside down criminal justice system.
We are not the targets of white supremacy and nazism; they aren’t trying to cleanse America from us.
Our reality is literally different from that of our non-white counterparts:
- We have lived in an America that is primarily lawful and orderly: bad people get punished, good people are rewarded.
- Issues of race have not likely been a “thing” in our lives. (Case in point, most of us don’t consider “whiteness” to be a primary marker of our identities.)
- Racial tension bothers us because we’re not racist. In fact, most of us don’t even really see color: people are just people, and we, deep down, believe that if everybody ‘got’ that then racial tension would ease, if not disappear entirely.
- Ideas, theories, and issues—not race—are the determining factors when considering our political alignment and voting decisions.
And most whites don’t understand why those are problems for non-white Americans.
We are not qualified to lead this revolution.
We are outraged by the events of this week, and rightfully so! We SHOULD be outraged. But our offense doesn’t give us the authority to call the shots. We don’t get to cherry pick this now and call it “ours.” Taking this from the hands of those who have been suffering and fighting is not helpful – it is belittling and dishonoring.
We have only just awoken to a battle our black, brown, and indigenous brothers and sisters have been fighting for generations; it would be harmful and arrogant of us to assume that we know how to best approach it.
Yes, we should stand in solidarity with those who suffer and be willing to suffer with them for their sake.
Yes, we must support the cause and be willing to fly the banner of anti-racism over our heads and hearts.
Yes, we can be allies and advocates for marginalized groups and help to bring awareness to injustice.
But it is the height of hubris and a disgusting disgrace to people of color if we take the megaphone from their hands and pretend that we’re going fix the problem, after decades and decades of BEING the problem.
Our privilege comes with a serious blindspot. Not recognizing this will cause us to misstep and even do harm. We don’t even know what we don’t know.
So we have to submit to the ones who DO know.
The apostle Paul called us all to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) The call to submit here accomplishes two things:
- It puts in check our sinful desire to rule and dominate those we are in relationship with.
- It is an imitation of Christ, who left His throne in Heaven and submitted to flesh, and pain, and death. Submission is the Jesus way.
White folks, this is our chance to submit to the voice and actions of our marginalized family, and, by doing so, turn the racial stronghold in our world on its head.
We have tried to mitigate and legislate racial tension in our country from a position of power. That’s what got us here. So now, like Jesus, we need to humble ourselves and submit.
We need to submit to Lisa Sharon Harper, and Dr. Cornel West, and Pastor Traci Blackmon who were there on the FRONT LINES of the Charlottesville counter-protest, risking their safety and their very lives standing up for the inalienable rights of humanity, the threatening of which we, safe in our privileged ivory towers, condemn from afar as vile.
We need to submit to the teaching of Professor Carol Anderson and Michelle Alexander before we dare open our mouths to speak about racial divide and systemic, institutional injustice that people are suffering from in our country.
We need to submit Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Al Sharpton, who have been in this fight for decades and have led thousands of protests in the streets, and not become proud of ourselves for launching into our very first protest on our smartphones.
We need to submit to the leadership and respect the political voice of Michael Eric Dyson, Marc Lamont Hill, Charles M. Blow, and Van Jones and not feel the need to qualify or add to their words when it comes to issues of racial climate and political implications.
We need to submit to our friends of color: the men and women with whom we live, work, learn, and play, and believe them (and support them) when they say they feel hurt, or scared, or betrayed, even if we don’t understand.
We need to submit to them when they describe a society that we don’t quite recognize because the system treats them differently than it treats us.
We need to submit to them when they talk about laws and policies that are critical to human rights and not think we know better or suspect that they have an ulterior agenda.
We need to submit, and not dismiss. Submit, and not correct. Submit, and not invalidate.
Submit by listening. LISTEN to the people of color in your life. Just stop and really, truly, listen. It’s sometimes hard for us because, let’s face it, we are very used to being listened to. Listening costs you self-discipline but builds in you empathy—a far more valuable currency.
Submit by learning. Let the people of color in your circle of friends teach you and help you; give them a blank check to call you out, if need be. Put the messages and voices of ethnic and racial leaders in your Twitter feed and on your Facebook news; put their books on your shelves and their words in your ears. If you’re not sure where to start, you can start by following the people mentioned above.
Lisa Harper @lisasharper
Dr. Cornel West @cornelwest
Rev. Dr. William Barber @RevDrBarber
Michael Eric Dyson @MichaelEDyson
Van Jones @VanJones68
Charles M. Blow @CharlesMBlow
Marc Lamont Hill @marclamonthill
Pastor Traci Blackmon @pastortraci
Professor Carol Anderson @ProfCAnderson
Michelle Alexander @thenewjimcrow
Rev. Al Sharpton @TheRevAl
Submit by amplifying their voice. People of color don’t need us to speak for them; we would probably do harm if we tried. So let’s not insult them by shouting over them. Instead, use your platform and voice—which carries weight, mind you—to point others to their voices. Maybe others will begin listening too.
Submit by challenging others. “White people…get your people,” was a quote from @TyreeBP on August 12th. Calling out, standing against, and ending every form of white supremacy IS on us; WE have to be the ones to end this, first in our own hearts and then in every other white person you know. If you see it, stop it. If you smell it, dig it out and get rid of it. If you even think you heard it from someone, get immediate clarity and condemn it.
Submit by stepping up. Go to discussions and talks about race and America. Join gatherings and movements that seek to bring racial justice and equity. Get side-by-side with people of color so they can see you, and feel you, and know that you have their back. And don’t punk out—keep stepping up. This is not going away anytime soon.
Lastly, don’t you dare buy into the lie that submission is lessening your worth, your value, or your rights in any way. That is the welcome sign on the gate to the hell of white supremacy. It is false.
White folks, I’m calling us on this. It’s time to submit.