Beloved Community Antiracism

When this type of “stuff” happens in the church…

When it happens among clergy…

When things like this happen among clergy who are at an “anti-racism training,” we know there’s a serious problem.

All I could say was respond jokingly, “At the anti-racism workshop, the White man just decides to move the Black man’s seat?”

Even my saying it in jest is problematic.

But I just couldn’t believe it…

 

 

So…a few weeks ago the Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida mandated that all clergy with congregational duties show up for an anti-racism workshop led by Dr. Catherine Meeks of the Absolom Jones Center for Racial Healing.

I take my seat near the front of the room, in a seat which was the last that would allow me to keep my laptop on the able while also facing the speaker.

You see, I work in racial reconciliation as well and wanted to be ready and comfortable if the need for notes or research arose.

I got my coffee…set it on the table in front of me. Then set up my laptop and put my briefcase beside the chair and settled in.

But I couldn’t access the wifi.

I stepped out the auditorium to find someone who could give me the access code. When I came back to the table, the day had officially started!

He was just sitting in my seat, like I hadn’t been there…

He had moved my coffee over and allowed my briefcase to fall to the floor. And he just sat in my seat…

Like what the hell?!

Did this just happen? First thing in the morning?! At a damn clergy event on racism?!?!?

I know…I know…

I’m not supposed to say anything. Can’t say anything.

All my Negro training kicks into gear…

Don’t look upset…

Smile…

Make sure you don’t seem threatening…make sure this White man doesn’t feel threatened.

Speak cheerfully…make a joke…make them laugh…

“Ah man! So even at the anti-racism workshop, the White man’s just going to take the Black man’s seat?” #LOL

 

Of course, the table laughed…

I’m a Black man. I made a joke. By nature, we’re inherently funny…they laughed!

But the White man in question made no remark…no response.

 

No… “Oh I’m sorry…were you sitting here?

I guess no need to pretend he didn’t know…right?

 

No witty joking response, “Yep…figured this was the only time I could use my White privilege today!” #LOL

Not even the classic “spit in a spittoon”…

Just kind of looked away and carried on…

 

So, I sat down the last remaining chair at that table. Asked him to hand me my briefcase from by his feet and sat with my back to the speaker…

Yea…I turned around and faced her. With my laptop in my lap. So uncomfortable…

Reinforcing and reminding me of the willful slight from this man who would claim to be a brother in Christ.

 

Man, I’m stewing now…

But my inner Negro reminds me, you can’t lose your cool. Don’t let it bother you. It was only a chair…

And it was only a chair…

But still…sheer human decency demanded more…right?

And we’re supposed to be all about this “Way of Love” proclaimed by Bishop Curry in the Royal Wedding…right?

Later that day, another brother (White) asked about understanding microagressions. And, my experience with this man who decided I needed to move was a perfect example.

This occurrence had me ruminating such that I turned to my former Deacon (White) and shared how I was feeling. She responded that she had told him that I was sitting there and that he sat there anyway…

Now, I’m really miffed…

Again…this is happening at a damn anti-racism workshop!!!

 

 

I know people do these kinds of things because they feel they’re in a position of power that protects them. So they feel they can do whatever they want to you… (We even talked about that on this episode of Racial Heresy)

Then they lord their power over you, and by their very existence dare you to respond…

Over time they’ve done these kinds of things before…to others. And others respond with the appropriate level of docility. And these bullies become further entrenched in micro-abuses.

As a Black man in this Diocese, I’m overwhelmingly outnumbered. In a room of about 150 persons, there were less than 10 percent who are Black.

As a Black man in this world, you have to be careful how you speak. You must be careful to speak in a way that meets with the approval of White society.

So, you can only be offended when they give you permission to be offended…

…especially if they’re the Whites who think that because they “marched with King” or “were members of the NAACP” that means they cannot ever be racist…

Because they had some engagement with racial justice or with Black people, it was impossible for them to act in racist ways – or in ways that support the power structure and maintain supremacy.

 

 

All of this going on in my thoughts, when he walks past me on our break…

I had to know…

I had to stop him: “Hey, I’m sorry…I don’t know you and you don’t know me, so I have to ask: What makes you think it’s ok for you to decide where I can and can’t sit?

Of course, he has no idea what I mean?

 

It was just a seat…I didn’t think it was a big deal

It is indeed just a seat. And the seat isn’t a big deal.

But how do you get to determine what is and is not a big deal for me? What gives you the right to decide what I can and should be bothered by?

 

I didn’t know you were sitting there…

Someone told me they told you I was…

You moved my coffee out of your way and you moved my bag…

But nevertheless…even if you didn’t know I was siting there…when I returned to the table I said as much.

You didn’t apologize…and offer me my seat back, for me to tell you it wasn’t a big deal. You just disregarded my humanity and determined how I felt about it did not matter.

 

 

As any good White Episcopal priest being called out for inherent racism, he refused to get it. He had determined it wasn’t a big deal and there was no reason for me to be upset – much less for him to apologize. (That’s part of the “white fragile” response we discussed with Dr. Robin DiAngelo.)

No doubt, he will remind everyone that he was “just at an anti-racism workshop,” whether it had any affect or not.

It’s a metaphor for how we – the Church – do the work of reconciliation…

Clearly we aren’t really serious about it.

To close the day, a clergy brother and retired Diocesan leader thanked Dr. Meeks for “not coming off angry…” For comforting him and making him feel ok with/in his Whiteness…

No regard for the audacity of a White man thanking a her for not being the “Angry Black woman.” You know, it’s like…”she’s so articulate.”

Sometimes the excuse from White folk is “we don’t see it.” They aren’t always aware.

And you know what…I get that.

 

White folk don’t have to deal with racism every day. As Tim Wise said on White Like Me, White folk never have to consider what it’s like to be White…

So they definitely have no understanding of what it’s like to be Black…

They don’t intuitively know and understand how their thoughts, words and deeds…what they have done and what they have left undone works to break communion.

They don’t see the microagressions…

The don’t understand them because they don’t have to suffer them. From a position of power, you can get indignant when someone disregards your humanity. When they decided to make decisions on your behalf without your input, you can speak up…

Maybe you don’t always speak up…

Sometimes you determine it isn’t that big of a deal…it ain’t worth it.

But, for People of Color microagressions are things we have to suffer…there is no choice. You don’t get to choose if you’re going to say something about this or not? You begin by knowing that whatever this is, you will just have to take it…

Or let today be the day you are killed or exiled…

Stay quiet…stay safe…

 

What’s worse about this for a Christian, is that those microagressions aren’t just against Black and Brown…

Those microagressions are against the Spirit – if indeed we believe in “seeing the Face of God in all people.”

Like Dr. Meeks began, these things betray our belief in God as Creator of All. Yet no matter the event or speaker, or professions of belief in the power of Jesus, we are still missing the mark.

 

 

What will it take to convert the Church?

That is the mark…

Conversion

Clearly the Church still needs to be converted…

And, if we can’t convert the Church…if we can’t convert the clergy in the church…what hope is there – in the Church?

Can Hope really exist in a space that’s obstinate to conversion?

And when White folk can be at an anti-racism workshop and remain unaware of their own contributions to the system of racism and white supremacy, clearly much more needs to be done…right?

There must be something more…some critical reality we must uncover and face…right?

We must go deeper with this thing called faith…

And to go deeper, from within this American context, is going to require us to face some harsh realities about how we have embodied faith…

…some harsh realities about the racist constructs developed and enabled by the Church. The racist ideologies and theologies that give comfort to the apathy of Christians toward the work of reconciliation.

In order for the Church to ever be successful at ushering in the Spirit of God and removing racism from the Body of Christ, we first have to realize and admit that the Church – as an institution – as indoctrinated the faithful with racism and White supremacy.

And if you want to know more of the truth and facts which support that statement and understand what we can do in response, I want to tell you a story

 

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