History, Enslaved Africans and Me: Empathy and Embracing Justice

After reading Rachel Held Evans post, I felt dirty.

It was the same feeling I had when I heard John MacArthur speak emphatically on slavery at a church in Southlake, TX. I was on the verge of leaving fundamentalism and entering into a more progressive theology of Jesus. It was also on the heels of me reading James Cones “God Of The Oppressed.’

MacArthur made light of slavery, saying we ought to be thankful for our slavemaster Jesus, just as slaves should have been grateful for Christian slave masters that treated them with “Christian Love”.

From reading Rachel’s work on her blog and social media, she, like many Emergent Church leaders, has a habit of centering Whiteness to the exclusion of those on the margins.  The injunction of “grace” is used as a weapon to tone police criticisms from People of Color in particular.

You don’t have to go far though to see the first problem with Rachels post, just look at the comments. The large majority are white Christians praising this post as a needed conversation. This is where a more progressive form of white supremacy rears it’s ugly head. Rachel, which I am sure was well meaning in her post to encourage empathy, forgets that she doesn’t have the right to let white slaveholders off the hook.

She, nor any other white person has the authority to begin a conversation on having empathy for white slaveholders. We don’t have to ask why or what were white slaveholders thinking. We know what they were thinking. Much like the comment section of Evan’s post, the enslavers considered the existence of Black Bodies to be irrelevant.

I didn’t expect such a post from someone so deep in the Emergent movement. I would have guessed that someone like Rachel would be more in tune with her white supremacy and in deeper solidarity with people of color. Nurturing sympathy for fellow white people that were slave owners just doesn’t seem like a good start to being in solidarity with people of color.

Solidarity starts with sitting at the feet of people of color. Listening a lot, speaking a little. Allowing criticism a lot, and reacting apologetically.

Solidarity for whites with people of color means the decolonizing of thoughts and actions towards those on the margins and allowing people of color to strip away all of your privileged and supremacy thinking.

Solidarity also makes the voice of the marginalized and oppressed the center of attention and importance, and old systems of power are deconstructed.

James Cone, in The Cross and The Lynching Tree, gives us an example of what whites should be about, “Whites today cannot separate themselves from the culture that lynched blacks, unless they confront their history and expose the sin of white supremacy.” Taking a lesson from Cone here, whites should be about exposing white supremacy before we are ever having a conversation about having empathy for white slave holders.

If whites are going to empathize with anyone, it should be with people of color. Yet, beyond empathy is embracing justice and liberation. Whites must ask, “how can I be apart or move towards justice and liberation with people of color?” As mentioned above, we must be in solidarity. Or what we call solidarity. True solidarity will only come when people of color agree that you are in solidarity with them. Again, we must take labels we give our selves and hand them over to people of color, and allow them to label us. This is the beginning of justice, liberation, and removing the dirtiness of white supremacy. Rather than “spotting sin in ourselves” as Rachel mentioned, maybe we should allow those on the margins and people of color to name and spot our sins. Past and present.  Why ask our white ancestors for help? Doesn’t that center again on whiteness instead of solidarity? Come, let us become disciples of the Oppressed One/TheSuffering Servant by sitting at the feet of the marginalized.

 Here are a few people that keep me off of centering on whiteness:

@zfelice

@prisonculture

@SonofBaldwin

@suey_park

@h00die_R

@kim_tastic

@DruHart

 A few of my mentors in the form of authors are:

 James Baldwin

 James Cone

 Franz Fanon

 Gustavo Gutierrez

 Toni Morrison

R. S. Sugirtharajah

Richard Twiss

Again, the credit must go to my friends of color that have led me to these sources. These twitter prophets and authors weren’t found on my own, they were mentioned to me as jewels to my understanding of white supremacy and embracing justice.

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