A letter to my white progressive friends,
Being born into, and raised in and by, a White Supremacist culture, while spending my adulthood working for racial equity and committing my life to Dr. King’s idea of Beloved Community, where we are judged not by the color of our skin but by the content of our character has been… interesting.
I grew up in and now live in Mississippi, arguably the most visible state, historically, for White Supremacy. I came back because I hope to have an impact here. hope to work alongside and under my siblings of color to make a more just and equitable society.
If I stop there, I only get accolades from my white comrades on the left.
But 11 years of working in cross-class and cross-race relationships has taught me that the only way people change is if they have reasons to change. It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are – we learn from others.
I want to be very clear here: It is NEVER the responsibility of the oppressed to educate the oppressor. But those of us who are of the oppressor class – we who can be heard by, listened to, and given an audience and platform by those who oppress people – we have a moral obligation to do the work, to put in the effort, to meet with people distasteful to us, to argue forcefully for those without our layers of privilege.
My fellow white people: Black folk have been telling us to come and get our cousin. You can’t do that if you refuse to talk to your cousin. Your cousin ain’t suddenly gonna pick up Ta-Nehisi Coates in the library and get woke. Your writing off your cousin and his ilk is a right you have, but a right born of privilege and a right that, if exercised, prevents change from happening.
This is white people’s work to do. I understand if you, personally, don’t want to pick it up, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t our work, all the same.
I am a minister of the Gospel, from the radical Christian tradition. Like the Jesus I have aspired to follow, I will eat with those whose ideas are abhorrent to me. Not because I agree with them, but precisely the opposite: Because if I am not at least as concerned with the soul of, the liberation of, the redemption of, the salvation of, the oppressor as I am the circumstances of the oppressed, I don’t think you can call me a Christian.
As a hero of mine once said, “Mr. Jesus died for bigots, too.” I eat with bigots not because I want to empathize with them, it is because I want to convert them, and I have not found ignoring them, calling them names, or mocking them with memes to be an effective evangelism technique.
Because the better world we all dream is possible is only possible if we can all achieve liberation – some of us from oppression, and others from privilege, from white supremacy, from our own egos.
Yours in liberation for all people,