When Wrong about Antiracism, Say So
I was wrong. As soon as I spoke, I regretted it. It was a video class, called “Anchor Point,” taught by Dr. Rob Fuquay at St. Lukes United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Rob interviewed me for the class via video. I spoke of research done on white racism over the years. As the class was ending, I was asked what I might say to the African American members of the class. My too quick response was, “First, have patience with us. Second, keep pushing us.”
I was wrong. If I could have a “do over” I would have said to African American Christians, “Keep teaching us and encouraging us all to join in what John Lewis called “Good Trouble.”
By sundown on that Sunday, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Jacob Blake had been shot in the back seven times! I was wrong to suggest that patience in the face of the racial violence our nation endures should be anywhere in the realm of a reasonable response. Perhaps I was tired, like most of us are, tired of the horrific words and actions of bigotry, discrimination and deadly violence.
Fifty years ago, James Baldwin wrote “I will flatly say that the bulk of this country’s white population impresses me, and has so impressed me for a very long time, as being beyond any conceivable hope of moral rehabilitation. They have been white, if I may so put it, too long.” (New York Times, February 2, 1969) Robert P. Smith’s book “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity,” published only this summer, draws on Baldwin’s perception.
Early in that video interview I had spoken of Robert Smith’s research on White racism. Earlier I had offered stories of antiracist actions by congregations. Earlier I had talked of our racist complicity and our deeply embedded racist-worlds-taken-for-granted behaviors. But to the question “What would I say to my African American sisters and brothers?” my response was pathetic and unhelpful. The call is not to patience. The call is for more than an apology. The response is to vigilance against the sin of racism and a pledge to actively engage in antiracist work.
In this moment, in these circumstances, patience is NOT a virtue. If my words in any way were heard as a call to be passive or patient in the face of active racial hatred, let me be clear — that was not what I meant — and what I said, well, it was wrong.