Church, Where Are Your Tears?

I was born to a middle-class (remember when that was a thing?), white family in the United States of America. Both of my parents have college degrees, love each other immensely and provided a childhood that was blissfully full of books, horses, and days spent tramping through the woods with my siblings. But I never saw any of this as “privileged”. It was just my life. I never had new clothes, regularly ate leftovers, and had to start working at 16 to pay for my truck. I truly didn’t believe I was anymore privileged than any of my friends. Then I started actively expanding my understanding of the world and the life experiences of others in it. I already knew, yes, I was incredibly privileged to have been born in America. But then I stumbled upon the concept of white privilege. Talk about an unpleasant wake up.

I was always sensitive to injustices–especially racial prejudice. Growing up in Mississippi, it’s still way too normal to hear incredibly racists slurs and sentences tossed about. Even well-meaning people with genuinely good hearts will often make incredibly ignorant comments because the South is still steeped in decades of hatred and a lack of understanding. I can remember angrily snapping at white coworkers in high school for their remarks on “those people”. Even adults weren’t free from my vigilante wrath and I have been known to unleash my flurry of frustration on everyone from youth leaders to college professors. None were excepted. But despite my genuine desire to align with and defend my black brothers and sisters, I was still incredibly ignorant. Correction. I am still incredibly ignorant.

I have a friend who is the kind of excellent human being that is noticed wherever she goes. She’s whip-smart, kind, considerate, funny, and well-educated. She’s also got this way about her that bears an uncanny resemblance to Scarlett Johansson (and yes, men react to her the way they do to ScarJo). This friend of mine is also black, and a transplant to the South. Originating from the Bay Area, the South is often an alien world to her, and there’s been more than one occasion where she’s said, “I just don’t get this place!” (Understandably so. The Deep South is a dark swamp of tradition, tension, and soul food that any foreigner should explore with caution and a credible compass) Through her eyes, I’ve been introduced to injustices I had no idea existed because they are accepted as being just a part of the culture.

I’ve recently become painfully aware that there’s internalized racism that many–especially many black men–have. My friend mentioned above was recently sharing with me her worries about having sons who, statistically speaking, have a higher chance of being stopped by the police because of their skin tone. She said many of her black male friends will work extra hard to be nice and soft spoken, just to assure people that they aren’t criminals. I remember sitting there, listening to this beautiful, strong, ambitious woman sharing her very real fears for her future children and husband and feeling a chill in my spirit and quietly praying her fears would be unfounded. Just days later, I had a very attractive young Marine ask me out, but only before assuring me that he wasn’t a “thug n****”. I was shocked by his seeming need to assure me of something that had never even crossed my mind. When I told my friend about the experience, she shook her head sadly and said, “See? He’s internalized the message that because he’s black, he’s probably bad.” That was a literal slap to the face for me, because I just had no idea. 

And then of course, Charleston happened.

historical photograph of members of emanual african methodist episcopal church in charleston.

historical photograph of members of emanual african methodist episcopal church in charleston.

Not to be dramatic, but that shooting broke my heart. “Just imagine how you would feel if you knew those people were shot because they looked like you,” my friend told me. I see her sentiment echoed in the Facebook posts of numerous friends, but I’ve yet to hear any of them bring it up within the walls of the church. I wonder how many are staying silent for fear of making their white friends uncomfortable with their level of grief and anger over the elements of our society that bred this action. Which leads me to beg, Church, where are your tears? 

That shooting was a gross injustice. Up there with the Birmingham church bombings  and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And it’s made even worse by the knowledge that those beautiful people opened their church up to the man who would murder them. I just…there are no eloquent words for the evil of those murders and the terrible grief they have caused. And yet I have heard little to any response from the Church. Church, where are your tears? 

Our sisters and brothers were murdered in a way as gross as any ISIL slaying, and yet we’ve been distracted by a flag, a delusional woman (yep, that’s my one jab at Rachel Dolezal), and a question of marriage which, Hello Church, in case you haven’t notice, we haven’t been a Christian Country in decades. So, shocker, you’re not going to agree with all the decisions made by this country. But you know what you can and should agree with? Unity of all members of the body of Christ in mourning, remembering and responding to an attack on our precious people. Church, where are your tears?

I know that there are aspects of being a minority in America that I will just never understand. I can’t. But I can seek to listen, to be humble, and to share in word in deed with my sisters and brothers as they try to reach peace and declare, “We shall overcome”. But first I must ask, Church, where are your tears?

from sarahgreenillustration.tumblr.com

from sarahgreenillustration.tumblr.com

“He has showed you what is good: and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

-Micah 6:8

5 comments
  1. Jennifer Brodie said:

    Thank you for writing this! It’s refreshing to hear a white person see and acknowledge white privelege. It’s so much a part of the fabric of our culture that many of us don’t realize it’s there, even when it’s so powerful. Keep speaking up and speaking out, it’s the only way we can make progress. If you’re interested in more work against racism, check out OAR- Organizing Agaisnt Racism. http://www.oarnc.org/about-us/ (I don’t know where you live currently, but it’s not just a NC organization) They host Racial Equity Workshops which are supposed to be incredibly powerful. Our church sponsors them as well as many other actions agaisnt racism. I’m hoping to attend one in the near future. If I could add one small observation about your piece, I would edit this: “I’ve recently become painfully aware that there’s internalized racism that–especially many black men–have.”
    It sounds like, to me, that you’re saying that black men **have** internalized racism rather than that they are affected by and subjected to the internalized racism of our culture. See what I mean?
    Thank you for sharing from your heart! I really enjoyed your piece.

    • Thank you so much for the link to the organization, Jennifer! I will definitely look into it.
      That sentence was a tricky one to write–but I did mean that I had become aware of ways that they had internalized racism in the way they viewed themselves. Definitely it’s something that society has pushed on them, but then that message has been internalized. Does that make sense? It’s a tricky idea and my sentence structure probably didn’t help much.

      • Sure thing! Was too good not to share. 🙂

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