August 06, 2015
A few days ago I mentioned today is dedicated as “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism” by the African American Methodist (AME) community. I figure confession and repentance does not amount to a hill of beans if commitment does not equate to action.
To end racism folk must gather a diverse community together and think action through clearly. Done well, misses still occur. One reason is while the people who live and work within racist institutions (think all US institutions) may want to end racism, the institution does not. Instead, institutions prefer diversity work to anti-racism work. For no matter how diverse, an institution becomes, as long as the people hold the historical mindset of the institution, structural change does not occur and the institution remains as it is. Therefore, while many US institutions have become diverse their engagement in anti-racist work is at a minimum.
This is why “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism” is too likely to be a moment in time, at worst, and a day of supporting diversity at best. A hard pill to swallow, but playing diversity off as anti-racism is what the institutional church does well. A “for instance” of how anti-racist work gets the institutional backseat might be helpful at this juncture.
My attention has been drawn to the “Ask Me Why You Matter to Me” campaign of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). As I looked over their website I found aspects of this movement I believe helpful. What gets in the way of taking it seriously though is the slogan chosen for the campaign reeks of institutional diversity rather than anti-racism.
Ask Me Why You Matter to Me sounds like an institutional “All Lives Matter” response to “#BlackLivesMatter.” One problem is the slogan does not give due to the harshness of the lives lived in a systemically racist society—For the mass number of racialized incarcerated people, Why You Matter to Me does not mean freedom. Another is the work and action is not mine but yours. You, people of color, American Indians, and indigenous people are to ask me why you matter. In the meantime, I can join my people (who very well may be diverse) for a book study or to watch a film.
What I can’t get over with this slogan is the idea of me wearing a Ask Me Why You Matter to Me button. Imagine me, white, straight, and male walking up to most any non-white male person with this button on my lapel. And let’s make this easy. Say I walk up to a white, straight woman. She looks at the button, then at me, I think I see a look of disbelief as she looks at the button one more time. She looks me in the eye and says, “I need you to justify my existence!? Why should I care why I matter to you? The question is not why I matter to you, but what the hell are you doing to end laws, legislation, and church-business-governmental structures that hold women as something less than the white, straight, male norm!? Maybe it is time for you to get a grip and know I don’t care what you think about me, I care about what you are doing to end the unearned privilege you have that oppresses women, people of color, American Indians, and indigenous people.” Okay, this is an imaginative encounter, but really now, can you imagine me (our yourself) walking up to a Mexican woman, a Black man, a Transgender woman, a Farmworker, a Puerto Rican woman, a gay man, a Asian man with such a button on the lapel?
A commitment to end racism is not the easy, simple work of a I’m nice so your nice slogan. Rather anti-racism work is hard, dirty, and messy, because racism is hard, dirty, and messy. Meaningful work and action are not going to leave one high and feeling good. However, good solid work will leave one knowing they are smack in the middle of making a difference that will change the lives of their and their neighbor’s children’s children. That is virtuous and rooted and worth a commitment.