-by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director of LEAD
It was -8 degrees this past Saturday, when I got out of my friend’s car to walk around George Floyd Square. This memorial, in South Minneapolis, was extended to include those grieving for Imez Wright. As I stood there in silence, shivering more from the pain in my heart than the weather, my friend said, someone dies of violence every day in this community; and that is just one neighborhood, ONE.
If you are a Christian living in the United States, the truth about the complicity of our faith in the enslavement and pain of people cannot be ignored. Trust me, if you feel like you already know the story, you are kidding yourself. If you feel like you are tired of an annual focus on one culture, you are missing the fact that our history is explicitly tied to the history of others. We should be fluent in as many different historical perspectives as possible.
You could just stop reading here and ask yourself, “why don’t I know that much already if we studied this one month a year as children?” One month a year is not enough.
Here’s why: This is a gesture to the fact that we have generally learned the history of this country WITHOUT including African Americans. People of faith cannot ignore those most disenfranchised – this is part of our call to love like Jesus. The abuse and marginalization of African Americans in the US is also the history of Christianity in this country. They are inseparable.
As Isabel Wilkerson writes in Caste, “Christianity, as a proxy for Europeans, generally exempt European workers from lifetime enslavement. This initial distinction is what condemned, first indigenous people, and, then, Africans, most of whom were not Christian upon arrival, to the lowest rung of an emerging hierarchy before the concept of race had congealed to justify their eventual and total debasement”. *(See Reference)
Christians have used the Bible to dehumanize groups of people from the beginning of time. Ask yourself, who are we dehumanizing now? The world is turning right before our eyes. There is a moment where we can step up and say, we will not use our faith to colonize others anymore. We will learn, care, and invest in the struggles of people who have been the most abused. We will use our power to protect the most vulnerable.
What can you do? What does Black History Month look like for grownups?
(For starters, it is not limited to one month.)
- Ask some of the African American people in your life to share their family story with you. If they come, listen. Don’t interrupt by adding your story along the way. But, if you are thinking, I don’t know anyone in that community well enough to ask them this question, ask yourself why not? Who can you invite to your home for a meal or meet for coffee next week to change and get out of your echo chamber?
- Get educated. Read. Watch movies. Learn about Black Artists. Have Brave Space conversations with peers. Reading alone is not as helpful as digesting what you are reading by talking with others who are also aching with the call to learn more about the story of others.
- Pray for the African American community. Really, deeply pray for the healing of our country as we love our neighbors. When one part of the body is hurting, we are all hurting, and friends, this is our body.
Just like we use the season of Lent to journey with Jesus through the last days of his life, we can value the ritual of Black History Month to grow in our understanding of the sojourn of African Americans. Just as we worship and follow Jesus every day, we can become more aware each day of the ways in which our lives are intertwined with others. We can honestly repent in the ways we, and our ancestors, have intentionally or unintentionally dehumanized others. We can ask questions about what reparation means and what healing looks like in us so that we can humble ourselves and change for the better.
Wilkerson, Isabel. 2021. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Thorndike Press.
This month as we honor Black History Month, here are 4 books on my top 10 list:
Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi
The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones