Caring about Black History Month as a White Woman

February is Black History month… did it pass you by without noticing?

Other years, it did for me.

Why would I, as a white woman, care to write a post for Black History Month?

Because I’ve been listening to my black friends, and I think it’s time I shared what I’ve heard.

Because for most of my life, I thought that black history was just that… history. That having a couple black friends was enough to say racism didn’t affect me.  I thought a fluffy color-blind approach made a difference. That I didn’t actually need to enter into the stories and pain of people who don’t look like me. That just talking about love and unity and being nice was enough. It’s not.

Because for most of my life, I haven’t gotten to know my black friends just as much as I’ve known my white friends. I haven’t sought out and listened to the voices of black leaders. I haven’t done my part to change the perception of black people in my spheres of influence.

Because even though I’m half German (just think of my people’s past…), upon first glance, the majority of people in the US would probably trust me. My black friends (whose people have been victimized by this country over and over again), don’t have that same luxury.

 

Why do I care to write this post?

 

Because if my friends and I lived here just one or two hundred years ago, I would have been told that these same people were only 3/5ths of a person… as a compromise. I would learn to read and write, as they worked in harsh conditions, fearing beatings from people that looked like me.

Because in Philadelphia in 1787, people who looked like me came to people who look like my friends and, while they were in prayer, forced them out of the church. So they had to start their own, with a “Slave Bible” that people who look like me edited to cover the fact that God wanted them free.

Because right when blacks were finally starting to thrive as free people, people that look like me burned their houses and businesses, and put them in jail without proof of wrongdoing. All to keep them down. People that look like me terrorized of my friends’ grandparents. 

And people who looked like me looked the other way. 

No more.

Because one of the last KKK lynchings of a black person (19 year old Michael Donald in Alabama) occurred just 5 years before I was born. I have friends from Alabama. This man could have been my friend.

Because American slavery lasted 246 years, segregation lasted 89 years (longer than the Babylonian exile — a major part of the Old Testament), and we’re only 65 years post-segregation. My Grandpa was about my age when integration started.

AND YET people that look like me ask my black friends to forget about this traumatic past (where we treated them as less than human), and not notice the residual effects of these times, and not have gut responses to these residual effects (including continued traumatic events) that resemble PTSD. What?!

Because reconciliation and overcoming systemic injustice takes a lot more than nice words.

 

Why do I care to write this post?

 

Because I have heard stories of black children wishing they were white. I want them to know that they are made in the Image of God, just like me.

Because many black people have felt they have to put aside their culture, and dress, do their hair like, and talk like white people to show their value.  Even then, they still get type-casted (or worse) by people that look like me.

Because I have heard countless stories of black people doing little things wrong, and people that look like me overreacting out of fear and anger, causing even more pain to black people.

Because by contrast, someone that looks like me shot nine of my black siblings in a church less than 4 years ago… and by the strength of God a son of one of the nine, Chris Singleton, still preaches love and forgiveness.

Because black people are still discriminated against in education, in housing, in hiring, in the criminal justice system, etc. These are researched facts. Our systems hinder my black friends from progressing as far as people that look like me. Some of them result to decisions out of hopelessness that perpetuate the cycle. I mourn our history and our present situation.

Because black people are trying to share their pain and sorrows, but people who look like me are getting defensive, rather than listening and mourning with them.

Because within the last month, I heard someone in my hometown once again dehumanize a black child, referring to him as a “black monster.”

Because meanwhile, my black friend regularly heads from the inner city all the way out to my small hometown church, to serve a nearly all-white community with his gift of music and worship leading… and he does so humbly and with joy.

Because we fear what we don’t know. It takes knowing to love. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

Because I believe God cares about this.

 

Why do I care to write this post? 

 

Because people who look like me need to start listening to voices that don’t look like me.

What if I listened instead of trying to change your mind?

What if I took the time to see life through your eyes?

How can I love my brother if we don’t understand each other?

And help to heal the pain.

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Because the black Church and its leaders are INCREDIBLE! I could write a whole post on this, and I’m just scratching the surface with what I’ve seen. They show the rest of the world what Christ-like LOVE looks like in action, on so many levels. I want to sit at their feet and learn from them.

Because the black Church has led the way in meeting the needs of the poor and oppressed and empowering suffering communities.

Because the black Church has forgiven us again, and again, and again, and again…

Because people like Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks could have justified fighting the hundreds of years of mistreatment of their people with weapons, yet even through persecution, they chose the high road.

(Because as a white woman, there are more black leaders that I should have remembered learning about than just these two and a few others.)

…Have some black people not chosen the high road? Has there been negative behavior by black people? Absolutely. But this is true for white people as well. For every race.

Because I’ve been learning from black preachers and listening to gospel artists… and it’s been different, and beautiful.

Because my dance ministry leader taught me to battle from a place of peace and live in a spirit of freedom. My other dance ministry sisters taught me what it means to live in the power and authority of being a daughter of the King.  Other church leaders I’ve worked with have taught me about humble servant leadership, and boldly declaring truth.

Because when my team and I started joining a primarily black Christian community in worship, our brothers and sisters welcomed us with open arms. 

Because I love these people, and I wouldn’t be who I am without them.

Because I spent 4 years in ministry school, 2 years in social work school, a few days at conferences, the last 5 weeks reading Woke Church: An Urgent Call for Christians in America to Confront Racism and Injustice by Pastor Eric Mason alongside people from a variety of backgrounds, and I am only just beginning my learning journey… and I want to take you along. 

You know what I learned?

 

Black history is our history. We are family… it’s time to start acting like it.

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So here is my post:

 

I, Stefanie, as a white, social working, community-welcoming, worship leading, co-creating child of God, am going to demonstrate justice as an outworking of my faith by:

  1. Teaching the truth about Imago Dei and the Kingdom of God through my creations,
  2. and continuing to:
    1. Welcome people who don’t look like me into my home, and celebrate their voices in my worldview and work.
    2. Not be silent, but echo and advocate for the voices of the downtrodden.
    3. Support empowering work done in the lives and communities of the oppressed.

When conflict arises or it feels too hard, I will focus on Jesus’ sacrifice and sufficient grace for me, and seek community support. I will not go the easy route, submit to the lesser mission, ignore the call, or become distracted.

My plan to stay accountable is to make ongoing creation goals, and partner with my family and my Woke Church family.

 

Will you join me?

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