Racism is sin. And white supremacy is a lie. If you believe that one group of people is more valuable than others because of the color of their skin, you believe a lie. Not only is it a lie, it is also an affront to the image of God in all persons.
It is easy for the white evangelical church to call out racism as sin. And we should, boldly, constantly, and consistently, both when we see it in other people, and when we see it in ourselves.
It is less easy for us to understand the suffering of our brothers and sisters of color as a result of this sin. The white people marching in Charlottesville with tiki torches are also people who live in our society. They are coworkers, employers, government officials, even police officers. They go to gas stations and restaurants. Their hatred and bigotry is not limited to the march, the torches, and the violence. Their blind hatred of people of color – their sin – negatively effects every person of color they encounter in big and small ways.
That racism and hatred means that people of color move through our society differently than white people do. They are not assumed to be innocent whether they are driving, shopping, or walking home from a store. They are suspects because they exist. They are not assumed to be competent when applying for jobs or promotions. They must prove their competence to a far greater degree than white people do.
This is what we call white privilege. White people’s skin gives us a pass. We get a leg up because our skin is pale. More specifically, we are not held back because our skin is pale. We get what everyone should get: presumed innocence and competence. The reason it doesn’t feel like privilege is because we’re just treated the way everyone should be treated. But we only receive that treatment due to our skin color. Thus, it’s white privilege.
America has heard about these daily affronts for as long as I can remember. Black people telling us white folk that their experience of existing in our society is fundamentally different than our own. People of color telling us that they’re tired of being the token Black person, or the token Latino in their offices and schools, as if somehow their existence in those spaces prove that racism is no longer a problem, even though they are the only person of color in that space. So far the white response has mostly been one big, “It’s not that bad anymore. Jim Crow was a long time ago.”
The events in Charlottesville show us that it is much worse than we thought. The KKK doesn’t even need to wear hoods. We’re still talking about Nazis and this isn’t an Indiana Jones movie. Our President reads a scripted statement condemning white supremacists with all the conviction of a hostage video. Then he immediately negates what he said with an off-the-rails insane press conference and re-election rally. Armed civilians in the streets threatening violence against fellow citizens and the police just letting them. It’s real bad, y’all.
This explosion of hate did not come from no where. It’s not new. It has been in our society all along. It’s just been a while since white men with torches made national headlines. But all along there has been explicit and implicit bias that has attempted to sideline our brothers and sisters of color, to deny them the privileges that white people have but didn’t earn. And once again, our brothers and sisters of color are defending their right to live.
We absolutely should call out the sin of racism. We need to speak up against the fresh wave of hatred. But we also need to listen to people when they say they’ve been suffering for decades. We need to hear their stories of belittlement and oppression and believe them. And we need to believe them when they say they are fighting for their right of equality and their right to live. And we need to join the fight.