color blind, a poem about privilege

“If we do not know how to meaningfully talk about racism, our actions will move in misleading directions.” ― Angela Davis

In February, Ahmaud Arbery was hunted down and killed by a vigilante ex-cop and his son.

In March, Breonna Taylor was killed in her own bed, after cops stormed the wrong address, looking for a guy already in custody.

In May, George Floyd was arrested and a cop kneeled on his neck until it killed him. With three other officers watching, with bystanders yelling he was dying. Is a potentially fake $20 bill worth more than a life?

is this what it’s like to read the news?

I never have. I don’t watch TV. I get one email newsletter, and I’m on Instagram, so if I see something important I’ll go looking for information. Meaning I’ve found myself reading multiple articles about 3 people being killed in 3 months.

When I read about George Floyd on Tuesday it felt like a punch to the gut… like I was going to be physically sick. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I couldn’t sleep. I wondered how anyone could see what happened to him and not be marching in the streets. I thought about church-going conservatives, and how I’d recently seen protests around sheltering in place or not wearing masks.

It would be easier to return to my no news policy. I could ignore the names in my Instagram feed. I don’t have to subject myself to the trauma of what it’s like to be black in America. I can close the browser window, prioritize my sanity, and go on with my day, unaffected. This is the essence of white privilege.

“In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” –Angela Davis

Painting is how I process trauma and communicate ideas, so I started thinking about painting something to process and communicate all these thoughts. I imagined a word-based painting, but I fixated on the words themselves, how they would all be verses about common humanity, calling out the church for its lack of action.

I ended up writing a poem at 3 am.

I need to give a brief overview of my personal lens for this to make sense. I see white American churches and Republicans as synonymous. For many, it seems Christianity is nothing more than a political statement. Or you need to signal your belonging to the Christian tribe by expressing Republican values. Black Lives Matter is not one of those. I want to make clear that this is a generalization, obviously. There are plenty of churches and Christians who stand with people of color. But the predominant representation in the media doesn’t seem to reflect that. If Christians could see Jesus for who he really is, they would care less about politics and more about life.

color blind

for George Floyd

Blind and unseeing
You argue, you hate
The opinions of others who seek
To disgrace
The pride of your ego
The place of your rank
The unexplored privilege you claim to not have

The man you most worship depicted as white
With flowing blond hair and shining blue eyes
The words that he spoke
The example he set
Ignored
Or mistaken
Or woefully misread

The name on your car, man who co-signs your prayers
Wasn’t white—he was brown, don’t you know how he dared
To speak the whole truth
To his own religious leaders
People in power 1
Self-righteous, then evil

He went to the masses
The poor, the despised
He healed and made whole
The people whose lives
Were breaking beneath
The weight of the nation
Who chose to oppress them
Who chose to enslave them

Now “the church” has usurped the place of his people 2
They are “the chosen” and therefore more equal
Oppressed is a label they frequently claim
While holding great power and looking the same
As the rest of the country who will not confront
The history of hate, violence, mistrust
The foundation on which
This whole nation rests
Is made of the bodies of black and brown men
and women
Who died
For the crime of existing
Who died for existing
Who die, their existence
Treated as less
Important than bodies with different skin

Church where is your outrage
For the poor, the despised
Do you heal and make whole?
Uncover the lies
Of which bodies are made
In the image of G-d 3
Are they yours?
Are they mine?
George, Breonna, Ahmaud?

Your privilege is showing;
You protest for rights
To leave home
To leave masks
While people leave lives

Do justice, love mercy 4
I came for the weak 5
Life matters more than tradition 6
Can you read
The words of your master
As they are, as he meant
See the truth
See the people
It’s not about politics

The man you most worship:
A minority, brown 7
His people didn’t understand
Tried to drive him out of town 8
They yearned for revolution 9
Concerned with choosing sides
Watched the leaders murder him
For speaking truth to lies

You idolize the church of Acts 10
Imagine if you could just get back
To what they had
And how they lived
Without the knowledge
That they lived
In fear of those who ruled their land
Afraid to walk the streets alone
If you ignore their suffering
You aren’t Notzrim, you are Rome. 11

1 During the time of Jesus, the high priests were appointed by Rome. Jews that had been paid off for power.

2 Replacement theology claims that Christianity has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people. It might be nominally denounced, but it’s an undercurrent in Christian teaching that is alive and well.

3 G-d is a Jewish substitution when writing “God” in English, used to denote respect.

4 He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

5 The King will say to them, ‘Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!’ (Matthew 25:40)

One Sabbath, when He went to eat at the house of one of the leading Pharisees, they were watching Him closely. There in front of Him was a man whose body was swollen with fluid. In response, Jesus asked the law experts and the Pharisees, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” But they kept silent. He took the man, healed him, and sent him away. And to them, He said, “Which of you whose son or ox falls into a well, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?” To this they could find no answer. (Luke 14:1-6)

Jesus is referring to the “fences” the rabbis built around the Torah (laws) to avoid getting so close you might break them.

7 Jesus was an observant Jewish rabbi. He was not white.

8 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”…And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way. (Luke 4:16-21, 28-30)

9 The Jewish people thought the Messiah would overthrow Rome and set up a new kingdom on earth immediately.

10 The early church in Acts is fascinating and often held up as the standard of what church should be.

11 “Notzrim” was the Hebrew word referring to the sect of Jews who followed Jesus, the Nazarene. Christianity did not exist at that time. Rome was oppressor that occupied Israel.

RETURN TO TOP ^

what now?

It’s hard to process whatever weird dimension we’re living in right now. We’re in the middle of a pandemic, trying to figure out a new normal. Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd. Protests reaching a fever pitch. So much trauma and anger.

Yesterday, SpaceX launched the first human passenger rocket from the US in 9 years. After the astronauts were safely in orbit, Leland Melvin, a black man, commented about what we can do when we work together. It was amazing to watch it live, and surprisingly emotional. A weirdly positive end to a horrible week. I’ve seen a lot of the books on this list below sell out on Amazon. Are people finally paying attention? I hope. If I have yours, please take responsibility to widen your lens. Educate yourself.

I will always default to books. Read. We all know the (basic) history of America – understand that you are born into a system with oppression built in. Racism is far from dead; it’s outright, but it’s also insidious, internalized. I didn’t know half of what I know now before  searching out books specifically about racism and social justice. You don’t know what you know.

Do the work to educate yourself. Listen to the stories of people of color, and take them seriously. Don’t default to the lens of your chosen political party or church tribe.

Books:

Social:

  • Follow social media accounts from people of color. Get outside your echo chamber. Rachel Cargle is one. If you’re a parent, I recently learned about The Conscious Kid. Follow Propaganda, an amazing wordsmith (hip hop artist) who speaks honesty to Christian spaces.
  • Find individual podcasts or follow channels dedicated to discussions around race and social justice. Start with this one.
  • Read this short and sweet graphic “A Guide to White Privilege” by Courtney Ahn Design.
  • Have meaningful conversations with the people in your life, and especially with your kids.
  • Learn what it means to be antiracist.

Feel free to comment with questions, particularly on the meaning of the poem. My footnotes are incredibly basic because most of them could be entire essays in and of themselves.