Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
After the Civil War, white Americans controlled economic and political systems that resulted in lynching, Jim Crow, Black Codes, white citizens’ councils, poverty, racial profiling, school to prison pipeline, and mass incarceration. Even today we continue to prolong racial inequality through codifying white supremacy. We apologize for being complicit for the last 400 years in perpetuating these injustices.
From “An Apology to Our African American Sisters and Brothers for the Sin of Slavery and Its Legacy”
We all come to conversations on race at different levels. Some don’t want to hear about race at all. For them racism is not a subject that belongs in the church. On the other extreme are those who feel we can’t say enough, do enough, or speak out loud enough when it comes to racial injustice. The majority of people in the presbytery are somewhere in between these two extremes.
I recently listened to a podcast in which Paul Butler talks about four models to help understand the current unrest. I confess that I have lived in all four of these models (and probably still do). Like any real issue in life, the conversation about race shifts from complicated to complex.
The first model can be summarized as “black men are the problem!” Black men are angry and have an aggressive form of masculinity. If they would just pull up their pants and stop acting guilty and aggressive, “then they wouldn’t have to worry about being stopped and frisked or being shot by the police.”
The second model says we have an under-enforcement of law. We need more police. We need more laws so that we can have order. We need more freedom to stop and frisk to prevent crime.
The third model is what he calls the “liberal idea.” In this model we need to improve the relationship between African Americans, communities of color, and the police. It is a compassionate model that believes if we could just sit down with one another and hear one another’s side, then we can come to an understanding. He says, “It’s like we’re caught in a bad marriage and we just have to come together.” In this model the solution is more body cameras, changing policing patterns, better training of police officers, and even investigating police department.
The fourth model (and the one the presbytery supports) says the problem is white supremacy and white privilege. The idea of white supremacy and privilege is the engine that drives the car of racism and racist actions. He says, “Mass incarceration, brutal prisons, and violent policing are just symptoms. If we just fix the symptoms, we are not treating the disease. Even if we could make the police do better, it is just going to mutate the way white supremacy devolved from slavery to the old Jim Crow to the new Jim Crow” (Podcast Deep Background with Noah Feldman. Episode 37: “The Barriers to Reform: Pushkin Industries”).
If we see racism as a chronic disease, we may realize the solution is not a single answer but a polyvalent approach: It is about learning and doing.
The work to dismantle racism and white privilege is ongoing and daunting. It is work that often pulls us from our comfort zones as we face new realities of American life, see familiar history in new ways, and make daily decisions that are not guided by our instincts of prejudice and judgement. It is work that makes us pause and see everyone as equal human beings that deserve respect, agency, and a chance at a prosperous life. I pray we have the courage to continue the work.
Rev. Craig M. Howard