Ever since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by an indifferent and callous police officer was caught on camera, white Americans seem to be finally waking up to the unfairness and injustice perpetrated on Black citizens by police and the criminal justice system. In the months that followed Floyd’s death many white people showed up to protests and demonstrations calling for an end to racism and police brutality. Washington Post-ABC polls at the height of the protests showed that 69 percent of Americans believed that African Americans and white people do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system. Forty percent of those polled supported reduced funding for the police and instead spending the money on social services.
If only it hadn’t taken the death of another Black person to wake up white people.
The events of recent months are encouraging, but if we don’t keep the momentum going, white people may once again disengage, and more Black people will be murdered. We can’t let this happen. In the words of author and activist Dwayne Reed, “White supremacy won’t die until white people see it as an issue they need to resolve rather than an issue they need to empathize with.”
If we want real, systemic change in this country, white people will need to learn about white supremacy culture and accept that racism is a white problem, not a Black problem. This may seem like a daunting task and it is. It takes time, deep thought, awareness, and hard work to understand one’s white privilege and the impact of white supremacy throughout our nation’s history. Too often, white people ask Black people to explain it. This is unfair. Black folks have been trying to explain forever but white people have refused to listen. It is time for white people to take responsibility for their own education.
For the last two years Peoples Church Unitarian Universalist, a primarily white congregation, has been doing just that. We are on a journey to teach ourselves about racism, implicit bias, white privilege, and the white supremacist nature of our country. Our learning process has been uncomfortable at times, even heartbreaking, but it has been nothing short of transformative — with lots of light bulbs going off in our heads and hearts! (It really is a shame and an indictment on our educational system that adults have been learning for the first time in their lives about the impact of Jim Crow Laws, convict leasing, the denial of access for Black people to the GI Bill, redlining, and the impact of the War on Drugs and mass incarceration on Black men. Our education system seems to have failed both Black and white citizens in teaching a full and complete history of race in America.) We have been reading books and articles together and hosting churchwide conversations about them. We have been watching films such as “13th” and “I Am Not Your Negro.” We have visited the African American Museum of Iowa and participated in Juneteenth celebrations with our African American neighbors.
As we learned how to become more effective allies, we partnered with Bethel AME Church to sponsor their annual Allen Lincoln Douglas Banquet, and we are currently supporting Advocates for Social Justice in their efforts to address structural racism in Cedar Rapids government and policing. In addition, we regularly practice having difficult conversations with other white people who make racist remarks, and once a month, we give our plate collection to a local, state, or national organization fighting racial injustice.
Unitarian Universalists have long valued equity, acceptance, liberty, and justice, so you would think that our congregation would be really diverse, but to date our membership has largely consisted of white people. When we finally started examining this in recent years, we realized something truly significant: we have always operated out of a culture of white supremacy. Without realizing it, we have centered whiteness and preserved a culture of privilege. We are now committed to dismantling white supremacy from within our own institutions, culture, norms, and relationships.
It is our hope that other groups of white people will undertake this learning process and make similar commitments. There is an opportunity for church groups, senior centers, book clubs, volunteer groups, workplace groups, card clubs, school PTOs, home associations, drinking buddy groups, and others to examine how white supremacy has contributed to their white privilege.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
White people, once you know, it’s time to act. Let’s not squander this opportunity. Let’s demand police reform, restorative policies and laws, and a redress of structural racism.
If we do this, we can become truly effective allies, not just in the streets, but in the halls of government where laws and policies are made.
Rev. Rebecca Hinds is the minister at Peoples Church. Marcia Swift is a retired social worker and the chair of the Social Justice Council at Peoples Church.