I want to thank Rev. Rebecca Hinds and Marcia Swift for their recent guest column, “Don’t Squander This Opportunity, White People,” that focused on the need for white people to examine the reality of white supremacy in America. To say that there is systemic racism in American culture is not to condemn America or its predominant white population, but to simply acknowledge that there are certain advantages built into American culture and national life from its inception that benefit white people and not people of color.
The first step in addressing this reality of systemic racism is to acknowledge it. The second step is to work actively and persistently to undo the social harm perpetuated by systemic racism, to consciously and deliberately dismantle the pervasive social structures, attitudes, and practices that keep systemic racism deeply rooted in American society and to create new structures, attitudes, and practices that ensure people of color can equally enjoy the full benefits of living in America that white people have enjoyed all along.
For generations, people of color in America have carried the heavy burden of speaking out and acting out against systemic racism in America. Along the way, white people have provided support and encouragement to people of color, but the vast majority of white people, while maybe quietly and passively sympathetic, have largely remained silent and unwilling to wholeheartedly extend the benefits of white privilege in America to people of color. White privilege in a dominant white society is very comfortable. To examine that white privilege is a daunting task; to freely surrender the benefits of white privilege to people of color is an even greater challenge.
The Interfaith Alliance of Iowa has a new project called Faithful Voices for Racial Justice that is designed to urge Iowa faith leaders and communities of faith get actively involved in networking, speaking out, and taking action alongside a Black community that is fighting for racial equity and justice in America. Information about this project and resources for learning and action are available at www.faithful-voices.org.
As a participant in the Faithful Voices for Racial Justice project, I am especially encouraging white faith leaders and faith communities to actively engage in this effort because in a dominant white culture, white people wield great social, institutional, and political power. Our white voices and actions must support the actions of people of color and amplify their voices. Silence and inaction are no longer acceptable.
The benefits of living in America (equal opportunity and the pursuit of happiness; freedom and justice for all) should be shared equally by white people and people of color. This is our time to make sure that the American ideal is a reality that is experienced by all of our diverse people in America.
Rev. Gary Sneller of Cedar Rapids is a retired pastor with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and is a point person in Linn County for the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa’s Faithful Voices for Racial Justice project.