In the span of a month I have been to the US/Mexico border to meet adults and children seeking asylum, celebrated the birth of a Savior, and been to Montgomery, Alabam to visit the Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice.
It was in the Legacy Museum’s timeline, “Enslavement to Mass Incarceration” that demands I face the bigger picture and evolution of, not just the long plight of our African/American brothers and sisters, but a deeper awareness of white supremacy.
The exhibit that struck me the most, memorials of what the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) has aptly named “racial terror lynchings”. EJI has gathered the names of lynching victims, the counties where they were murdered, and traveled to those places to gather some of the earth.. The victim’s name and date of murder is put on the large clear glass jar containing the earth and displayed on several walls throughout the museum and EJI offices as a memorial. As I looked at the wall of jars, too many of which were from counties in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma (the states in the Synod of the Sun), it struck me just how many of those were “Unknown”. We know someone was terrorized, lynched on the earth contained in those jars – no one even remembers their names. Their names weren’t important because the purpose of those murders, often horrific acts of torture in a carnival-like setting, was to terrorize an entire race of human beings in order to perpetuate the white lie of supremacy.
Memorial Square, where you find over 800 steel monuments “hanging”, is overwhelming in scope. Each monument represents a county in the United States where a lynching took place and lists the names of the people (where known) and the date of their murder. As I entered with others in our group, a few of us mentioned that we were going to seek out specific counties – where we grew up, our home now, maybe those from the synod where we serve. For me, this became an overwhelming task and I am not certain that anyone was able to fully complete what we set out to do. I find myself wondering now if our initial goal wasn’t subconsciously in hopes of letting ourselves and our ancestors off the hook – or something inside attempting to lessen the impact on us personally, exercising our privilege to be able to look away when those who we were there to remember, had no such option.
Today, I realize that what I witnessed at the border and what the people I met there are going through, is all for the continued subjugation of people – human beings we describe as other than white. Our systems require “those people” to wait in places exposed to the elements after traveling hundreds of miles to escape danger and are faced with processes making it increasingly difficult to legally claim asylum and separating children from their parents. It is all eerily similar to the forced separation of both Native American and black enslaved people in the early days of this country.
We’ve been doing this for centuries, with Native Americans and the Doctrine of Discovery and the international and domestic slave trades. We have believed ourselves to be the great benefactor and over all nonwhite people. Somewhere along the line, we as (white) people convinced ourselves that we have the right to determine where, when, how, and whether certain people are worthy of life or admittance to our country. This is the lie of white supremacy. My Sisters and Brothers, we were not intended to have such power or privilege. That is not God given. “White Privilege” is that which benefits a white person over that of people of color, but that cannot be given up – it can be used to give voice to those who our systems have deemed un-human and sought to suppress for generation upon generation.
These opportunities have been rich with connection for me. Connection to others serving synods across the country in different ways and vastly different contexts; Connection to history in a way I’ve not experienced before; and surprisingly, connection to and a greater understanding of my own family. After seeing the videos and pictures of the white men, women, and even children berating, degrading, torturing and murdering black human beings, I have come to understand my family of origin in a different way.
We are all influenced by the way we were raised. Some of us learn, grow and move on, using our voices to help the world change, and some of us never experience that which is beyond our nuclear family in order to grow and learn. Which one will we choose to be? That choice is a privilege, I pray that you use it for good.