What you cannot see is my heart. You cannot know my passions, my sorrows, my fears, my loves, my frustrations simply by looking at me.
You cannot know my heart for bringing people together.
You cannot know my desire to heal hurts and to right wrongs.
Why is this important today? Why does this matter as part of the discussion about white supremacy, white privilege, and the Black Lives Matter movement?
It matters because for far too long white people and black people in America have been talking past each other when it comes to race relations.
It matters because for far too long we have looked at each other with suspicion, with contempt, with fear, doubting each other’s motives and hearts.
I am trying to be part of the solution. I am trying to help. I am trying to be the change I want to see, but our culture does not make that easy.
Here’s what I know:
I know that I do not and have never owned slaves, nor have I ever been a slave.
I know that untold millions of proud Africans were brought to America against their will and enslaved.
I know that, in the 150 years since the end to legal slavery, blacks have not had equal opportunity, equal treatment, or truly equal rights in America.
I know that I can only empathize in part with the plight of blacks because I am not black and cannot experience what they have experienced.
25 years ago, when my auburn-haired girls were only 5 and 2 years old, and my son was a new born, we moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, so I could go to seminary. The large townhouse community we moved into was the best option for us because of its location and because the rent was affordable. It also just so happened to be about 85% black. For the first time in my life I WAS in the minority. My girls had no idea what it meant to be in the minority, and I really didn’t want them to know
In the three years we lived there, we all made good friends in the neighborhood. Alexa, Caley, & Cameron played with the other children, and if there was ever a concern or a problem, the almost entirely black community knew exactly which white family the red heads belonged to.
Yes, there was crime and trouble. There was a murder just three doors down from us one night as a result of a domestic dispute. The couple was white.
Many people say that our goal should be to raise our children to be color blind. To see all people the same and treat all people the same regardless of race, nationality, or religion. I disagree. In fact, I think that is a very dangerous idea that ignores the realities with which those who are not white, Christian, and male face every day in America.
Rather than being color blind, the preferred goal is to be aware of the systemic racism, bigotry, and prejudice that is deeply rooted in our government, our society, and ourselves in ways that can be very subconscious and difficult to recognize unless you have been on the receiving end of such discrimination.
As a result of living as a minority in that Cincinnati community for much of their formative years, my kids learned to build friendships based on how much fun other kids were, irrespective of color, gender, religion, or socio-economic status.
Because of that, my three children who experienced being part of the minority have all become champions for social justice in a variety of ways. In fact, my oldest daughter married a terrific guy who just happens to be black. My other daughter taught ME how she sees people’s souls, not the color of their skins, their gender, their religion, or their relative wealth. Her relationships bear witness to that. My son and his wife both majored in the social work field and are dedicated volunteers with a Court-Appointed Special Advocates for families in need.
These experiences and many, many more help illustrate why I am so deeply repulsed by the idea that any individual or any group of people believe they are inherently superior to any other person or group. White supremacy is one of the most culturally dangerous and morally repugnant philosophies active in America today.
Allow me to remind all of us again that the number one Principle of Unitarian Universalism is the inherent worth and dignity of ALL people.
While I absolutely strive to empathize to the best of my ability with the realities, prejudices, and challenges that blacks are facing, I know that my understanding will always be limited because I am a white male. I want to understand and be more aware of my white privilege and how that affects my daily interaction with, and advocacy for the black community.
I want to be part of the solution. In order to be part of the solution, I know I need to listen more, to read more, to advocate more, to participate more.
That is why I am here today. To listen and to learn.
It is my moral obligation as a fellow human. Amen.