As a child of the south, I grew up spoon fed the myths of the Confederacy and southern heritage. In sixth grade I won third place in a statewide oratorical contest with a talk about Robert E. Lee. I heard stories of my great great grandfather who was a surgeon for the Arkansas forces fighting the Yankee invaders, of doors with musket balls still embedded and walls with cannon balls still lodged in place. I naively had a confederate battle flag above my bed through my days in high school and to me it symbolized the region I grew up in, not slavery, or even the civil war, but like the Dukes of Hazzard and their car the General Lee with the battleflag proudly painted — it was a benign symbol of the region. But when I became a man I put away childish things.
At Tulane I read southern history and came to see that the myths I had been taught as a child were part of a structure of denial — denial about the subjugation of blacks, denial about the nature of the war of northern aggression (as I had been taught to call it), and denial about the racist nature of the society we live in. I came to be a passionate advocate for equality, for taking anti-racism actions in my life, and for redressing the economic and social wrongs which I now more clearly saw. This was further connected to my faith and to my belief that Christ as a non-white homeless Jew was not the white skinned blue eyed middle class American Jesus of my childhood. The Jesus I discovered in the Gospels was calling me and our society to change. What was clear to me in the early 1980’s is even more clear today. We don’t have a race problem, or a black or brown problem in America. We have a problem with white people — the false things we white people believe, and the sins of omission and commission these false beliefs lead us into committing.
Coming from this background, this article in Slate by Jamelle Bouie on Charlottesville, Confederate monuments, and the President’s troubling statements is the best I have seen in terms of how it frames the choices I believe we face in in our mostly white church as we struggle to find and follow the path of Christ in these matters. (Read article here.)
The Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, shared a list of “Things You Can Do to Stand Together.”
Here is an adapted version from my friends at Just Communities of Arkansas:
- Speak up and challenge bigotry whenever you see it.
- Talk with your neighbor or someone in your neighborhood you don’t know about why diversity and inclusion are important.
- Analyze the diversity within your neighborhood, workplace, local school or space for worship and initiate conversations about where and why there might be a lack of inclusion.
- Read books that help you learn about the experiences and perspectives of people from different backgrounds – especially those whose voices are often left out of community conversations
- Learn about our community’s complex history – including the difficult parts – and consider the residue of that history on the present day.
- Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper expressing why you value diversity, equity, and inclusion in your community
- Contact your elected officials to make sure they know your views, especially about policies that could disproportionately hurt members of marginalized groups.
- Demand that our national and state leaders speak up unequivocally against white supremacists and other hate groups, and commend those leaders who stand up to hate.
- Attend community events that expand your understanding and perspective.
- Volunteer with organizations that focus on making our communities more equitable and inclusive.
- Donate to organizations and causes that promote respect, understanding, and justice.
Grace and Peace,
Arthur Fullerton, Vice Moderator Albany Presbytery
Arthur Fullerton is a Ruling Elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, NY, past chair of Board of Trustees, current chair of the Budget Committee, and Vice-Moderator of Albany Presbytery. He consults with nonprofits about fundraising and organizational leadership.
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