Why is this white woman crying?

Posted: March 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

In our dynamic dialogue groups that include members of  white and black congregations we covenant to share the truth in love. That sharing is sometimes sobering, sometimes humorous, and sometimes both.

Just yesterday as members of our group spoke our truths and shared the work we have yet to do, one of our African American partners shared a story from her service to one of her caucasian employers. One of the tacit unwritten rules of serving as “the help” was to avoid too much familiarity, especially on the feeling level. Certainly the sharing of struggles on the part of the white employer was crossing that line. But one time it was different.

Our friend came in to find her employer crying. She thought to herself, “Why is this white woman crying?” It was an uncommon occurrence. When she asked if everything was alright the weeping woman told her that she needed to apologize to her. “Apologize? For what?”

She proceeded to tell her how at the beginning she never wanted her to serve in her home. She disclosed all the false assumptions she carried about her because she was black. And then she shared how absolutely wrong she was. It was a confession, the kind you make to your priest in the confessional booth. Fortunately it was heart-felt and genuine. But that didn’t take it outside the realm of strange.

For those who have enjoyed the fruits of white privilege making confession and then engaging in conversion is exactly the right thing to do. Making confession to the offended is important. However, the offended person may or may not have experienced it personally. The offense primarily happens because deep cultural racism exists in the first place. So just exactly how does one make confession on behalf of all who have participated in systemic racism? What’s more, can any one person accept an apology on behalf of an entire group?

The end of this particular story is a happy one, both ways. The relationship between these two women continued to grow and their trust and affection increased. That’s the good news. But that good news begs another question: Did that awakening lead to confronting the broader racism we all consciously and unconsciously share and continue to practice?

For people of faith structural racism is anti-Gospel. If it doesn’t square with the truths and values espoused by Jesus and the prophets it has no place in our lives or culture. We must first identify and next expunge it from our own minds. And then, with other people of good will, we must denounce it whenever and wherever it appears in the public square. We do that so such apologies become no longer necessary, so no one has to figure out just why the white woman is crying.

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