by Kay Lloyd
Hold up a piece of paper, with a circle on one side and a square on the other:
“What do you see on this piece of paper?”
What we see on the paper depends on our location.
What we see in the world also depends on our location: social, racial, economic, gender.
As a white, heterosexual, cisgender woman, I was born into the dominant culture. I was raised in it, in my family, school, church, and society. Being part of this dominant view meant I never had to really, deeply consider my location. I never had to think about other perspectives than my own, other histories than my own ancestors, other stories than those of people who looked like me. I could just assume everyone saw the world the same as I did. Can’t we all just get along?
I think this is one definition of white privilege: I only see my side of the paper and assume that everyone else sees and experiences things from my same location—that my perspective isn’t particular to me—it’s just true. And most important, I don’t experience any consequences for doing so.
My understanding, what I’ve learned from people of color, is that very early in life you learn there are two sides, and have to move through the world with eyes on both sides of the page at the same time. And that doing so is absolutely necessary for survival. You learn white history, white language, what white people expect of you, all while being black. I’m told this is exhausting. That it takes a monumental amount of energy to navigate the world this way.
Those of us who are white can help by acknowledging our location, and understanding how history, institutions and systems have unfairly advantaged us. As white folks, we have to learn there is more than one view on our education system, our justice system, our economy. There is more than one view on history, who we call heroes, who we elect into power. We have to humble ourselves, again and again, even if we think we already know all of this, because we have to be able to see what it is we’re trying to change, and how we can clear space for others to shine. Poverty, incarceration, and the boot of oppression based on race is real. So is the courage, beauty, and talent of people of color. There is so much to learn, and to keep learning.
As I’ve continued to study Black History, especially in the last 4-5 years, I’ve been awed by the courage and tenacity of folks who overcame huge barriers—barriers my ancestors never had to face—to make their mark on human history. People like:
- Claudette Colvin, who at the age of 15 refused to move to the back of the bus, nine months before Rosa Parks launched the Montgomery bus boycott. Claudette had been studying Black leaders like Harriet Tubman in her segregated school. When the bus driver ordered Claudette to get up, she refused. She said “It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn’t get up.”
- People like Bessie Coleman, who despite a childhood of harsh poverty, discrimination and segregation in Texas, became the first female pilot—black or white—in 1921. She performed stunts at numerous airshows over the next five years, encouraging other African Americans to pursue flying, and refusing to perform where Blacks were not admitted. When she tragically died in a plane accident in 1926, famous writer and equal rights advocate Ida B. Wells presided over her funeral. You can look up Ida B. Wells too—she was amazing!!!
- People like Glenn Burke, the first openly gay professional baseball player, who was also black. Burke played for the Dodgers in the 1970s, and endured slurs about his sexuality from fans and management alike. Despite a promising career, he was traded to the Oakland A’s in 1977 because, as one insider put it, “They didn’t want any gays on the Dodgers team.” He finally left professional baseball because, as he said, “I had finally gotten to the point where it was more important to be myself than a baseball player.”
I give thanks for these and so many others, whose stories continue to inspire and challenge us. And I give thanks for this table, where we can all truly gather as God’s children, where God locates us in a new story of compassion and justice. Where we are woven into one, big, beautiful, multi-colored, holy body, as real as the bread and the cup that we share.
Let us pray:
Holy One, open our hearts to the stories we all need to hear, and the structural changes we need to make, to further your love and justice in the world. Together make us your one body, resurrected and sent out into the world to share your love.