Early June, my daughters, Sydney and Kaylee, my husband, Horace, and I, sent a letter to our entire family asking them to join us in a study to educate ourselves in ways we are complicit and complacent in racism and to learn how we can do better. We believe we are all being called in this painful time to engage ourselves, our nuclear families, our extended families, our neighbors, and our wider communities in antiracism work.
The book we chose to use was Me & White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad.
Racism was a topic that was never discussed in my family growing up, though we were planted in the deep south during the 50’s, 60’ and 70’s. Even as adults when we gathered for holidays, weddings and funerals, the subject was never broached.
It was with great trepidation on my part that we attempt this subject with family. I already knew to stay away from the subject of politics.
We sent the letter to about 30 family members and only had two takers. I was extremely disappointed - especially at some of the excuses we heard, but nevertheless two were better than none, plus we were planning on doing the book study with or without any additional family members. Our commitment was to 28 days of short readings and reflective journaling. Sunday evenings we met on Zoom for an hour of sharing learnings and experiences from the previous week’s journaling.
The learnings I had from this experience took me by surprise, even though I have been a part of anti-racism task forces/organizations over the last 25 years. The book is structured to help a person of white privilege, like me, understand and take ownership of my participation in this system and to help me take responsibility for dismantling the way this system manifests, both within myself and my community.
To quote Layla Saad, “The system of white supremacy was not created by anyone who is alive today. But it is maintained and upheld by everyone who holds white privilege - whether or not you want it or agree with it.” Peggy McIntosh describes white privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was meant to remain oblivious.”
I learned a new vocabulary that lives within racism and my participation. A personal example has to do with “White Fragility.” Robin DiAngelo defines “White Fragility” as a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable triggering a range of defensive moves.” When I was in seminary in the mid 90’s, I participated in a “Women of Color and White Women’s Dialogue Group”. It consisted of women from 9 seminaries in the Chicago area coming together once a month over a pot luck meal and conversation about race. We had 30-50 women participating with typically ⅓ women of color. The sharing of horrific life stories and shameful. Many times, I wanted to skip going to the group meetings because I did not want to feel the deep pain of their lived experiences. I kept going back, but I realize now that it was my “White Fragility” that made me want to turn off - escape and not deal with their reality. And it was part of my “White Privilege” that gave me the choice to be able to get away from it or turn it off.
As part of the Building Bridges/Anti-Racism task force Horace and I are inviting you to join us in January as we facilitate 28 days of reading and reflective journaling using the book Me & White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad.
Sign-up by calling the Synod office or online by clicking HERE. Our meet time will be 1pm on Sundays, beginning January 3rd. We will get back to you after you register for connecting on Zoom for our 28-day journey. Make sure you have the book or Kindle edition by then because we will begin the journaling January 4th and meet every Sunday by Zoom for the month of January to discuss our learnings.
Peace and Joy,
Reverend Jenny L. Pratt