Hi, my name is Clint Schnekloth and I’m a racist.
On the gaming podcast I listen to, they always ask game developers how they first got into gaming, so I guess you could ask me, “How did you first get into racism?”
I’d start by mentioning my white German family bought farm land originally belonging to the Kickapoo, Sauk and Meskwaki but sold by the French to the United States.
Growing up, I was taught dozens of racist jokes in school and church camp. My dad taught me that black people were inferior to whites, lazier, not as smart, etc., although there were individual exceptions. The Bell Curve was read and discussed. I didn’t know any Jews but I learned about their interest in all matters financial.
I attended a predominately white Lutheran college in northeastern Iowa, and was trained in a predominately white seminary in St. Anthony Park, Minnesota. Much of the structural racism in these places I simply wasn’t aware of. Philando Castille was assassinated by the police just blocks from Luther Seminary, but what I remember of living there was African international students telling odd stories about police officers stopping them on their walks in area neighborhoods.
I certainly was not aware that systems of racism benefitted me every step of the way.
One part of my racism was trained prejudice. The other part was ignorance.
I think the first time I really started to “see” my own racism was during a cultural immersion training during seminary. This will sound odd to some of you, but I did my cultural immersion in downtown Milwaukee.
I lived with an African-American pastor and his family for a month, and spent time at urban black churches, along with churches involved in social justice and community organizing.
This was the first time I ever saw Jet the magazine, and read it. This was the first time I read James Cone. It was the first time I was the minority, and while walking a sidewalk in Milwaukee, the first time a police car pulled over to ask me and another white seminary student why we were walking in the neighborhood.
In the Milwaukee of that time, you could drive for miles and miles and miles and not find any stores or businesses. Unemployment was at 40%. And the white flight suburbs surrounding Milwaukee had all organized as community groups to ensure no buses went all the way from urban Milwaukee out to the suburbs where the jobs were. Bussing stopped at the edge of the city.
It was a during this time, I’m not sure when, that it finally clicked for me that racism was not prejudice, not racial animus. I could like individual black people, and still be racist.
Racism was about power and privilege connected to my race.
Like a lot of racists, I spent a good amount of time in denial of my racism. Racism is like alcoholism… denial is part of the disease.
When I finally started to work on my racism was when I got over the guilt and shame, and was able to simply confess… I’m a racist.
Lutherans believe in confession and forgiveness, so here my spiritual roots helped. I started confessing, I’m a racist, and trusted that God forgives an open and honest confession of sin.
Shame and guilt are wastes of energy. The structure for repentance and renewal only involves them enough to get to the confession. Once we confess, we receive God’s forgiveness, and then the next steps are clear.
First, make reparations. Strive to repair what is broken, or has been broken.
Then, and only then, also hope for reconciliation.
This is where a lot of racist whites short-circuit the equation. They want reconciliation without reparations, which means the communities they have harmed through their racism have to contribute to the healing at a level equal to the whites.
This is a problem. Better is for racists to confess, seek forgiveness, and then work on reparations.
In other words, instead of saying, “I’m not a racist,” say, “I’m committed to anti-racism.”
Anti-racism takes many forms. For sure, it includes some learning, some internal work.
Anti-racism work also includes material reparations. Many examples of this exist: churches can contribute to reparations funds, individuals can commit to funding the work of black artists and businesses, all of us can give to organizations doing anti-racism work.
In the present moment in the United States, as we witness continued police brutality, black bodies crucified by the police, we all wonder what we can do locally.
One thing we can do is make sure that those who we place in positions of authority are committed to anti-racism work.
Ask: which is a higher priority to leaders? The voice of Native American students, or the white nostalgia of junior high alumni?
Ask: How are you committed to our schools, county, city, actively engaging in anti-racism work?
If the candidates say, “I’m not a racist,” and they’re white, they’re in denial.
Returning to my own work, I have a long, long way to go. I’m still immensely complicit.
I didn’t even know until I was 42 years old that black Wall Street in Tulsa was bombed by whites.
I didn’t really learn until 2020 that Malcolm X and MLK Jr. came to considerable agreement before they were martyred.
I didn’t learn until 2019 that the Black Panthers basically are responsible for public school breakfast programs.
I’ve got a long way to go, and I want to keep working on it.
Denial isn’t Christian. Confession is. Christian Scripture records repeatedly how awful the people of God were, the Israelites were, the disciples were, and yet God was faithful.
Saying I’m not a racist is like saying I’m not a sinner.
When we deny we are sinners, we deny God’s grace.
My name is Clint Schnekloth, and I’m a racist. By the grace of God, I’m finding creative ways to work on anti-racism.