Why it’s not time to ask people of color to be hopeful and pray for unity

Why it’s not time to ask people of color to be hopeful and pray for unity November 10, 2016
Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, Greenville, MS
The burned remains of Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church, Greenville, MS

All of us are trying to figure out what to say, and many of us are saying things that are hurtful without intending to be. Part of the problem is that social media is such a crazy reality. We type out what we think God has put on our hearts like it’s our own private journal. It doesn’t feel like we’re shouting into a bullhorn in the public square, which is how others receive us in their feed. So none of this is intended to piss all over the genuine compassion that you have in your heart. I’m not subtweeting anybody specifically. But I do need to say that it’s not time to ask people of color to be hopeful and pray for unity.

Those of us who are white need to understand what just happened. A man was just elected president specifically because of his openly white supremacist rhetoric that earned him the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan. I understand that many people who voted for him did so reluctantly because of the Supreme Court or because they were despairing over economic conditions, etc. But what made him victorious over every other Republican Party presidential candidate in the primary was his willingness to outdo every other candidate in his overt white supremacy. An overwhelming majority of people of color in this country voted against him. A strong majority of white people voted for him. So how are people of color not supposed to see this as the election where white people specifically voted against their humanity?

Do you see what an incredible slap in the face this election is? Can you recognize how it might sting for them to hear a white person saying now that this divisive, toxic presidential campaign is behind us, let’s pray for our new president and wish him the best? Yes, I get that you had the best intentions when you wrote that. Yes, I get that you’re genuinely trying. Please don’t take any of this as shaming. That’s not the point. The point is simply education and honest reflection. I’m trying to figure this out too.

Never in our nation’s history has a presidential candidate’s campaign been so explicitly and exclusively based on white nationalism. This is the equivalent of segregationist George Wallace winning the presidency in 1968. In the darkest days of the Civil Rights movement, the federal government was always ostensibly willing to stand up to state-level white terrorism against black people. Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson sent the National Guard to protect black children desegregating schools. That’s how the federal government became “evil” to southern white people. The segregationists always couched their ideology in “states’ rights.” The original “activist judges” on the Supreme Court were the ones who decided Brown vs.  Board of Education. This is all just straightforward history.

Segregationism seamlessly mushroomed into the “family values” movement, which simply sublimated race into the coded language of “welfare mamas” living on “government handouts” and aborting their babies. But there is no need for dog whistles anymore. It’s all out in the open now, which will only be helpful to the degree that white people are horrified and refuse to let this become the new normal. Wanna know what will prevent us from going down the road of Nazi Germany? If enough white people say no and shut the country down completely enough when they see it starting to happen. Fascism is normalized when well-intentioned people play nice and avoid conflict.

So is “praying for unity” yoking ourselves together with white supremacy? As the apostle Paul says, “How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14). It’s also true that 1 Peter 2:17 says to “honor the emperor” (who was a brutal, bloodthirsty man way worse than Donald Trump). There’s some real nuance there that we need to struggle with.

Yes, we should look for hope where we can. Yes, we should pray for Donald Trump. But we must be extremely delicate how we express this and absolutely avoid telling other people how they’re supposed to process the election. I realize that nobody is trying to lecture people of other races when they write things on Facebook. I realize that you’re probably just trying to give yourself a pep talk. But wrestle with this. Sit in the despair that others are experiencing instead of putting a quick-fix Jesus stamp on it. We have so much work to do and so much to learn.

Christian hope is not the accommodation of our society’s sin; it is the conviction that God’s justice will prevail despite the bleakest of circumstances. So when we’re praying, we should not be praying for the drama to go away and pleasantry to prevail. We should be praying for the raw beauty of genuine repentance to overtake all of us.

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