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Tim Wise on “violence” and anti-racism efforts: “they do not know it and they do not want to know it”

Tim Wise on “violence” and anti-racism efforts: “they do not know it and they do not want to know it”

For many decades now, throughout most dioceses and many institutions of the Episcopal Church, anti-racism efforts have been an important part of Episcopalians striving to fulfill our Baptismal Covenant promise to “respect the dignity of every human being.” In February, the Episcopal Café covered the most recent work of The Executive Council Committee on Anti-racism (ECCAR) meeting. But how effective have these efforts been in an Episcopal Church largely led by white clergy and lay leaders and in dioceses whose very financial foundation is directly tied to the legacy of chattel slavery? How willing are white Episcopalians, especially those with economic and political power at the parish level and diocesan levels, to face difficult truths about the intersection of economic and racial violence done largely by white Americans in our own communities and abroad? How might that lead to repentance?

In a recent essay Tim Wise, a white anti-racist educator and author, challenges white Americans -especially those with power and economic advantage-by holding up a mirror to white America and challenging mainstream media coverage of reactions to the recent uprising in Baltimore:

It is bad enough that much of white America sees fit to lecture black people about the proper response to police brutality, economic devastation and perpetual marginality, having ourselves rarely been the targets of any of these. It is bad enough that we deign to instruct black people whose lives we have not lived, whose terrors we have not faced, and whose gauntlets we have not run, about violence; this, even as we enjoy the national bounty over which we currently claim possession solely as a result of violence. I beg to remind you, George Washington was not a practitioner of passive resistance. Neither the early colonists nor the nation’s founders fit within the Gandhian tradition. There were no sit-ins at King George’s palace, no horseback freedom rides to affect change. There were just guns, lots and lots of guns.

We are here because of blood, and mostly that of others; here because of our insatiable and rapacious desire to take by force the land and labor of those others. We are the last people on Earth with a right to ruminate upon the superior morality of peaceful protest. We have never believed in it and rarely practiced it. Rather, we have always taken what we desire, and when denied it we have turned to means utterly genocidal to make it so.

Which is why it always strikes me as precious the way so many white Americans insist (as if preening for a morality contest of some sorts) that “we don’t burn down our own neighborhoods when we get angry.” This, in supposed contrast to black and brown folks who engage in such presumptively self-destructive irrationality as this. On the one hand, it simply isn’t true. We do burn our own communities, we do riot, and for far less valid reasons than any for which persons of color have ever hoisted a brick, a rock, or a bottle.We do so when our teams lose the big game or win the big game; or because of something called Pumpkin Festival; or because veggie burritos cost $10 at Woodstock ’99 and there weren’t enough Porta-Potties by the time of the Limp Bizkit set; or because folks couldn’t get enough beer at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake; or because surfers (natch); or St. Patty’s Day in Albany; or because Penn State fired Joe Paterno; or because it’s a Sunday afternoon in Ames, Iowa; and we do it over and over and over again. Far from mere amateur hooliganism, our riots are indeed violent affairs that have been known to endanger the safety and lives of police, as with the infamous 1998 riot at Washington State University…

On the other hand, it is undeniably true that when it comes to our political anger and frustration (as contrasted with that brought on by alcohol and athletics) we white folks are pretty good at not torching our own communities. This is mostly because we are too busy eviscerating the communities of others—those against whom our anger is aimed. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Panama, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Manila, and on down the line.

When you have the power you can take out your hatreds and frustrations directly upon the bodies of others. This is what we have done, not only in the above mentioned examples but right here at home. The so-called ghetto was created and not accidentally. It was designed as a virtual holding pen—a concentration camp were we to insist upon honest language—within which impoverished persons of color would be contained. It was created by generations of housing discrimination, which limited where its residents could live. It was created by decade after decade of white riots against black people whenever they would move into white neighborhoods. It was created by deindustrialization and the flight of good-paying manufacturing jobs overseas.”

Ahead of the 2015 General Convention in Salt Lake City, how might white Episcopalians join in solidarity with African-Americans in the Episcopal Church and in the world for racial reconciliation and economic justice as it once did under the leadership of Presiding Bishop John Hines during the General Convention Special Program of 1969?  What might the 2015 General Convention do differently to learn from the mistakes of Episcopalians in 1969?


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Philip B. Spivey

I wish to thank the Cafe for inviting the wisdom of Time Wise to our table; Tim is one of the smartest and most courageous people I know. As for the question: How can TEC join with its African-American sisters and brothers? — I have the following three recommendations:

1. Kit has suggested that white folks sit down and listen; I would further encourage them to and listen and listen and listen. Don’t make this a one-off; Black folks have a lot to say because we’ve been silenced for generations. Think of it as the beginning of a sorely needed truth and reconciliation process.

2. Cynthia has astutely noted that we’ve asked these questions before and guess what? We’re still here. I would recommend that we first acknowledge that we’re still here and consider making the kind of structural changes to our church that incorporates and welcomes the African-American world view(s). And that can only happen when a significant number of Black—and other people of color— in positions of power who can be heard and seen beyond their parishes. There’s strength in numbers with the power to influence and provide leadership in the Church; let’s shepherd the Church’s non-white folks from the margins and into the centers of power. Affirmative Action? No. Removing generations of barriers? Yes.
3. Finally, as Tim Wise indicates, White Riots are legion in American history. But, I take exception to calling what happened in Baltimore a riot. Language is a powerful tool for good and for bad. In my way of thinking, “riots” occurred in Rosewood, Florida and Greenwood, Oklahoma in the early 20th century. Then, the white town’s folk burned prosperous Black neighborhoods to the ground. I would call that a “riot”. What happened in Baltimore was a “rebellion” or what some might call, an “uprising”.

Violence? As one African-American teenager in Sandtown blurted: “Since when is a broken window the same as a broken spine?”

Cynthia Katsarelis

What’s frustrating is that we were doing this 20 years ago in my parish in Cincinnati. It just didn’t seem controversial to have programs and talks. It was very, very gracious of our African American parishioners to speak honestly with me and others.

But now I’m in an all white parish in a big city. Most everyone is nice and would identify as liberal to moderate, but we seem challenged to even talk about racism and social justice. And we have problems in our very own neighborhood. It is hard to get the energy and conversation going. It would be easier if the bishop just said “I want these to happen, here’s a facilitator…” It would break the ice… I guess. I hope.

Donna McNiel

I think much of the problem in denominational anti-racism training is the training itself. (Not only TEC’s.) Visions, Inc., that EDS uses, is a dramatically different process that begins with everyone identifying places of privilege and places of oppression. Starting with shared experience changes everything. I agree, largely, with Kit. Mutual sharing often needs to begin with those of us who enjoy a great deal of privilege being quiet and simply listening.

Kit Carlson

Start by letting African-Americans lead. Lead the conversation, lead the exploration, lead the change. And white folks (myself included) should shut up, listen, and follow their lead, sharing our privilege and our strength in ways that African-Americans feel are most beneficial.

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