The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
In doing my research into white privilege and white America’s ongoing investment in whiteness, I discovered something of deep and profound spiritual significance.
Whites are haunted by the spirits of ancestors whose lingering wounds from their complicity with racism and race hate can only be healed by actions we, their living heirs, commit to now. The eradication of racism and race hate is the work of white descendants of the white perpetrators of this pernicious evil; and that work is necessary for the souls of our dearly departed to rest in peace. Our commitments to race equity will not only allow for the healing of a nation, but the healing of ancestors crying out from the grave who must atone for either their active or passive complicity with racism, white privilege, and white supremacy.
Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream. It wasn’t just black America that was inspired by his dream. White America itself was stirred by it. And yet whites remain fully committed to perpetuating structures that give them higher income, more lucrative jobs, better education, and quicker access to power; or if that is stated too strongly, then we can put it this way. Whites are not sufficiently motived by King’s dream to dismantle the systems that continue to advantage them economically because they are white.
We have, to use a biblical image, exchanged our birthright for a pot of stew. In other words, we willingly accept the baubles of an imbalanced economic scale and ignore the price to our spiritual wholeness and well-being. We do this now without thinking too long and hard about it because the systems that benefit us are fully in place. They exist without our needing to build or invent them. Therefore we do not feel guilty about having created them (that work was done by the white architects of this massive injustice who died long before most of us were born). We live with the spoils of our ill-gotten gain without reconciling ourselves to the costs it demands on our spiritual well-being.
A more disciplined and deeper examination of their collective spiritual well-being would reveal that whites are not only suffering from their own deep and existential pain from the perpetuation racial injustice, but would also reveal the cries of ancestors needing their own eternal healing from wounds they inflicted and have passed on to the generations that followed.
Whites need to abandon the notion that their work to eradicate racism is a collective effort to do something good for other races. The truth is, that kind of altruistic impulse has never really advanced the cause of racial equity very far.
Whites should instead commit to hearing the cries of their ancestors and work to heal the wound that has been inflicted on them when they exchanged their birthright for the trappings of this world.
The work of racial equity invites whites to entrust the building of a new and more just world to those who have been most marginalized by the world whites built.
True healing will come when whites both confess their sin and release from their grasp the spoils and trappings of a wealth their honest labor did not produce.
True healing will come when whites believe their healing, and the healing of the souls of their ancestors, can only come when they are free of the shackles that bind them and attach them to a wealth that is not theirs to possess.
This week, we all celebrate the gift of the dreamer. We all pray for the courage it will take to heal a nation wounded by the evil of racism. And we ask to see with new eyes the pathways we are asked to walk that lead to justice, peace, and racial equity. Let the spirit of God’s peace and justice abide with us as we travel our way Into the Mystic.