White supremacy is a health emergency for Black bodies, webinar speaker says

The United States must name white supremacy as a health crisis. And the church needs to lead the way.

That was a key point in the latest episode of a United Church of Christ webinar series.

“The State of Black Bodies,” now available at the UCC YouTube channel, featured Dean Kelly Brown Douglas of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.

The Rev. Velda Love, UCC minister of racial justice, moderated the April 6 Zoom webinar, simulcast on YouTube. It was part of an ongoing series, “The State of the Matter,” offered by Justice and Local Church Ministries. Organizers call the series a counterpoint to the traditional U.S. State of the Union address.

The Rev. Traci Blackmon, associate general minister for JLCM, introduced Douglas as a theologian, professor and author of several books, including “Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.”

‘Crucifying realities’

“It is long past time to declare white supremacy a health emergency, a national health emergency,” Douglas said. Since the founding of the U.S., she said, Black bodies have faced “crucifying realities” that are “the co-morbidities of white supremacy.”

“That which COVID laid bare to some has been the state of Black bodies since this nation’s founding.”

Dean Kelly Brown Douglas

“Black bodies have been disproportionately trapped in conditions that promote and foster death, not life,” she said. She mentioned chronic effects of white supremacy, such as poverty, hunger, police violence, poisoned water, inadequate housing, education and health care. And she discussed the impact of COVID-19 on people of color. To some people, she said, COVID revealed “the realities of an often-ignored pandemic in this country, which is the pandemic of white supremacy.”

But to people who were already “on the underside and impacted by the realities of white supremacy,” that was nothing new.

“That which COVID laid bare to some has been the state of Black bodies in this nation since this nation’s founding,” Douglas said. “Because this nation was founded upon a white supremacist identity.”

‘Moral imaginary of what is possible’

“That’s the role of people of faith: to open up the moral imaginary of what justice looks like.”

Dean Kelly Brown Douglas

Douglas also laid out a faith foundation for what the church should do. She discussed:

  • Jesus. “He wasn’t put on the cross because he prayed too much. That he was crucified reveals his utter solidarity with the crucified classes of people in his day.”
  • Justice. “The only way toward justice — and that’s what the cross tells us — you’ve got to go through the cross, you’ve got to go through those people who have been under the crucifiying realities of injustice … Otherwise those folks that have enjoyed the privileges of an unjust system, the privileges of a white supremacist system, will begin to confuse their privilege with justice. But those people who have not enjoyed any privilege will never do that. They’ll recognize justice when we don’t recognize justice.”
  • Vision. “That’s the role of people of faith: to open up the moral imaginary of what is possible, to open up the moral imaginary of what justice looks like. And that is defined by our accountability to God’s future … where there will be no first, there will be no last, because everybody will be treated and respected as the sacred human beings that they are.”
  • The Golden Rule. She urged people to embrace a converse of Jesus’ familiar “Do unto others” saying from Matthew 7. “Do not withhold from another that which you would not want withheld from yourself.” Any approach that withholds such things “doesn’t reflect a just and loving God.”

Pushing against white supremacy

The church, Douglas said, should “push us to be a nation that is in some ways free from the culture of sin that is white supremacy.” Among the possibilities:

  • Declaring the emergency. “We have to force the nation, as we are in this health pandemic, to declare white supremacy itself a national health emergency.” The church, she said, should push not only the U.S. administration and federal agencies to do this, but local elected officials and state health agencies as well. “Change radiates up. And it radiates from those people who’ve experienced the realities of the unjust power that trickles down.”
  • Creating a task force. “It is time for this nation to put together a task force to try to diagnose and come up with solutions to this national health crisis that is white supremacy, and to be sure on that task force are historians, economists, faith leaders, etc.”
  • Addressing police violence. “Instead of thinking about policing and policing communities, we have to build just communities. Just communities are safe communities … Sometimes you need a social worker, you need a pastor, you need a psychologist – you need something else, but you don’t need police. The faith community has to lead the way.”

‘The sin that created the breach’

Beyond specific strategies, though, Douglas returned repeatedly to the need to root out what she called the “original sin” of white supremacy in the U.S.

“We have to repair the breach between our unjust present and God’s just future.”

Dean Kelly Brown Douglas

As an example, she mentioned current calls for reparations, the “social economic kind of repair” that will “help people gain wealth.” “I certainly believe reparations are important,” she said.

“But here’s the thing. And this is where we have to be driven by another sort of sense of justice … We aren’t addressing the sin that created the breach in the first place. And so we can apologize, we can throw money at it, and things just keep on going the way they are and white supremacy stays intact … We are never really doing anything but living within a cycle of sin, and making that sin a little more palatable, but not doing anything to eradicate the sin itself.”

What the church must help repair, she said, is “the breach between the way things are and the way things are supposed to be … We have to repair the breach between our unjust present and God’s just future.”

Categories: United Church of Christ News

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