On Thursday, May 21st, the ELCA’s Southeastern Synod hosted a Zoom Conversation with Bishop Kevin Strickland and Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, addressing the ELCA’s resolution to condemn White Supremacy and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. The video of this conversation is posted here.
I served as one of several panelists and was asked by some who watched to share my remarks, which follow:
I am a Black woman. I am a daughter, sister, cousin, friend, and pastor of Black women and men who get no days off from navigating systems built on a foundation of white supremacy.
I was asked to share from the lens of how leaders, young adults in the African descent community are responding to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery.
There is a weariness of engaging in the liturgy of adding another name, another hashtag to the list of Black bodies struck down for living life.
There is downright frustration that it took 10 weeks, a video, and a country full of people to bring visibility for Ahmaud’s killers to be arrested. And the recognition that an arrest, alone, is no indicator of justice – George Zimmerman, after all, was also arrested.
There’s talk around what I call Respectability Advocacy. There are people who stand for justice when the circumstance fits within the parameters of what is deemed acceptable in white frameworks.
In the case of Ahmaud Arbery, jogging is a respected activity – people jog every day. But, what if he wasn’t jogging. What if he was doing something else? Does the advocacy remain?
While not as visible, respectability is also seen in headlines around the killing of Breonna Taylor. She was an EMT, a first responder, an essential worker, killed in her bed. But, what if she had some other profession or no profession at all?
I remember talking to a bishop after the murder of Eric Garner. I remember saying, “Whatever one thinks about selling loose cigarettes, the fact is: selling loose cigarettes is not punishable by death.”
If you ran with Maud but never mentioned Eric, why is that?
In her book, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, Austin Channing-Brown writes:
Whiteness constantly polices the expressions of Blackness allowed within its walls, attempting to accrue no more than what’s necessary to affirm itself. It wants us to sing the celebratory “We Shall Overcome” during MLK Day but doesn’t want to hear the indicting lyrics of “Strange Fruit.” It wants to see a Black person seated at the table but doesn’t want to hear a dissenting viewpoint. It wants to pat itself on the back for helping poor Black folks through missions or urban projects but has no interest in learning from Black people’s wisdom, talent, and spiritual depth. Whiteness wants enough Blackness to affirm the goodness of whiteness, the progressiveness of whiteness, the openheartedness of whiteness. Whiteness likes a trickle of Blackness, but only that which can be controlled.
A conversation about Ahmaud leads to a conversation about everyday experiences of people of color. The risk Black people face in this country begins well before it becomes a hashtag. It is the everyday experience.
For some, it is easy to say, “No, I would never kill a Black person in my neighborhood!” Then, they strap on their sneakers and run 2.23 miles to prove it. But, when we’re talking about white supremacy, it is not just lived out in murderous acts.
White supremacy is also lived out in the mountainous microaggressions people of color experience daily.
It is lived out in predominately white leadership teams making decisions for ethnically diverse communities.
It is lived out in choosing to talk about white supremacy in a call to a senator but not in a call to a racist relative, colleague, or church member.
It is lived out in whole systems of people working together to circumvent, weaken, and dismantle the leadership of people of color in the church, community, and world.
White supremacy is felt in the daily acts so insidious the recipient of them still feels it in their gut hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades later.
Yet, despite it all, Black people continue to have an unequivocal resolve to keep going, to recognize the value of all God created us to be, even when others are still discerning whether or not they agree. A resilience rooted in our ancestral history to keep standing, to keep jogging, to keep using our voice to stand for better.
Still, like air, we rise.
You asked my hope…My hope is, if you run with Maud, then you no longer walk in the silence of oppressive systems that crush people of color daily in the church and the world. My hope is if you run with Maud, then you do not expect, encourage, or celebrate respectability. My hope is that if you run with Maud, as you commit to dismantling white supremacy, that as you commit to allyism, that your allyism moves past your place of comfort because if you are an ally only to the point of your discomfort, then you are not an ally.
–Rev. Tiffany C. Chaney