By Rev. Laquaan Malachi
On Sunday, May 31st, 2020, I found myself sitting in my office, two hours behind schedule, with no sermon written. I’m a manuscript preacher (I present using a script), but this particular morning I had no manuscript. In fact I had no sleep either. I spent the night before breaking the city's curfew, and therefore the law, in order to protect my neighbors, our local businesses and the church property from being torched or damaged by white supremacists. Together, with my neighbors and the assistance of a music school housed in our building, I was able to scrape together enough volunteers to participate in our neighborhood watch.
For seven nights in a row, we stood at our doors and windows reporting suspicious people and vehicles that descended upon our neighborhood each night. The threat was very real and we had a handful of scary moments, some of which were dangerous. In this moment of high stress and hyper-vigilance, our neighbors, across political lines, banded together to protect each other and to fill the gaps for one another.
At a time when we were seemingly abandoned by law enforcement to fend for ourselves, we discovered that together we were more than enough. Together, we were all we needed. Still, I am not so naive as to believe that we have completed the work of justice in our community—let alone the world—but we took a solid step together that week. Now, as the dust clears and we begin the long game, the focus shifts and it requires a different kind of commitment.
White folks, Christian or otherwise, often ask me what they can do to be better. I am by no means an expert, but I believe that two things in particular are especially necessary for white people to participate in liberating the oppressed and dismantling racism.
First, white people must grow thick skin. The work of anti-racism cannot afford to be halted every time a white person becomes uncomfortable or feels hurt. For Black people, this fight is life or death and we should not have to coddle white folks as we fight for our literal lives in our nation. The people who are pledged to protect us are constantly killing us. You have no right to ask us to be kind and polite to you. Because most of you stood by silently while the world continuously harmed us and many of you are still silent now.
To be Black in America is to be in a permanent limbo; a sort of purgatory. Even if you are willing to participate in this struggle now, I urge you to do so with a healthy dose of humility. We are not your charity case. We have our own leaders. We don’t need you to be in charge, unless we ask you. Before you can even begin the simple work of helping out, there needs to be true repentance and accountability for the ways in which your silence has caused harm. If you believe you have nothing to apologize for, your help is not needed.
The United Methodist Church has at best been absent in the struggle for black lives and liberation. In many instances, the church itself has been the agent of oppression. Churches all over America talk about wanting to be diverse without ever asking the hard, yet necessary questions: Why would Black people want to go to church with you? Why would that be to their benefit? Why do you want them there?
I have spent most of my adult Christian life in predominantly white spaces. In my experience, I was far more often wanted for my face or my skin than for my voice. Even my older Black mentors in our denomination have told me that being tokenized is inevitable. When my loud, unapologetic Black voice proclaims the truth as God puts it on my heart, then all of a sudden I am divisive, or burning bridges. If the truth makes me enemies, they are enemies I am proud to have. Our God is a God of the oppressed and God has promised us justice. White fragility gets in the way of justice. Centering your own emotions and feelings in not helpful and it distracts from the work.
The second way to be better: You can believe Black people. I cannot adequately underscore how important this is. It seems that in order for Black people to be believed we must have video evidence or a white person as a witness. Sometimes, we aren’t even believed when there is video.
None of the concerns that now have our nation’s attention are new. These injustices and the concerns of Black Americans are centuries old. We have nothing to gain from lying about our experiences in this country. To think that somehow Black people as a whole are on a coordinated, centuries-long campaign of untruth is not only demoralizing but incredibly disrespectful. I struggle to believe that we would not be where we are in this national moment if George Floyd’s murder was not caught on video. The cruelty that so many white people saw for the first time in those eight minutes and forty-six seconds is something we have been privy to our entire lives. Believe us when we tell you what is happening to us. Believe us when we tell you that there are better ways to provide safety than law enforcement. Believe us when we tell you that America has been unfair to us and The United Methodist Church has not done nearly enough.
Racism is America’s original sin. Methodism in its various forms, has been all too willing to benefit from this sin and we continue to benefit today. The fact that our churches are overwhelmingly white is not an innocent coincidence. In order to serve justice as God has called us to there must be real reconciliation and real reparations. There must be an understanding that the church’s participation in racism has caused damage that can never be fully repaired. This is a score that will never settle. Nothing less than a full commitment to equity and racial justice can help us begin to repair the harm that has been caused. It is time for the death of apathy.
Rev. Laquaan Malachi serves North UMC in Minneapolis.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church