White-Centered Me

I’ve been attending lots of Zoom meetings on racism along my reparations journey. It’s got me listening to myself. What do I hear? Me. Little ol’ white-centered me.

I used to talk about the ways my family was on the right side of history. “My grandfather refused to join the White Citizens Council.” “My great-grandfather outlawed convict leasing in Mississippi.”

Now, I tell the ways my family was on the wrong side of history. “My great-grandfather started Parchman Farm.” “My great-great-grandfather instigated the Vicksburg Massacre.” Closer to the larger truth, but still me. In fact, the telling is two sides of the same coin. The result is that, even when discussing the need for reparative action, whiteness remains centered.

Truth Telling

Yes, truth-telling is important. It’s the first step in Becoming Beloved Community. However, I’m coming to believe there comes a time in this journey where the focus has to change. We still engage in truth-telling. But as God calls us to move from the cross to the Upper Room, so we are called to stop focusing on the white people in the story.

Respect or White Centeredness

At one of these Zoom meetings, a woman was talking about reparations. She quoted a descendant of those enslaved as saying, “We don’t want your stinking money. We want your respect.”

Yes and no.

Descendants of slavery are due monetary reparations the way Japanese Americans were due monetary damages for their internment during WWII. Or the Italians in New Orleans were due money for that city’s notorious lynching.

Yes, the goal should be respect. Maybe we get to respect by telling the story differently. Quit pounding on what white-centered Americans did wrong. Shift from a story of African American victimhood to a story of heroism. We can start by telling the truth about what African Americans did to make America the democracy our ideological principals claimed we wanted to be.

A Less White-Centered Journey

How might this change the way I pursue my reparations journey?

That insight will be shared soon.

TO BE CONTINUED: How to pursue a less white-centered reparations journey

White-centered is haughty
A reminder not to be haughty, which white-centeredness is.

becoming beloved community, my reparations journey, Reparations, reparations warnings, reparative action in your family, southern reparations, white-centered, white-centeredness

Comments (6)

  • Your journey is fascinating, and I so appreciate your honesty. We White people always want to talk, to tell our side of things, especially if we feel we’re on the righteous side. Have you ever seen the movie Blue Collar with Richard Pryor and Harvey Keitel? It was made in 1978 and is ostensibly a crime drama. We watched it last night. I say ostensibly because the movie dealt with race and class differences and how those in power always manage to turn people against each other. Anyway, you might find it interesting.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      “Especially if we feel we’re on the righteous side.” This is what I began feeling during these Zoom calls–that merely being honest about our family histories created righteousness in us. It made me uncomfortable. I haven’t seen that movie, but I’ll put it on my list——thank you!

  • Yes, every being needs and deserves respect. I think that one of the challenges for devising a plan for physical reparations is that different individuals will need/want/find different kinds of reparations meaningful. For some, it might be return of stolen or destroyed land or property; for others, educational access. Some will prefer monetary payments over time and the chance to pass on generational wealth. I hope that wisdom will prevail when governments take on this long-delayed task.

    Thank you, Ellen, for taking us on your personal reparations journey. I look forward to reading about the next step.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Such an important point, Joanne. Individuation. And I love your optimism that governments will, indeed, take on this task. <3
      Part II coming soon. 🙂

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