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.
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