Confessions of a Racist
by Marjorie Prince
I am a racist. Racism is not a condition that I chose, but I am and have been a participant in and beneficiary of a society built on racism. My continuing job is to become anti-racist in word and deed.
Confession of sin is not the end of racism but is a crucial first step in becoming anti-racist. James 5:16 tells us to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” John 1:9-10 teaches that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
White people who deny that they are racist (like Donald Trump) ignore white history, culture and institutions. The whole concept of modern policing in the U.S., for example, grew out of the slave patrols which were created to track down black people (both slaves and free) and return them to bondage so whites could continue their comfortable way of life. Black people built the wealth of whites.
Although institutional police racism too often results in black deaths, all U.S. institutions from banks and home sales and rental agencies to schools, businesses, churches, community groups, labor organizations, and health care facilities perpetuate white privilege. Confessing our participation in this institutional racism is the first step in acting to change these institutions and become anti-racist.
Action is especially urgent now when the coronavirus pandemic exposes the racism pandemic. More African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans die from COVID-19 than whites. Why? More people of color work at essential, but low-paying jobs, lack access to stable and uncrowded housing, are denied access to medical care, and are pushed into toxic and environmentally unsafe neighborhoods.
Slavery in the U.S. is our original sin. Whites need not feel guilty about what our white ancestors did, but we need to identify how we perpetuate racial inequities and work to abolish them. As the late civil rights activist and Georgia Congressman John Lewis taught us: we must embrace “good trouble” and speak out against injustice wherever we find it. As old and frequently disabled people (Marjorie lives in Mount St. Vincent in West Seattle), we find it difficult physically to march, but we can support those who do with our prayers and our dollars. We can encourage young activists who speak truth to power. We can vote for people who tell the truth and reject those who try to prevent black people and poor people from voting. We can speak of justice in every church or group in which we belong and point out how specific policies and practices can change to reflect racial equality. We can write letters and make telephone calls to our national, state, county, and local officials supporting anti-racist legislation and effective enforcement of it.
We can admire non-violent protestors on the front lines of change. We can relieve the Seattle Police Department of the responsibility of dealing with the homelessness, mental illness, and addiction and transfer that responsibility to experts in their respective fields. We can also demand stricter regulation of the sale and use of guns.
Defunding the Seattle Police Department means transferring a large portion of the money currently spent on deadly weapons and military machinery to reparations to the black community. Some elected leaders may not agree, but if we don’t ask for justice now, when will we? After confessing our sin of inaction and eliminating personal and systematic racism comes repentance, which is intentional action to become anti-racist. I invite all the Mount St. Vincent to join me in this faith journey. We must act to make Black Lives Matter a reality in our lifetime.