Preaching to White People About White Supremacy: Some Don’ts and More
By Rev. Karyn Carlo Ph.D., Board Member of WomanPreach, Inc. www. womanpreach.org
Collaborator, Nurturing Justice
The Womanpreach! Nation is all about finding our voices for prophetic preaching.
Among the most critical tasks of prophetic preaching today is preaching to white people about white supremacy. As a white woman working with womanists I often hear the phrase “ go get your cousins”
meaning some of my white “ relatives” are acting up with some racist nonsense and I, as their “ cousin” need to correct them. The problem is that most of my cousins don’t want to get got. To be honest I don’t always want to get got either. It is hard on the white ego. It hurts our white feelings and we have been trained from a young age that our feelings matter – even more than black lives. My cousins and I do not wear white hoods or generally associate with Nazis and may even have voted for President
Obama so we don’t identify as white supremacists. After all we are liberals and liberals can’t be white supremacists. Except we can and we are. No one who is born white in a white supremacist world such as ours can escape being deeply affected by our nation’s foundational sin, often unconsciously. Like all sin, we need to first face it. White people need to face the discomfort (and really that is all it is not the crisis
we make it out to be) of realizing that all white people perpetrate white supremacy, if not actively then by default. We need to hear that, like sin itself, white supremacy cannot be overcome in our lifetimes solely by our own efforts. We rely on God’s grace. Nonetheless we are still responsible for doing our best and very few of us (me and my cousins) really are doing our best. That is why we need prophetic preaching about white supremacy. We may not want it and you may not get a bunch of amens (or whatever else we culturally do to express appreciation) for mentioning it. In fact if my own experience preaching to white people about white supremacy is any indication, count on resistance. Big time. My cousins will fight you. Nonetheless, white people NEED to hear about the evils of white supremacy and prophetic preachers of all races need to preach about it both in the pulpit and out of the pulpit.
How? I am not sure. I am still trying to work it out. The most I can tell you at this point in my journey to go get my cousins and to go myself is what NOT to do. So here is my ever growing list of don’ts and more
don’ts when it comes to preaching to white people about white supremacy:
- Don’t rely solely on fact data. Of course white supremacy relies on lies and those lies need to be corrected. We have all been seriously miseducated and are in need of re-education regarding
the formation of white supremacy. However facts alone, most of which can be found via Google, are not enough. There needs to be a reason to WANT to pull our fingers out of our ears, stop singing lalala, and listen to a new, more truthful rendering of history than what we have heard before. That means making it personal. To be able to make it personal you, the preacher, need to first search your own soul. How has your own life been affected by the sin of white
supremacy? Start there.
- Don’t forget to work on yourself first. If you are white this work will include the layer by layer never-ending deconstruction of the internalized sense of race- based superiority we are inevitably afflicted with due to life as white in a white supremacist society. If you are black or brown a huge part of your work will be to deconstruct the internalized inferiority that comes from being designated “less than” in a white supremacist society. This work will never end but it must at least be begun and shared with others as the heart and foundation of the antiracist project.
- Don’t “ speak truth to power” as if power didn’t know. As a social justice activist, I often hear the admonition to “ speak truth to power. “ The more I engage in antiracist work however the
less useful I find this admonition to be. Power does not lack information. Those who play major roles in maintaining systems of white supremacy know the truth. That is why they manipulate it
so well. We do not need to educate white supremacists about white supremacy. They already wrote the book. The task of the prophet is to call for the destruction of oppressive systems not to tell them what they already know.
- Don’t put peace ahead of justice. In the midst of white discomfort and fragility expect to hear the word “ peace” a lot. Be careful with this. Ask yourself if these cries for peace are based on cries for justice. Usually they are not.
- Don’t strive for unity over truth. Another word you are likely to hear from well meaning liberals is “ unity” as if this was the ultimate goal. Consider instead what it is we need to unify with.
White supremacy is very unified, unified in its evil. Reconciliation has its moment but it cannot be rushed. Without justice at its foundation unity only perpetrates evil.
- Don’t depend on amens. Prophetic preaching is not the same as popular preaching. Just tell the truth as best as you know it. As we say at Womanpreach! trust God’s voice in your mouth.