The Pandemic of Racism

Posted: May 29, 2020 | Author: wtmcalilly | Filed under: Bishop’s Blog

In January I was privileged to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. It is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. The memorial structure is constructed with over 800 steel monuments, one for each county in the United States where a racial terror lynching took place. The names of the lynching victims are engraved on the columns.

Among the first names that I saw were Calvin McDowell, Thomas Moss, and Henry Stewart, three men who were lynched in Shelby County, Tennessee. As I made my way through the memorial, I found — Davis and Harvey Mayberry who were lynched in Lee County, Mississippi, the county of my birth. Historical records did not include the first name for — Davis, but a child of God, nonetheless.

County after county, state after state, name after name after name. Four thousand and seventy-five lynchings are documented in twelve states between 1877 and 1950.

There was a spiritual and moral crisis in our land.

There IS STILL a spiritual and moral crisis in our land.

As a white man of privilege, I have no idea what it is like for my black brothers and sisters to daily worry about their children, who, simply because of the color of their skin, live in fear that one of their children could die a senseless death. I listen. I seek understanding. But the truth is: I do not have to live with the trauma and fear, the emotional and psychological impacts of racism.

If you are a white person think about what it would be like to have that fear, that stress every day of your life.

Alisha Moreland-Capuia, executive director of Oregon Health & Science University’s Avel Gordly Center for Healing, which focuses on culturally sensitive care for the African American community said: “The emotional and psychological impact of racism means acutely, every day, being reminded that you are not enough, being reminded that you are not seen, being reminded that you are not valued, being reminded that you are not a citizen, being reminded that humanity is not something that applies to you.”[1]

When Covid-19 came on our radar three months ago, we had no idea it would include a racial disparity in those who would become ill and bear the most deaths.

Some have suggested that another pandemic we face is the sin of racism.

On that cold January day, I read name after name of just some of the four thousand and seventy-five lynching victims.

Today, we have our own tragic list.

George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Eric Garner. Philado Castile. Trayvon Martin. And so many more. There is grief among us because of the sin of racism.

I ask myself, I ask you, what is the response for people of faith? In particular, what do the people called Methodist, followers of Jesus, do in the face of the rise of the pandemic of racism. My colleague Bishop Bruce Ough suggests that “we are compelled to address this pandemic with the same intensity and intentionality with which we are addressing COVID-19.”[2]

With Bishop Ough, here is one beginning response:

First, we name the sin: racism.

Second, we confess our own participation in perpetuating this sin and our complicity in it.

Third, we stand against any and all expressions of racism and white supremacy, beginning with the racial, cultural, and class disparities in our state and country that are highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fourth, we sound the clarion call for the eradication of racism. We challenge governmental leaders who fan the flames of racial division for political gain.

Fifth, we examine our own attitudes and actions; all change begins with transformed hearts continually yielding to the righteousness and love of God.

Bishop Ough concludes: “Let us not turn away or ignore the disease that has been tearing our country apart and destroying lives for centuries. This disease—the sin of racism and white supremacy—denies the teachings of Jesus and our common, created humanity. Let us renew our efforts to eradicate the disease that truly threatens our ideals and the lives, livelihoods, and dignity of so many of our neighbors.”[3]

We are a long way away from the vision of the Beloved Community about which Martin Luther King taught.

In this particular part of God’s kingdom, may our hearts and minds be united as we seek to create a more just, human and Christ embodied world. If it is to be so, it begins with you and me. Now.

In the midst of this strange season of Covid-19, this is our moral imperative.

May Christ show us the way.

Bishop McAlilly