2020 was a year of such stress. My husband Tom had a difficult open-heart surgery. We were isolated from our families and church friends. We had to deal with new realities in our everyday constrained lives.
But in looking back, one reality stands out that seemed unbelievable a year ago. It is the reality of my white privilege. I discovered how privileged I am and how my privilege has affected others negatively. In May, when so many violent black deaths seemed to occur all at once, our Sunday school class was meeting on Zoom. We talked about our horror at these events and our shock that these things are still happening.
One of our members is Black and the mother of two daughters. She burst into tears because she has had to tell her daughters that they are not safe because they are Black. She went on to share numerous events in her life when she or her husband had been treated in racist ways.
This is a person I love, one who has brought so much knowledge and diversity to our fellowship. I was stunned, and I began to read and listen to all the voices around us that have been trying to make us aware of white privilege. It has humbled me and made me question the very structures of our society I have always taken for granted.
I read several books, including one recommended by the Conference: I am Black, I am Christian, I am United Methodist. The voices in this book are those of our Christian leaders who happen to be Black.
Their experiences are profoundly different from those of us who are white. The Rev. Justin Coleman, senior pastor at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, N.C., describes the different reality black ministers face in predominantly white churches. He uses a term coined by W.E.B. Dubois, “double consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others. One consciousness is your African American heritage and the other is a consciousness born out of white supremacy.”
Another book that has influenced me is Love is the Way, by Bishop Michael Curry, head of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Curry’s memoir is filled with wisdom and love. Late in the book he says, “Plenty of good people hold tight to the belief that American society is color blind, because to believe otherwise is far too painful. Their ignorance, in turn, causes great pain.”
I cannot ever take the systems that have nurtured me for granted again, because they have had the opposite effect on so many. I know I must participate in changing these systems. This would have seemed unbelievable to me a year ago.
Laura Derr is a member and the mobile food pantry coordinator at First United Methodist Church of Farragut in Knoxville, Tennessee.