I am furious. James Baldwin describes the reason, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” This rage can be numbing and disorientating and often futile (without focus). Now, it appears that to be white in America and to be relatively conscious is to express grief about racial injustice and violence. Often this grief is the product of awareness, a shock to the veneer of white identities. It is often shown as statements of sadness or shock or subtle denials of the reality of America. (There is an obvious counter to this—the outright denial of systemic and systematic racism. This is worthy of its own article and there is a wonderful book by Carol Anderson, White Rage that unpacks this.)
My point in writing this article is to argue for more than mere awareness and emotionality.
Conversations about race and racism often spend a significant portion of time existing in a space of grief, anger, and denial. They need to move forward so that we can move forward. People of color are traumatized enough and need white allies that see that and then want to take up the mantle to the very least, stand beside the victimized. Audre Lorde in The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism describes where we are this way:
I cannot hide my anger to spare you guilt, nor hurt feelings, nor answering anger; for to do so insults and trivializes all our efforts.
Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge.
Yet all too often, guilt is another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.
So, where do we go from here? We don’t need more “woke white people,” cool with receiving the knowledge of our pain but not so cool with the consequences of said knowledge.
We also do not need to continue to traumatize ourselves as we feed on injustice done to us. (Free advice: turn off autoplay on social media platforms.)
We need people who are willing to focus on what matters to them. Not every person is called to fight for every cause, but every person is called to be more than sensitive when confronted with injustice. More than nice.
We need focus. Justice work is broad, and it calls to people to do justice and live justly where they are.
The challenge for white Christians [people] is to recognize that the baseline for Christian [human] decency is farther away than it looks. It demands more than being nice and kind to black and brown people. Rather, it demands active participation in anti-racism. Key in on the adjective, “active.” Active means vocal, present, aware, listening, challenging, costly…yes it is costly.
Nice is never sacrificial, thus it is an inadequate replacement for love. Kind is or can be a display of love but it is not a replacement for love. Only love can fill the void of love.
Ernest Lewis, Jr., is first and foremost a child of God. He is a double graduate from Wake Forest University where he majored in Music and Religion as well as received a Master of Arts in Management. In 2007, he was the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. “Building a Dream Award” at Wake Forest University. Ernest is a freelance composer, arranger, conductor and musician. He created a band that worked with the Wake Forest Gospel Choir for the first time in the choir’s 30-year history. He has served as minister of music and head musician for the Wake Forest University Gospel Choir and lead keyboardist at Piedmont International Church.
He is a 2015 graduate of Elon University School of Law where he served in multiple leadership capacities. While at Elon University School of Law, Ernest served as the SBA Secretary for the 2013-2014 school year. He has served as a case manager for the school’s Innocence Project. During the summer of 2014, he was selected to be a MLK Fellowship Intern with Legal Aid of North Carolina. This position allowed him to work a variety of clients on various public interest areas. Ernest Lewis is an Elon University School of Law Leadership Fellow. As a Leadership Fellow, he has served in various roles, particularly as an editor, interviews editor and Co-Editor-in Chief of the Elon University of School of Law Journal of Law and Leadership. Throughout his educational career, he has focused on leadership not just as a concept but as an essential element to his life as a student and as a future attorney.