Contributed by Andrew Krinks
The process of coming into consciousness about—in order to unlearn—white supremacy can be overwhelming or embarrassing for folks who have spent their lives in a culture of ignorance or avoidance of the subject. But a state of being overwhelmed, guilty, or afraid is less than conducive to fruitful, long haul participation in the work of co-creating a more just world. So what are white folks—including white folks of faith—to do?
- Listen: I am still learning myself, but what I know is that in order to unlearn white supremacy, we must first learn what it is, how it works, and how it keeps on reinventing itself. This means listening carefully to the voices and experiences of people of color in our communities, but without simply asking black people to explain racism to us or tell us what we should do about it. To that end, we should seek out other white folks who have been thinking on these matters and engage in mutual learning, unlearning, and support towards transformation.
- Educate Ourselves: This means reading about European colonialism, chattel slavery, black codes, convict leasing, Jim Crow, the war on drugs, and the prison industrial complex—and theological treatments that explore how theological concepts made some of these institutions possible, and how they can help undo them. It means reading about civil rights, black power, and multiracial working class movements for freedom. It means learning about the invention of “whiteness” as we know it: how it originated with wealthy, land- and people-owning men of European descent who needed a way to fragment the diverse coalitions of poor people challenging the premises of their exploitation in the American colonies. It means learning about the racial histories of our own communities, and seeing how those histories live on in subtle and not so subtle ways today. It means learning, too, about white people who have been called “race traitors” for finding ways to undercut white supremacy.
- Share What We Learn: Ultimately, the task of learning and unlearning is most fruitful and transformative when carried out alongside others. To that end, part of our task also lies in stewarding the process of learning, unlearning, and transformation for members of our own families and communities.
- Work for Change: We must find ways to participate not just in individual and group transformation, but also in the actual transferal of power and resources to communities of color. This might mean childcare for community organizers of color; raising funds at church or in the neighborhood to support a local grassroots organization led by community members directly affected by racial and economic injustice; gathering white folks in your community to make a statement that black lives matter; or organizing to reroute government funding away from increased prisons, jails, and police departments and toward youth programming, jobs, and economic development that benefits all. There are many ways to participate in the ending of white supremacy, and none are too small.
The more “white people” divest from white supremacy in concrete ways and thereby support the freeing of those confined by centuries of oppression, the more free and whole we become.
Unlearning white supremacy might even be understood as a religious task: resisting dehumanization and co-laboring for a world where the image of the God who loved and loves us into being is discernible in communities where walls are made into bridges and all people sit under their own vines and fig trees, and where no one is afraid (Micah 4:4).
May it be so, and may we be brave enough to participate in its becoming.
Andrew Krinks is a doctoral student in theological studies and ethics at Vanderbilt University. His activist and scholarly work primarily engages issues of incarceration, racism, and poverty, and he is currently involved in the work of Democracy Nashville and Showing Up for Racial Justice Nashville.