TULSA — I hadn’t heard of the hashtag #whitechurchquiet until Wednesday night when I sat in the Metropolitan Baptist Church at a justice vigil for Terence Crutcher in north Tulsa — the predominantly black part of town. From the pulpit, a white Methodist woman mentioned #whitechurchquiet — meant to highlight white silence against injustice and, frankly, evil facing the black community — before confessing her privilege as a white woman and her complicity in injustice.
She then committed, in front of 1,200 people, to a lifelong work of unmasking privilege and injustice while fighting the “white supremacy that keeps on keeping us from being neighbors.”
I went there thinking myself a white ally and proud of myself for being one, and then was promptly slapped out of that mindset, which is actually a part of the larger problem.
A white pastor from Claremore took the pulpit next and said he wished he could say it was good to be there.
“But it’s not good to be here,” he said. “It’s not good to be here because it feels good to be here, as a white ally. And there’s a problem with that. A bad thing for the black community should not be a good thing for the white community. It’s not the time to earn our white ally badge.”
No, it’s not. It’s time to listen and cry out.
White silence and racial baggage
#Whitechurchquiet is striking because the main principle that the church teaches (love) is crucial right now. Love means not to boast or be proud. It means to rejoice in truth. And to love your neighbor means so many things, yet the white church, or the white population, is often guilty of missing the mark. And Oklahomans have done more than merely miss the mark in past.
Two Americas: Racial inequality has persisted since ’60s
by Trent Ratterree
The worst race massacre outside of the genocide of Native Americans in the United States happened in north Tulsa, where at least 300 — possibly as many as 2,000 — African-Americans were killed in 1921. Norman was a sundown town until 1949. In June 2015, Oklahoma was ranked the top state for fatal officer-involved shootings per capita. In 2013, African Americans represented 7.6 percent of the state’s population, and the state government reported the black male incarceration rate at 4.8 percent, versus 0.9 percent of white males.
In Oklahoma, the word “racism” may have less power than it does elsewhere, because that word is ingrained in the history of who we, as Oklahomans, are. In Oklahoma, we have some of the nicest racists around. As a white person — and especially now as a white Oklahoman — our responsibility is to root out the racism that is so deeply a part of the history and system and culture in which we live, the racism that, as the Methodist woman said, perpetuates the “white supremacy that keeps on keeping us from being neighbors.”
‘It didn’t start with Terence Crutcher’
A black reverend took the pulpit and said his community invited those who don’t know the black plight, those who only see it through the window of social media, so that they might understand.
“And it didn’t start with Terence Crutcher,” he said, to moans and cries of the congregation, echoing the truth.
Think about that. There are a litany of names I could list (and some at the vigil did) that belonged to men robbed of their life and liberty from all around the country. But this one has hit home, because it happened at home.
“Don’t mistake my asking for your assistance,” he said. “We need to learn to fight for ourselves. But, we need your assistance in crying out with us that this is unjust. If you cry with us, the world will hear us.”
We sang this refrain together, over and over, swelling into an outcry with choir and band and congregants belting out the words: I pray for you, you pray for me. I love you, I need you to survive. I won’t hurt you with words from my mouth. I love you, I need you to survive.
Comply or die?
A Muslim woman representing the Islamic Society of Tulsa offered solidarity from Tulsa’s Muslim community.
“We are here for you,” she said. “We are here to cry with you. To be a hand to hold. You have been wronged. You have been let down.”
We are all guilty, in some way, of letting down other human beings. And we all know the feeling of being wronged. But we don’t all know the feeling of being repeatedly wronged because of skin color. We don’t know the accompanying fear, the righteous outrage, the brokenness.
Terence Crutcher’s death isn’t an isolated incident. It’s part of a web that will continue to be woven so long as we comply. Comply or die? If we comply with this state-sanctioned violence, it will destroy us all.
Church or no church, white silence is complicity.