“So, I’ve been thinking about you a lot since the election,” I told my friend Cherisse as we dug into our Vietnamese lunch on a cold December day.
I met Cherisse when she was hired at my workplace, and we bonded during a stressful year for our department. On a daily basis I saw in her face not just the usual stress of getting her work done, but also the stress of fighting to be respected as a woman of color in a workplace with few other minorities. I watched as her face broke out and her hands trembled during contentious meetings. I watched her endure subtle antagonism and even blatant rudeness from colleagues who were generally respectful toward me.
I told our supervisor and other co-workers that I trusted her, that she was a hard worker who knew what she was doing. But I worried that I didn’t do enough to advocate for her. I worried that I wasn’t providing the kind of emotional support she needed. Just listening to her detail her difficult situation made me feel overwhelmed at times—and I wasn’t the one being mistreated. The discrimination was palpable, and she was powerless to undo people’s unwarranted negative impressions of her.
She left the organization just a year after she had started, and although I was sad to see her go, I was relieved that she found a better job elsewhere.
Just as I did not suffer prejudice at work then, I will most likely not suffer because of the current presidential administration, with its roots in xenophobia and white nationalism.
But I am still afraid. I am still infuriated. I am still mourning the choice of political leaders my country has made. I am worried about what this will mean for friends of mine who are immigrants, who have disabilities, who have been sexually harassed and abused, who are members of the LGBT community, who are racial and religious minorities, and many, many others. I am concerned about what this means for the credibility of the Christian church. I am afraid of all the hatred and rage and bitterness that I see not just between political parties, but throughout our divided society, and also lodged in my own heart.
“I haven’t been doing very well since the election,” I told Cherisse. My mind wandered over the past several weeks since President Trump was elected—I’d been waking up with a sense of apocalyptic dread and anger about what might befall our country. I’d been muttering expletives while listening to the news on NPR. I’d been cringing at the unmistakable similarities in the behavior of our new president and a horrifically bad boss I once had who netted 16 out of 16 characteristics of a narcissist (according to a book I had read on the subject).
“And if I haven’t been doing very well, I can’t imagine how you’re doing!” I said.
Cherisse swallowed a bite of Vietnamese noodles. “I’ve been doing fine, but only because I haven’t been thinking about it or listening to the news lately,” she said.
I nodded. “Don’t blame you.” I stirred fish sauce into my rice and sighed. “I read a heart-breaking article by this African-American Christian who was saying she is just so tired of speaking out against racism. But she’s not getting support from white Christians, because they’re not personally facing the same dangers and problems that she is. They think they can ignore these issues and focus on other ones. But minorities can’t be the only ones decrying racism and calling for just and equal treatment. It’s our turn to speak up.”
“Yeah,” Cherisse said. She shook her head. “No one listens to us anyway.”
The problem of racism is too big to be addressed only by people who are in the minority. We, the white majority, have social and political power that minorities don’t have. And we can use that power to call our fellow white people to change.
We need to recognize the ways we’ve benefitted from the historical oppression of African Americans and from today’s systemic racism. We need to stop protecting our fragile egos and be willing to confess our racism. And we need to pray and advocate for justice on behalf of our fellow human beings, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, gender, or religion.
The courage and self-sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King’s white allies fascinates me. At a time when segregation and overt racial prejudice was still politically and socially acceptable, these white people noticed the sufferings of their black fellow citizens. They took up a cause that would not directly benefit them, and they risked their safety and their lives to protest the brutal mistreatment of black people.
If I had been alive in the 1960s, would I have joined Dr. King’s multiracial coalition?
Since I was not alive then, will I continue their work today?
And will you join me?