Writing the Truth of Racial Justice from My White Skin

Today’s post is from a fellow Redbud, Andi Cumbo-Floyd. She is a writer, editor, researcher, and farmer, whose books include The Slaves Have Names and Steele Secrets. She blogs regularly at ourfolkstales.com and andilit.com.

By faith, Moses, when grown, refused the privileges of the Egyptian royal house. He chose a hard life with God’s people rather than an opportunistic soft life of sin with the oppressors. – Hebrews 11:24-25

I read these verses just this morning and felt the zing of truth, of conviction, of calling whip through me.  The question I am sitting with these days is how do I refuse the privileges that come with the racial identity most people assign me – white – and choose instead to ally with God’s people of color so as to refuse my privileges, my white privilege specifically.  I don’t know the answers yet.

As a woman who identifies as white but whose ancestors were black, as a woman who has been called to write about, research, and speak the truth about the wounds rooted in the legacy of slavery here in the U.S., as a woman who believes that our God is a God of justice and a God of profound mercy, as a woman who was raised in the southern United States and who has taken on, mostly unwittingly, the racism of that place, how do I settle myself in with the oppressed rather than using the power that my “white” appearance gives me?

I’m still figuring that out.

One thing I am doing is working actively to amplify the voices of people of color, particular African American voices.  I do that in my books and on a website I run called Our Folks’ Tales. I do it by volunteering my time as a member of the board for an anti-racism organization, Coming to the Table. I do it by spending lots of hours researching the names and stories and family lines of enslaved people here in Virginia where I live.  Those are good things, important things, but they are not the little things that matter most, the daily things, the moment-based things, the speaking truth for freedom in the every day.

This daily struggle, the one I don’t have to live because of my complexion, this struggle is the one I think that the writer of Hebrews is speaking about. Moses took on violence against the enslavers and then fled before reluctantly returning to bring freedom through God’s miracles.  I am called to be a child of peace. I am called to be here, right where I am, on this farm that was once a place of enslavement. I am not bound to murder or to flee.

I am called, and perhaps this is my answer, to write. To write the truth large and loud. To share the truth as spoken by my sisters and brothers of color. To speak my own truth as a white woman who finds deep rootedness and identity in her black ancestors.  I am called to bear witness to injustice, to call forth the strands of mercy, and to trust that God’s goodness and active love will bring justice through those things.

I am not Moses. I have no speech impediment, and I will not part the sea.  But I will speak, loud and gentle, the truth that we are not in the land of milk and honey, where equality is our standard and privilege given to all.  I will speak this truth as I sit at the Mercy Seat, trusting all along that if I do my small work, if I write out the truth as I see it dimly, God’s justice will roll down like that mighty stream.