While this piece focuses on the racism in the mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, I also feel deeply for the victims and families of the shooting on May 15 at the Taiwanese Church banquet in Laguna Woods, California, the mass shooting of 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary school on May 24, and, for that matter, the constant stream of gun-related injuries and violence that took over 45,000 lives in the United States in 2020 alone. Our nation’s willingness to live with this consequence of the gun industry’s stranglehold on America’s politics is a topic for another essay. I have spent the last week focused on my concern for the implications for White Christians in the wake of the shooting in Buffalo.
There are no words to describe the sadness I feel for the families whose loved ones were killed in the shooting on May 14 in Buffalo. However, there also are no words to describe the outrage I feel about the racist fervor that has been intentionally generated in our country and around the world to cultivate the hatred behind this horrific act.
White Christians in the U.S., let this be a call not to contemplation but to action. We have no need of further empty pleas for healing nor prayers with our eyes closed and our faces raised to the heavens. Our shock that this could happen is embarrassing. There is no Black person I know who is shocked at what took place on May 14 at that grocery store. For people of color, this is simply confirmation of their lived reality and a sign of yet another place it is not safe for them to go.
This moment, in the wake of so many others when angry White men have committed acts of terror against people of color, must move us. We must fully commit ourselves to sustained, deliberate action to dismantle the intentionally created structures underlying entrenched racism faced by African Americans in our communities every day of their lives.
Here are some ways to begin. Notice that they DO NOT begin with more book studies. By all means, read and discuss. But by some means – any means – act.
- Look to organizations that are led by people of color and that demonstrate a long-term commitment to dismantle the roots of White supremacy and systemic racism. For a clear example, check out “Live Free” and its local chapter called Voice Buffalo. Follow their lead. Show up at their demonstrations and vigils (don’t invite them to yours). Take their direction without trying to improve upon their strategies which are built upon a lived experience you do not have.
- Immerse yourself in Black-led conversations. Start with podcasts or videos where you can listen and learn without causing harm, and move toward quiet participation in Black-led organizations that have the capacity to deal with well-meaning White folk who often do thoughtless, hurtful things. When called out in those moments when you make mistakes, listen — and be grateful that someone cares enough to take the time to tell you what they really think about the impact of your words and actions. Apologize, mean it, learn from it, and move on — don’t make it about you!
- Gravitate toward work that makes you uncomfortable – where people are organizing around reparations and abolition of prison and police structures that put Black people (especially Black people) and other people of color at risk. Honestly, this is what it means if you say you are committed to dismantling structural racism. If you aren’t working to take responsibility for and dismantle the institutions that enforce White supremacy, you aren’t dismantling structural racism – you’re just pleading with other White people to be more kind.
- Take a bystander/upstander training course so that you can practice what you will do when violence is committed against people of color (or others who experience discrimination in the dominant culture) in your presence. This work isn’t natural. It takes courage — and courage in the face of fear takes practice. If you think you haven’t seen that kind of discrimination — you are almost certainly mistaken. Practice paying attention and counter your first instinct, which is likely to try to explain it away.
- Learn somatic practices to help calm your body in traumatic moments. This is the best way to avoid White fragility — which is a natural but entirely unhelpful reaction to being called out for racial trauma that White people have participated in but which we also have been systematically trained not to recognize.
So –YES – Pray. AND — take action inspired by the hurt and the anger we feel in this moment and sustained by the faith of our calling as followers of Jesus.