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Rehumanization in Realtime: Waging War Against White Supremacy - Charles Lewis


White supremacy kills. One reason why white supremacy kills so easily is because its legacy is one of attempted dehumanization. I say “attempted” because if you are a human being then you are created in the image of God and no power of hell, like that of white supremacy, can take that away from you. However in its attempts to dehumanize – to make us less than human – real cosmic damage can, has, and will continue to occur. 400 years of lives being cut short and livelihoods being plundered; from the plantation to the parkway. It’s easy to cut human life short when you see said life as being just short of human.

The dehumanization process happens by dictating what is truly human through a grid of whiteness, and by divesting persons of color of their freedom to flourish fully in the imago dei that God has given them. Dehumanization – by way of dictation and divestment, has been codified in American law for centuries and has left an indelible imprint on the American consciousness in such a way that perpetuates how we perceive blackness in these here United States – further dehumanizing black persons in every sphere of American life.

One cruel irony of white supremacy is that it tries to dictate the “appropriate” emotional response black people should have when encountering white supremacy.

“If she didn’t raise her voice at the cop, she would still be alive.” The point being – do not express anger and maybe you won’t die.

Or

“We’ve had a black President of the United States. They have made millions in the sports and music industries. I don’t know why they complain and stay in a victimization mindset.” The point being – you can be as successful as you want to in this country, so you should be more content and grateful.

Or maybe this one.

“Scripture tells us to rejoice in all circumstances and that our gentleness should be evident to all. You don’t seem to be speaking very gently. Are you sure you are after unity?” The point being, if you don’t maintain visible joy when you encounter white supremacy, then your Christian testimony might be suspect.

And even when we are allowed to be angry, and we are allowed to be tired, and we are allowed to be sad – white supremacy often demands that we put these emotions on display for white consumption.
And if you are like me, you begin to wonder “is my anger, exhaustion, and sadness being presented in a way that it reaches white people safely and effectively?” And when this happens, I am experiencing one form of dehumanization at the hands of white supremacy.

Yes, white supremacy has a way of robbing us of our humanity even as it attempts to give it back to us. Because it is in the air we breathe. We’ve been breathing these toxins since the days we were born, and we will continue until this demonic stronghold in America is mortified.

One way I’ve been trying to wage war against white supremacy over these past few weeks is not to allow white supremacy to dictate the narrative of my emotions. Our emotions tell a story. Not only do our emotions tell us a story, but they tell a story in which God is trying to reveal himself to us on the particular journey he has placed us on. And while white supremacy seeks to rob us of our very breath, I’ve found that I’ve been able to breathe just a little more easily by giving my emotions room to breathe. Room to ventilate. And as I allow my emotions to breathe deeply, I am able to meet them with the compassion of Christ. I am able to rehumanize.

I invite you to take this quick journey with me on my emotions using an emotions wheel I got from
our dear sister Gwen Abegaz.



Bad - > Tired - > Unfocused

This past week has been relentless. I feel as if I haven’t been able to give my attention to anything but George Floyd, Christian Cooper, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. I haven’t been able to give my attention to anything other than whiteness and how destructive it is. I haven’t been able to give my attention to anything or anyone thanks to the complicity of the white evangelical church. Mind racing and bouncing. I am tired and unfocused.

Bad - > Stressed - > Out of control

Similar to unfocused I have felt out of control. I feel a need to do something, but I also feel like no matter what I do, it won’t save me from being next.

Bad - > Busy - > Pressured

I feel pressured to speak – and this is a pressure I feel distinctly from white people. For my black brothers and sisters who grew up going to predominantly white schools: do you remember that feeling in history class when we’d finish a lesson on slavery and the teacher would open it up to questions and comments and all the white kids would turn and look at you? That pressure to speak in the midst of just experiencing trauma? Yeah. I feel that. That I must hurry and cook something up and that they can digest.

Fearful - >Insecure - > Inadequate

I feel like I can’t do enough to protect myself or my people. It’s hard to be secure in my black skin when my black skin is a death sentence. I want to do everything that I can to fight for a future where that’s no longer the case, but I feel deeply inadequate to do so. And I fear that day may never come.

Fearful - > Rejected - > Persecuted

I feel persecuted when I read comments by strangers online. I was scrolling through twitter and I saw a guy comment “excessive force was obviously used, but to say it had anything to do with race is a stretch.” I clicked his profile and it was a picture of him smiling with his white wife and two white kids. His banner photo was of an American flag. I was reminded that America was made for people like him. People who believe that unless someone says “I hate black people and I killed this person because they were black”, then race has nothing to with it. America was made for the type of person who denies racial implicit bias – because to say that I can unconsciously be making decisions that hurt black people because of biases that I am unaware of, is to say that black people actually can’t just “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.” And to say that would to be un-American. I see that comment, and I see the picture of that family, and I can imagine the type of spaces he and his family occupy, and I think that’s who America is made for. And as long as that is true, I continue to feel rejected. I continue to feel persecuted.

Angry - > Let Down - > Betrayed

I feel let down and betrayed by my white brothers and sisters who only choose to talk about white supremacy when a high profile murder happens. I also feel let down and betrayed by my white brothers and sisters who refuse to talk about white supremacy at all.

Angry - > Let Down - > Resentful

I feel resentful when I see acquaintances from college who didn’t care at all about matters of racial justice between 2009-2013, but want to start posting things now – knowing full well that they continue to choose to live in white insulated worlds.

Angry - > Humiliated - > Disrespected

I feel disrespected, and humiliated, that a black man begged for his life while a white man knelt on his neck for a full six minutes.

Angry - > Bitter - > Violated

I feel violated and bitter that people choose to enter into this pain that I feel every day whenever and however they please, instead of making it their pain every day as well.

Angry - > Frustrated - > Infuriated

I feel frustrated and infuriated that its 2020 and we are still dealing with this.

Angry - > Critical - > Skeptical

I feel skeptical of white American pastors who claim to be Christians but have remained eerily silent on an issue that is blatantly reflective of America’s original sin.

Angry - > Critical - >Dismissive

I feel dismissive of calls to unity without calls to justice.

Disgusted - > Disapproving - > Judgmental

I feel judgmental of my white bothers and sisters who won’t speak up to their friends and family because it might makes things uncomfortable forever – as if Jesus minced his words when he said “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:21-22) or when he said ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-27)

Disgusted - > Awful - > Nauseated

I’m nauseated by seeing embodied black lives being slaughtered like cattle.

Disgusted - > Repelled - > Hesitant

I’m hesitant to reengage with white people because it might bring all of these feelings to a very high pitch.

Sad - > Guilty - > Ashamed

I’m ashamed that I haven’t done more anti-racism work.

Sad - >Despair - > Powerless

I feel powerless when I consider all of this and sense there is no end in sight.

Happy - > Peaceful - > Thankful

I feel thankful for my white brothers and sisters who have taken the courage to speak up to friends and family, making things forever uncomfortable. I am thankful for my white brothers and sisters who continue to reach out to me to make sure I’m good. I’m thankful for my black brothers and sisters who can say “I feel you” and mean it on the deepest level. And I am thankful for the small but not insignificant progress we have seen over the last decade.

Happy - > Content - > Free

The closest thing I feel to peace and relief is watching a Target looted and 3 rd ward precinct police station burned down because it looks and feels like an appropriate response and unleashing of anger congruent to the crimes America has committed against black persons for 400 years, presuming on black compliance and grace. Voices are meant to be heard and breaking the silence feels like freedom.

Surprised - > Confused - > Disillusioned

I feel disillusioned because I’m told by Scripture that human life is the most precious thing on earth because it is made in God’s image, but people seem to care more about a Target that can be rebuilt in five years than black lives that have a higher mortality rate than their white counterparts and the systems that keep it that way.

Your emotions might not be my emotions. Or we might share the same emotions, but for different reasons. My hope with sharing all of this with you is to let you know that you are free to feel these things. That as you navigate feelings of sadness, anger, and disgust that you may know that your feelings are reflective of your heavenly Father’s as we see his emotional response to injustice all throughout scripture. Give yourself space to feel these things. Let these emotions breathe and ventilate. And welcome them with the compassion of Christ. Let his Word massage your emotions. Be reminded that your chief identity as an image bearer is “very good” because the one who’s image you are created in is “perfect.” Be reminded that your chief identity as one united in Christ is “beloved” because the God you belong to is love. And be reminded that your chief identity as a citizen of God’s kingdom is one who will spend an eternity where perfect justice and perfect peace reigns because our perfect Jesus reigns.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Friends, perfect justice awaits us at the end of this journey, but it’s only the perfect love of Christ that will carry us on this journey. This is a love that happens in real time. This is a love that meets us as we give space for our emotions to breathe. Do not let white supremacy take that away from you. Christ sees it all. Christ knows it all. Christ will not rest until all is made right. So come to him, big emotions and all. He wants to use your emotions to reveal himself to you as a God who is compassionate and a God who is committed to justice – as evidenced by his life death and resurrection and as revealed to us ultimately and perfectly in Scripture. Let his compassion rehumanize us, and may white supremacy feel a suffering blow in the process.



Charles Lewis is a pastoral resident at the Northside Church of Richmond and has been with the church since August 2019. He is currently finishing his Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary and plans to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America. In his free time he enjoys keeping up with Philadelphia sports, listening to vinyl records and hanging out at breweries and coffee shops.

Comments

  1. Wow, thank you for these words, Pastor Charles. They are a gift to us.

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