Dear White People (including myself),
As Black History Month wraps up, I want to make a plea that we all choose not be done with Black History for the year.
Current events are daily revealing how necessary it is that all Americans learn Black History all year long.
For how long?
For as long as it takes for us to unwrite the rules we wrote when our brothers and sisters were enslaved and we did not count them as people.
For as long as it takes to unmake a system that has its roots planted deeply in white supremacy.
For as long as it takes for us to consider Black History as an integral part of American History, embedded in our lives and national stories, just like The Mayflower, The Pilgrims and Independence Day.
Extensive reading is my preferred (and maybe too easy) method of becoming awake to how the decks are stacked against our black and brown brothers and sisters in this country. But I am committing this year not to just reading about racism, but also to talking about it, to writing about it regularly and to calling it out in myself.
Let me say that again.
I am committed to calling out racism in myself.
Repenting of it.
I like to say that I am about 67% woke. (That’s probably generous.)
Woke refers to a state of being aware of racial injustice in the world.
So if I am 67% woke, that still leaves like 33% of me that is asleep, that is ruled by racism.
I was raised in a country that was founded on white supremacy, so I am going to have a natural bent towards participating in racism that is both underlying and overt. I would like to hurry up and follow that up by saying that I am not a racist, but the fact is that even when I unknowingly participate in racism, that makes me racist.
As a Christian (and an evangelical), I am repenting of being complicit in a system that has sold itself out in a grab for power. I am so sad that I am a part of tradition that was meant to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world and instead seems to be the second coming of the Pharisees. I cannot make it right by saying I am not a part of the group, or I am not one of those kind of evangelicals. Somehow I stood by while we were seduced by the empire and so I participated.
For years and years, I was content to sit in a church on Sunday morning filled with people who looked like me, to fill the seats at my table with people who looked like me. I was content to read only books about people who looked like me, and I studied history that was missing the pieces that explain why life is so different for people who did not look like me.
I am lamenting that I did not notice how wrong this was. I am lamenting that my unwillingness to cross racial lines has contributed to walls that exist today, and to the rhetoric that is adding more bricks every day to those very walls, causing them to be thicker and harder to break down.
I confess that I have contributed to an atmosphere where we need to say out loud that Black Lives Matter, because the blood on the streets shows that these words are not a given. We must say that Black Lives Matter so that maybe one day we will live in a country where that is true to everyone. In fact, I believe that if we had made it true that Black Lives Matter then we would also have solved the problem of welcoming refugees, because if we raise up and value the lives of those who are different from us, then we will continue to do it with refugees and Muslims.
And so I repent that I personally have not always shown with my actions in the world that Black Lives Matter.
I repent that I have acted as though I am owed the privilege that I was born with. I pass through borders and drive by police cars without fear. I walk into stores and restaurants and never doubt that I will be treated with respect. I expect to have the very best possible schools for my children, without regard for the effect my school choices have on the districts and towns in which we have lived.
If I live to be 100 I cannot undo what I have done to uphold the standard of white supremacy in the US, and this fact overwhelms me. It overwhelms me so much that I considered not writing this letter. But even if I cannot undo all the things or do all that must be done, I can try.
I can do the little that I know how to do today. And tomorrow I can try to learn about another thing. I can work towards another half percent of being woke.
And I would be so honored if you would join me.
That’s why I am making this page into a Get Woke Resource List, a page that I can add to whenever I come across something that contributes to my awareness of racial injustice. You can come back to it and read again and again because this journey towards racial reconciliation is long.
But I think the long journeys are the ones worth taking.
And I think that God is with us on the long journeys.
And when I think about Martin Luther King Jr, and I listen to his speeches, I remember how bravely he stood in the face of a long uphill climb that he knew would probably end in death.
And so how dare I grow tired?
If I ever say I am tired of hearing about racism, I will call myself out and repent.
Because, friends, think of how weary our black and brown brothers and sisters are of this battle.
So very weary. I hear it in their words. Laments for hard won changes that are given only to be revoked again or never enforced.
Let us not grow weary in doing good. Let us each find the part we have to do and do it. Let us lament. Let us confess. Let us repent.
Then maybe we can rise together.
Get Woke Resource List
This is just a start on this list. I will continue to add to it. If you know of something I should add, feel free to send me an email (alison AT alisonchino DOT com) or tell me on Twitter.
Black History Children’s Books
Sit In by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Let Freedom Sing by Vanessa Newton
The Youngest Marcher by Cynthia Levinson
The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
The Great Migration with paintings by Jacob Lawrence
God Bless The Child by Billie Holiday, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
March by John Lewis
Children’s Books for Talking About Race
All the Colors We Are: The Story of How We Get Our Skin Color by Katie Kissinger
The Skin I’m In by Pat Thomas
Shades of People by Sheila M. Kelly
Children’s Books with Black or Brown Protagonists
Chocolate Me by Taye Diggs
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Barber’s Cutting Edge by Gwendolyn Battle-Lavert
Dancing in the Wings by Debbie Allen
Another great resource for children’s books is the website We Need Diverse Books.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Patillo Beales
The Long Shadow of Little Rock by Daisy Bates
Walking With The Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis
The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James H. Cone
Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith
Just Mercy Brian Stevenson
The New Jim Crow by Michelle WIlliams
Slavery By Another Name by Douglas Blackman
America’s Original Sin Jim Wallis
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
Race and Place: How Urban Geography Shapes the Journey to Reconciliation by David P. Leong
Twelve Years A Slave
The Color Purple
Anything on the website Black Perspectives
The Racism of Good Intentions by Carlos Lozada
This is the best explanation I’ve ever seen of White Privilege by Lori Lakin Hutcherson
White Debt by Eula Bliss (first line: “The Word for debt in German also means guilt.”)
On Being consistently has great content regarding race. Here are a few of my favorite episodes:
Love in Action with John Lewis
Let’s Talk about Whiteness with Eula Bliss
The Heart is the Last Frontier with Isabel Wilkerson
Where Does It Hurt? with Ruby Sales
Who We Want To Become: Beyond The New Jim Crow with Michelle Alexander
W.E.B. Du Bois & the American Soul with Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Alexander and Arnold Rampersad
Pass The Mic is another podcast I appreciate for discussions concerning a diverse church. It is the podcast of the website Reformed African American Network, a great resource for Christians who want to explore more diverse perspectives. They also have a great episode on the use of term “woke.”
I’m also newly enjoying the perspectives from the three lovely women around Truth’s Table.
Other individual podcast episodes:
How Not To Accidentally Raise A Racist (The Longest Shortest Time)
Object Anyway (More Perfect)
Poverty Myth Busters (On The Media)
This video of Adam Thomason explaining racial preference.