Let me do some truth-telling to my American family following the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Lately, we hear loaded words like white nationalism, racial slurs and of college students vandalizing the statue of a national icon, Frederick Douglass. I realize that the disease of white supremacy is alive and well. White supremacy is a cultural ideology that informs every demeaning cultural/institutional malaise that negatively impacts visible and invisible vulnerable communities.
Words matter, because they are the building blocks of worldviews. When we look at the way we “know,” we realize that the move from the “dark” side as derogatory to dark skin as inferior, is not a huge leap. Slavery was legal in this country for 246 years! That’s a multilayered worldview to overcome. It involves much learning and more unlearning. We have been working on this and the 13th Amendment since 1865, which abolished slavery. We are still working to abolish this mindset from our psyche and practices.
Without a doubt, we have made significant progress from 1619 when the first Africans were brought against their will to Jamestown, Virginia, to 1808 when Congress outlawed slavery. Then the abolitionist movement (1830-60) raised free black leaders, such as Douglass, and white supporters, such as William Garrison and Harriet Beecher Stowe, a white woman who published the best-selling anti-slavery novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Harriet Tubman and others played a leadership role in the Underground Railroad and supported the women’s suffrage movement. Then came the Emancipation Proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, followed by the 13th Amendment in 1865.
Since then, the civil rights movement built on this continuum. We still have to overcome the culturally ingrained centuries-old muscle memory to realize that dark-skinned persons are not an embodiment of inferiority and otherness. It is also important to realize that white supremacy is not some distant insidious notion that members of the KKK believe and practice, but a worldview we have embraced for a long time. This intentional work of getting to the root of racial issues is crucial because it is America’s original sin. Let us honor Dr. King’s legacy by naming bad behavior, behave more like we are one human family and protect the vulnerable to make Rochester a leader in practicing beloved community. The Rochester Interfaith Network Alive is going to help us engage this conversation and grow.
The Rt. Rev. Prince Singh is bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester.