“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. … This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”
These words of Martin Luther King Jr. ring clear in the wake of the latest incident of white supremacist terrorism in Buffalo, N.Y. Surely by now, you’re aware of the reports of what happened. A young white man entered a grocery store in a predominantly Black neighborhood where he unleashed more than 70 rounds from an assault rifle with the N-word emblazoned on the barrel. He shot a total of 13 people.
As a result of this heinous act, 10 Black people are now dead, ranging in age from 32 to 86. This is further evidence that white supremacists are the biggest domestic terrorist threat in the United States.
The suspect, like other white men in similar situations, was taken into custody alive. He had written a 180-page manifesto in which he described himself as anti-Semitic, white supremacist and a fascist. His diatribe recounted his radicalization. He wrote about his belief in the “great replacement” theory — the false idea that a cabal is attempting to replace white Americans with non-white people through immigration, interracial marriage and eventually, violence.
What I’m saying here will shock some of you and anger others, but it must be said, nonetheless. While the young man who carried out the massacre in Buffalo is ultimately responsible for his evil actions, white Christian leaders are complicit in the white supremacy that inspired him.
I can hear the often-used objections:
- “But some of my best friends are Black!”
- “I’m not a member of the Ku Klux Klan!”
- “I’ve never called anyone the N-word!”
- “My family never owned slaves!”
If these reactions are akin to yours, then you really don’t understand white supremacy.
White supremacy is not limited to extremist groups like the Klan. Further, white supremacy is not only manifested in blatant or violent ways, but also in very subtle and covert ways.
At a Challenging White Supremacy workshop held in San Francisco, one of the speakers explained: “White supremacy is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of peoples of color by white peoples and nations for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.”
“White supremacists are not just in hoods, but also may be found in elected offices, corporate boardrooms, police departments and preaching in megachurches.”
Based on this definition, white supremacists are not just in hoods, but also may be found in elected offices, corporate boardrooms, police departments and preaching in megachurches.
You may ask, “In what ways have I been complicit with white supremacy?” In his book The Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby said: “The most egregious acts of racism occur within a context of compromise. The failure of many Christians in the South and across the nation to decisively oppose the racism in their families, communities, and even in their own churches provided the fertile soil for the seeds of hatred to grow.” I would argue that compromise makes one complicit with white supremacy.
One form of compromise is to only speak of white supremacy as acts carried out by demented individuals, rather than an ideology by which institutions do harm to entire groups of people. Those of you who engage in such compromise only speak of white supremacy generically, so as not to offend those invested in perpetuating its institutional power. King had this in mind when he said in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities.”
To me, the most sickening form of compromise is to remain silent on the issue of white supremacy. Many of you as white Christian leaders have said nothing from your platforms to repudiate white supremacy. While you have had much to say about overturning Roe v. Wade, your views on same-sex marriage, your opposition to Critical Race Theory, your Second Amendment rights, and your desire to “own the libs,” most of you have said absolutely nothing about the various manifestations of white supremacy. As Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You pay a tenth of mint, dill, and cumin, and yet you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”
“Many of you as white Christian leaders have said nothing from your platforms to repudiate white supremacy.”
When nine Black people attending Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were slaughtered by a white supremacist, you said nothing. When Ahmaud Arbery was lynched while jogging by three white vigilantes, you said nothing. When Breonna Taylor was killed by police during a botched raid on her apartment, you said nothing. When George Floyd had the breath of life snuffed out of him by a police officer for the world to see, you said nothing. So far, most of you have said nothing about the 10 Black people slaughtered in Buffalo. Your silence speaks louder than your words!
Joel A. Bowman Sr. is a native of Detroit and serves as the founder and senior pastor of Temple of Faith Baptist Church, in Louisville, Ky. He also maintains a practice as a licensed clinical social worker with nearly 30 years of experience in the mental health field. His commentaries and poems have been printed in numerous publications. Joel and his wife, Nannette, have three children, Kayla, Katie and Joel Jr. Follow him on Twitter @JoelABowmanSr.
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