- May 29th, 2020 -
This Sunday Christian’s worldwide celebrate Pentecost, the moment that God’s Holy Spirit is said to have come to the earliest disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. This Divine Spirit transcends human flesh and frailties to bring God’s Wisdom—Sophia—to the human walk of faith. Sophia, like the analogies of the Creator God as a mother hen and nursing mother, reminds us of some of the less acknowledged aspects of God’s feminine nature.
Part of what the Sophia Spirit brings is the wisdom to see the difference between what is of God and what is not. To know more deeply where followers of Jesus should tread and on what ground we should stand. To fight power with truth-telling, no matter the cost. I couldn’t help but seek such wisdom in response to the murders and other ongoing expressions of racial bias that have reared their ugly heads again these past few weeks.
Lynchings, both real and symbolic, are not new to U.S. history. The threat of death, like the reality of mass incarceration, has been used for generations to demonstrate the power of our race-based state. Persons with the privilege of whiteness—including families who trace their histories back to colonization and those, like mine, who are more recent immigrants—typically fail to acknowledge how they benefit in every imaginable respect from a country founded on the belief that Africans were not fully human and that their enslavement was somehow justified by God.
For most of my life I counted myself as “progressive” and, as the grandchild of predominately Latin-European immigrants, not part of the WASP establishment. But deep within me, I held (and still hold) biases around race that were inculcated in me from my earliest days. I’ve come far but not far enough. If you know me, when you think of my family, my education, and my work, you likely don’t see a racist. And yet, there are myriad ways even now—after years of much intentional work and even more unintended experience—that I harbor notions of race & privilege that I know are wrong. No matter what work I do on me, they still linger just below the surface, and rear their ugly biases at infrequent but unexpected times. I’m certainly not unique.
I write all this not as some sort of new-age, self-confession, but to be crystal clear that white folks in general have much more work to do than we readily acknowledge or that can be accomplished by simply wishing the structural sin of racism away. If we are to right the wrongs of our nation’s history and the animus that pervades so much of our political discourse and social reality today, we need to work hard and work, first and foremost, on us.
In the midst of a Pandemic, the murders of Ahemd Arbery and George Floyd might seem just too much to handle or, for white folks, somehow unexpected. These modern-day lynchings are actually the norm. Apart from the fact that they were caught on video they would have likely gone unpunished, as they tragically may yet still.
The question now isn’t what black folks can or should do in response. Racism is a white invention. We therefore need white folks of good will across this nation to start acting as anti-racists by acknowledging our ancestral bias, nurturing multi-racial relationships rooted in our common humanity, and working tirelessly to upend the polices & procedures that have propped up white privilege at the expense of black lives for more than 400 years.
May the wisdom of the Sophia Spirit guide our actions as the nation’s racist history and current reality is laid bare. And may we find the strength within each of us to make possible the change we claim to seek in her name.
Joseph F. Cistone
May 29, 2020