Reflection by Pastor Lamar Bailey
Author Resmaa Menakem in My Grandmother’s Hands boldly writes, “Race is a myth, but a myth with teeth and claws. Institutions, structures, beliefs, and narratives have been created around it. Until we recognize it for the collective delusion it is, it might as well be real.”
It’s not fashionable to speak of race as myth, and I suspect many readers do not appreciate the author’s boldness in writing this. Mr. Menakem’s words shine a light on the complexities and power of race as well as the interconnected and intentionally hidden systems that come from it and result in the murder of a black body on a Minneapolis sidewalk or in one’s own bedroom.
Our synod staff discussed at length Mr. Menakem’s observation that white bodied folks have been deceived by racism and whiteness. In Mr. Menakem’s words: “Italians, Irish, Eastern European Jews, and other European immigrant groups were initially regarded as stupid, barbaric, and dangerous. Within a generation or two, however, each of these new white immigrant groups was socialized, colonized, and accepted by other Americans by being introduced into the false community of whiteness”.
While talking about this chapter, one white synod staff member self-consciously remarked, “I don’t know much about my lineage; I just know that I am white.” Mr. Menakem calls this – the stripping of white bodies and people of color of their lineage – the work of evil genius because it “…proved effective in shifting the power divide from landowners versus workers to white people versus Black people”.
I believe that Jesus’ earthly ministry exposed false and deadly myths and unmasked imperial systems of death and oppression especially through the cross. In its place, Jesus offered a way of grace, peace, freedom, abundance, and love. Jesus relentlessly showed solidarity with the poor, the hungry, folks with broken bodies, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18). You may disagree with me, but I cannot deny that we are called in our baptism to uncover, renounce, and destroy deadly myths and expose underlying insidious deceptive systems or inequality.
Mr. Menakem shows that everyone loses when racism and the systems that support it are not exposed and people are forced into the false identity of whiteness and the ways of whiteness. The result is that for people of color this myth often ends in death. Jesus has entrusted and empowered us with the ministry of exposing deadly myths and sinister systems of inequality. For me, the book reaffirms that my black body and other many-hued bodies are good and created in the image of God.
I praise God for the gift of Jesus Christ that crushes dividing walls, frees us from all delusions, and empowers us to participate in building God’s Kingdom with God.