How I Talk to White People About Racism
Clay Rivers


I love you! I love your thoughtful writing, your openness, your vulnerability and the fearless way you seek for us all to be one people. You, as the Jesuits, seek to see God in all things.

You may not remember me. We have “talked” before. I brought up reconciliation in the Bishop’s Tutu sense as a way to begin to heal our country, heal our own broken souls.

Sadly, since we “talked” months ago, I am horrified to write that I no longer believe as you do that “…it’s gauche for racists to voice their preferences in public” and I believe we are moving backwards. I am heartbroken. I hear things said in public I have never heard in private. I am seeing overt violence justified fir the 1st time since I was a little girl in the mid-1960’s. But I can’t give up. I won’t.

Thank you, again, for reaching out. You have bolstered my hope for our future. I am sorry that the gauche and loudest voices right now come from the mouths of people who look like me. I am sorry so many of us shout rather than listen. I am sorry that so many us react with defensiveness rather than attempt to understand.

My own family is complicit in the creation of White privilege as an 11th great grandfather helped write the laws of the Virginia colony not long after Jamestown was settled. Those laws provided fir reparations for White indentured servants while codifying Black slavery and taking free Blacks’ rights to iwn land. And why? Because they needed to divide us. Families were forming among indentured servants, Black and White, then Bacon’s Rebellion.

Horrifyingly, a fourth great grandfather of mine mastered and owned slaves ships which sailed to kidnap and enslave human beings. His son, a 3rd great grandfather, owned a slave. He impregnated her, raped her, at least 4 times. Although DNA proves this, as records and his diaries, always have yet most of my family either ignores this or denies it and me. We cannot solve any problem to which we do not admit. I am getting to know and love some of my newly found Black family. We share many traits because we carry some of the same genes. We are all one people.

I am very frustrated and angry and sad. This horror going on now is on us, on White people.

I am reading two books that you might find helpful to this conversation. One may be more helpful for your white friends: America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America by Jim Wallis. This book speaks especially to White Christians. It is my Christianity that animates and demands my dedication to this and all causes. Jesus is primarily a healer of the poor and powerless. That so many don’t notice this reveals a willful blindness to Jesus' obvious bias. He spent little time trying to ferret out sinners or impose purity codes in any form. He just went where the pain and suffering were and served. Racism causes pain and suffering daily. We are called to serve.

The second book, Made for Goodness and Why this Makes All The Difference is by Bishop Tutu and his daughter Mpho, an Episcopal priest and executive director of the Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage as well as chair of the board of the Global AIDS Alliance. Both these amazing people are going to the pain and suffering to serve and heal. This book is important because it teaches us to see ourselves and others through God’s Eyes giving us techniques to hear and reconcile.

We are told to love our neighbor and our enemies. In loving we come to know each other. In knowing we become one people. Separation of us is man-made so reconciliation can be made by us, too. With God’s Help.

You may also enjoy reading another Medium author who comes to social justice as we do: Drew Downs. Several of his recent pieces speak to our work to bring the Kingdom here.

Thank you, Clay, for all you do. I believe your words and work begin an important conversation. You are going to them pain and suffering to serve and to heal. May we all listen, respect, and empathize. My broken heart begs to be healed. It will be healed by doing my part. Thank you for helping me learn to do my part.


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