So, you say you didn’t burn any of those black churches the Justice Department’s investigators says are not race-related nor are they connected? Well, if your skin is white you did it according to Carolyn Davis from John Podesta’s Center For American Progress.
In recent weeks, investigators have been examining the circumstances surrounding a series of fires at predominantly black, southern churches. While some of the more recent fires were ruled accidental, authorities found evidence for arson in at least three cases. Burning black churches has a long, well-documented history as a white tactic for intimidation, particularly in the days of the Civil Rights Movement. More recently, a mid-1990s series of racially-motivated church burnings prompted the 1996 Church Arson Prevention Act.
And yet, the seeming reluctance of several media outlets—including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN.com—to seek a racial context for covering the fires has led some commentators to question what might be at stake in avoiding calling the church fires anything other than “isolated incidents” or “vandalism,” especially in light of the recent shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. […]
Connecting the dots between acts of racist violence can be difficult for both the media and white folks in general, for reasons beyond the ugly reminders that we are not yet finished with racism. For the unsettling truth is this: All white Americans are tied up and implicated a racist system long maintained by violence. They may not have perpetrated racist hate crimes, but they still benefit from a system that works just as it was designed—to enable the power and prosperity of white people. Violence helps advance this system, and so does silence. Hateful, violent acts and minor oppressions alike accumulate to create the world in which we live. This system implicates white people by paying out benefits, or what scholars and activists call “white privilege.”
White supremacists do the dirty work, but repressive silence and willful misremembering allow racism to continue to flourish. Beginning to confront white privilege means realizing that it implicates every white person—not just the violent outliers. Confronting white privilege means submitting to the truths carried in black memories of violence. Lynchings, church burnings, Jim Crow, and the everyday macro- and micro-aggressions shaping black life have much to do with how we live and move in this world as well. For white people, the violent experience of black oppression is also the history of our privilege, and we must start to acknowledge it as such.
Carolyn J. Davis is a Policy Analyst for the Center for American Progress Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative and an ordained minister in The United Methodist Church.