ISSUES OF FAITH: Thinking our way through Juneteenth and Pride Month

  • By Keith Dorwick For Peninsula Daily News
  • Friday, June 24, 2022 1:30am
  • Life

Friends of mine who I trust and who read my columns have been trying to get me to write on the topic of Juneteenth for a while now, in the various venues in which I do write.

Challenge ON! Only, I have a problem—I’ve been wanting/trying to write this particular column for several days now. It’s been hard, far harder than I thought; I know I have lots to say on the topic of racism — in my previous academic life, I dealt, as best I could at the time, with the problem of writing about Black issues while being white.

Most important rule I discovered in that process: I don’t have one thing to say to Black people about what their lives are like. They know what they face much better than I ever could.

So far as I know, while my ancestors, especially on the Irish side, have had rough times—it’s not at all unusual to see the N-word applied to Irish folks in 19th century writing on both sides of the Atlantic—not many have actually have been property.

While there are many, many ways in which I can and do feel sympathy towards racial minorities, I cannot walk in their reality, though being a racial minority defines just about every minute of life in U.S. society.

I get part of it: why “Black Lives Matter” is needed but “All Lives Matter” is a racist construction.

“Black Lives Matter” because Black people make, for the most part, much less money than other folks do, especially white folks. Black folks need to worry about every single traffic stop and the real possibility of being shot, especially where I lived down south in Louisiana, in ways I don’t have to think about. Black people face microaggressions, fairly subtle digs at their worth, that undercut their very ability to do their work.

The cold fact is that Black people face difficulties every moment of every day that we white folks benefit from — you read that right. We benefit from racism and so we need to work at dismantling it. While all lives do matter, Black lives are at higher risk.

During my last big academic project, I started to read Black activists and wonder what my relationship to God called me to do without remaining part of the problem. Being an ally to any minority group is really tough; to do well, though, I can give you one hint: don’t take up all the air in the room; don’t take up all the bandwidth. Listen hard.

So, I am glad to celebrate Juneteenth, while remaining aware that it itself is an acknowledgement of racism and of emancipation from slavery that came far too late: 2½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation.

Texas just didn’t bother to tell Black slaves that they had been freed.

For a great essay on this subject, I highly recommend Casey Gerald’s “The True Meaning of Juneteenth” (New York Times, June 19, 2022). Casey is both gay and Black, and his essay is well worth your time.

And I know as a queer person in Pride Month, I sometimes find myself having to intervene when WMSP (Well Meaning Straight People) tell me what it is to be queer. Short answer: they are usually wrong, sometimes terribly so, especially on trans issues.

As a transgender person, I pass as “male,” though I am in fact non-binary. Since I have various sorts of privilege, I sometimes respond directly to them; other times, I sigh, let it ride and hate myself a bit for doing so. But I always feel that self-harm deep in my soul. And all this is definitely easier for me. I’m white. I look male. I can only hope to use that power for good, and I often fail.

But for us all, listen to each other.

One of my favorite religious texts out of all of Western Christianity is the Rule of St. Benedict.

It’s opening word? “Listen.”

One of the lessons for this past Sunday is the account of God walking by past Elijah. God was not in the earthquake, the wind, the fire. God was in “sheer silence.”

In that holy silence, let us listen to one another.

________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Dr. Keith Dorwick is a Deacon at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Port Angeles/St. Swithin’s Episcopal Church, Forks.

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