BY TINAMARIE STOLZ | June 24, 2020

As a white person, I will never be entirely “woke” about anti-Black racism. No matter what I do, I will never have the lived experience of being Black in the United States. But I am entirely responsible for an active awakening that leads to continuous action. 

My service year with Christ the King Service Corps in Detroit transformed my understanding of race. My community mates and a Black mother and son awoke me from several layers of white privilege. I witnessed a tiny glimpse into the reality of being Black in America, and it changed me. 

I entered the year knowing racism to be existent, horrific, and problematic, but I didn’t understand how it pervaded systemically. And to be honest, I didn’t believe it profoundly infiltrated the police force, laws, or justice system; it was 2014 after all! To me, there was slavery, Civil Rights, and then racist individuals. 

My community mates, Andy, Amy, and Denise, discussed anti-Black racism frequently and passionately. Andy is white and worked as a community organizer with Moses, a multi-faith, diverse, grassroots organization. Denise is Latina and worked as a community organizer with Moses as well. Amy is Black and taught third grade at the parish school. Three races, one message. 

They talked about police brutality without a 1960s photo and said it still happened. They explained laws could be racist without explicitly racist language, and that the criminal justice system upholds those racist laws. They spoke about slavery morphing into Jim Crow Laws, and then into the intentional mass incarceration of Black bodies. But I didn’t understand. They even brought me to a Black Lives Matter protest. I did not fully participate. I simply walked around and took it all in. Yet, my community mates continued to teach me and push me to wake up, like Jesus waking the sleeping girl in Mark 5:41—

He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).

They took me by the hand and kept calling out, Tinamarie, I say to you, get up. In doing so, they awoke me to the possibility that maybe the criminal justice system, including police brutality, was worse than I initially thought. Perhaps laws could be sneakily racist. Maybe there were more than a few bad apples, and don’t a few bad apples spoil the bunch anyway? Then Mrs. Hendrickson and Matthew came into the picture.

I met Mrs. Hendrickson at my placement site. I’ll always remember the first day I met her and her family—an immediate connection. She spoke with Sister Vincent Louise, another volunteer, while the rest of us made popcorn and toasted pop tarts in the kitchen. We played trivia and talked about school and shows on the Disney Channel. When Mrs. Hendrickson rounded them up, we groaned in unison, “Do we have to go?” 

A few months later, Mrs. Hendrickson needed new pants for her 15-year-old son, Matthew, who hit a significant growth spurt. I placed my hand on his shoulder and explained he was officially a living string bean (to which he smiled and rolled his eyes). I went to the back and pulled out our only four options. 

He tried them on in the restroom, while his mother and I chatted. I remember cracking up about her most recent stories about her youngest’s terrible twos. 

Henry opened the door. The first pair were still too short. So were the next two. 

The door swung open again; I looked at him, “They’re a bit too big.” 

But it’s all we had. 

“I think the fourth one is the best option,” I stated casually, reaching for a bag to put them in. Then the tone of the room changed. 

It went from friendly to upset, from fun to tense. 

She pulled up his pants, examining them intensely, “Do you have a belt?” she asked, her eyes wide, “He needs a belt.” she commanded with panic. 

Jarred by her change in demeanor, I took a beat.

“I don’t want the police to think he’s something he’s not. I don’t need him in any trouble.” 

She was afraid. She was terrified. She was protecting her baby boy: fear and injustice, their lived reality. 400+ years of systemic Black oppression hung in the room and manifested in the present moment. Oppression lived where I stood. 

And it shattered. A deep layer of my privileged white lense demolished right there on the carpet. They knew what was happening. Everything my community mates spoke about clicked. 

Tinamarie, I say to you, get up!

My eyes filled. Matthew looked out the window. 

“Oh,” my heart said out my mouth, “So, that’s what it’s like being a Black mom in America.” She nodded. 

get up!, get up

It took me 22 years to understand that I don’t understand. I needed to have a mom look at me in the eyes, and courageously show her hurt to believe what Black people have been saying about the criminal justice system and police brutality for generations. Isn’t that sick that that’s what I needed to wake up? White privilege at its finest. My ignorance, silence, and disbelief helped create their reality. 

I remember going home and sharing what happened with my community mates. There was no “I told you so.” Instead, they took me by the hand and led me to Black authors, artists, and an uncensored U.S. history. I listened differently and learned. I believed Trayvon Martin’s mom. I see even “good” cops and I know many uphold an unjust system. I recognize that everyone has implicit bias, and it must be seriously examined and uprooted, especially for those who want to teach children, serve, or carry a gun. 

It’s terrible how many times I let myself go back to sleep simply because I can. I’m recounting them right now. 

Working toward racial justice means one big thing for me; I have to stay awake and keep awakening. Plus, I have the responsibility to keep non-Black people awake too. I can’t unfollow or push them away when I feel anger or frustration. Instead, I must be like my community mates, like Mrs. Hendrickson, Matthew, and Jesus. I must take them by the hand and keep saying, get up. I need to be creative, direct, and consistent in the context that I inhabit. 

It also means as new policies arise, I will follow Black leadership. My Congressional representatives will be hearing from me. I will take advantage of the resources around me for further education. 

What does it mean for you, as Jesus continues to cry out: White America, I say to you, get up!

 

3 replies
  1. Avatar
    Dr.Cajetan Coelho says:

    Well written Tinamarie. Indeed, theology has to liberate the theologians first. Practice is the way to perfection.

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Suzanne Urban Ryan says:

    Tinamarie, you have the heart of Jesus and have seen God’s message of justice. Since you heard God’s wake-up call, you cannot stay quiet ever again.That is the Holy Spirit alive in you. Think about those gifts of the Holy Spirit! You have got them! You do not suffer from White guilt; you see that You work for peace by working for and demanding justice for Black people in our nation. You have “white-wake-up” and that is good. No more denying. It is freeing, isn’t it? To know that you see something that has existed for such a long time, but now you see it with fresh and honest eyes.

    I will often ask my White students, if they would (honestly) ever permanently change places with a Black person. Students squirm in their seats. It is a completely uncomfortable time for them. I ask them to stand up if they would exchange places. Here’s the rub: I have never had a white student say they would. No student has ever stood up. I point out that their simple answer of “no” demonstrates that there is such a thing as white privilege. Why else would you not switch and stand up? The answer is simple. Unconsciously, as White people, we know that there is a difference between how White and Black people are treated. If we were all equal and treated as such, we would not think twice about switching. That is the insidiousness of systemic racism. It has gone on for over 400 years. It has seeped into every aspect of our lives and every community throughout this land, from housing, to education, to job opportunities, to commensurate salaries for doing the same job, to one set of laws for Whites and another for Blacks, to how we portray Blacks and Whites in the news, to mass incarceration of our Black and Brown brothers and sisters, to being stopped for driving while black. The list could go on and on.

    However, I have hope when I see young people like you, and my son, your cousin, fighting and demanding action. Black lives DO matter and we must fight along side our Black brothers and sisters to let our Black brothers and sisters know they were never meant to fight this battle alone. Think about he parable of “The Lost Sheep”. Jesus left the 99 to find the one lost sheep. Think of the one sheep as our Black brothers and sisters. The 99 do not matter if we cannot care for that one lost sheep! The one sheep makes the group complete and whole. Without justice for our Black brothers and sisters, we will never have justice or peace. We will never be whole.

    Thank you, T! Love you!

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Dean Gray says:

    Stop trying make white people feel guilty for something that most never did, my WHITE ancestors were slaves from 12th century to 1864 and even after WW2 until the Russians left ( even today it still happens via human trafficking ) and my ancestors never colonized a single African, South America or Caribbean country/island. My ancestors fought alongside rebelling slaves in Haiti, 5200 polish soldiers were taken there by the French and my ancestors turned on them cause it was horrible and they helped the slaves to be free and to this day Poland shares a special relations with Haiti. I will never suffer from white guilt nor am I racist cause my specific bloodline did more than what these protests and violence has done to help our brothers and sisters. Look up Polish history from the start we’ve been oppressed for 77 percent of our existent. Try not delete this one like the last one just because you don’t like factual history ( plus I have physical proof about my ancestors ) and it goes against your agenda shame on you.

    Reply

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