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And now? Allow me to introduce myself.
I am the Rev. Melinda Teter Dodge. I use the pronouns she/her/hers. I am white, cis-gendered, and I was born into a rebellious, anti-institutional group called Generation X. My mom taught me three important things (among many):
- to question almost everything;
- to not waste your time memorizing anything that you could just look up; and
- that – if I was ever bored? that was on me. Our world is far from boring.
But my mom? She didn’t teach me to be racist or anti-black.
I was born into and I am a product of white privilege and a systemically racist culture that has infiltrated and impacted my world, my schooling, my housing, my choices, my life. I was born white and I have inherited a privilege in this country like none other. Anti-blackness and racism are woven throughout us all in the U.S.
And that includes me and my life.
It is me. It is you. It is us.
Anti-blackness and systemic racism is so insidiously interwoven into who and how we are and who and how we become that most whites (including myself) do not have an awareness of its existence in the vast majority of our hours on Earth.
What a privilege that is, in and of itself.
Our nation’s inherent anti-blackness and our broad systemic racism is something that I have been aware of since my college years. But awareness and action are far from the same. I will confess that a deep feeling of hopelessness to affect real change has had me in its grips for years. And? My very own privilege and complacency has stopped me from acting as fully as I could or I should.
But? As an ordained elder in the church, as a leader of younger generations and a a few suburban Southern California churches, I trust that this era that we are in — is different. I want to – and I need to – trust that the Holy Spirit … she is moving amongst us all right now and change is here.
Earlier in June, I had a particularly impactful week that further deepened my own awareness of systemic racism and its all-too-human impact on life itself. On Monday, June 8, the morning of George Floyd’s memorial service in his hometown of Houston, Texas, I participated in an organized, multi-pronged funeral procession that covered all points of Los Angeles County. Our procession began at CSULB, where we prepared our vehicles, and then symbolically processed into DTLA, meeting up with the other three processions. Then, together, the 1000’s of us converged upon downtown Los Angeles to hear from Los Angeles Black Lives Matters leaders and speakers who had organized us all.
White clergy were asked to stand in the back, and hold the line with the LA County Sheriffs patrol … who was there for reasons unknown. So, I stood in the back, toe to toe with other white clergy; I stayed for a number of hours in the hot sun (mask included/safely distanced), holding the line with the Sheriff’s force. Holding the line while listening to stories of deeply personal, painfully raw interactions with LAPD. Holding the line while listening to persons tell of brutal abuse and killings at the hands of the very people – that we entrust to protect us. Holding the line with some of those very people that I was hearing were agents in a diabolical, anti-black system that perpetuates the abuse of black lives and has since its inception.
But then, four days later, on Friday, June 12, I was invited into a zoom conversation with Long Beach Police Chief, Robert Luna. Here, I found myself toeing a very different line. This was a line of listening to narratives of officers who have dedicated their lives and hearts to protecting our city and streets. I heard narratives of persons who are feel immense shame for the actions of others who “wear the badge,” and many of whom are fearful everyday on the job. I heard from officers who are asked to/expected to do far, far too much in a system that has (again and again) underfunded, under-resourced deeper needs of our communities. Indeed, I heard tales of a massive system that underfunds the need, and then leaves the aftermath to the police to manage. (houselessness, mental illness, gangs, addiction, domestic abuse, child abandonment, human trafficking, hunger … to name a few)
I cannot claim to know the intricacies of police work, training and funding nor the abuses of these servants that has happened and continues to occur throughout our nation and communities.
I cannot claim to know the centuries of demeaning and abuse and generations of lives gone underfulfilled of our black brothers and sisters nor their pain, loss, despondency, or despair.
I cannot claim to know what it is to not have my experience of being born white in an anti-black nation.
But, I can claim an awareness. And I must. I can and I must claim an awareness of my own implicit bias, and that I sit in a place of white privilege that I was born into and as a child of God in the United States.
Even more than that?
I must claim to be a disciple of Christ who knows with her entire heart and soul that this is not the kingdom for which Jesus lived and died so that we would know a better way.
I must claim a way that professes my awareness of the world in which we live as well as the narratives, the his- and her- and their-stories of persons that have far different experiences than I do. I must claim a way that opens my own ears and heart and eyes to that which must be told and heard and I must make way (as best I can and should) for new paths that must be forged and opened before us all.
It is this that I have been praying over. I have been praying for the knowledge, the steps and the courage to participate in meaningful, respectful, effective systemic change that will contribute to the dismantling of anti-blackness, racism and white privilege in our homes, communities, institutions, nations and world.
One step that I have taken is to engage in conversation with other parents about “raising race conscious children.” I am practicing this work, and I highly recommend it to you and yours.
And I have been collaborating with other faith and community leaders in Long Beach on an initiative to fund race, equity and justice resources in our local libraries. This is the fund that I mention earlier in this post.
Continuing a walk with Christ and with you, I remain your sister in Christ,