Yesterday, I offered a message at First Parish in Cambridge based on my thoughts around being black in white spaces. In January, I consciously chose not to mention Black History Month until the very last Sunday of February. I wanted to see how people responded to my not naming it. We still brought plenty of black history through the month, but I wanted to “normalize” the inclusion of black history into our basic worship experience.
Black and other clergy of color serving largely white churches have a particular set of challenges. Among those challenges is being able to invite direct communication and even criticism from our congregants and staff. It is a challenge because too often I have heard of these communications not happening because white congregants and colleagues believe they will be perceived as being racist. Being criticized for our work as ministers or being called into covenant is not racist. Being lied to, worked around or having information witheld from us is racist. It is an expression of mistrust based in seeing someone as the “other”. If you are being racist (or sexist, or abelist) we will tell you and we deserve the right to do so, just as you must tell us when we are doing the same…which we do. We are human.
After a brief discussion about Black History Month yesterday, I offered a poem: BLACK IN WHITE SPACES. The following is the final stanza of the piece and the poem in its entirety is available here: Black in White Spaces – Poem.
Black in white spaces
Has for me been a painful blessing
A journey of understanding
Of self and surroundings.
I’m sure this equation is shifting
My observations will soon be obsolete
But in the meantime, I am happy to be a guide.
And isn’t it ironic that the “black power” child
May be the one holding the candle in the darkness of white spaces.