Powell: The battle is not won

The white-supremacy attacks in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, have communities on edge. We wonder where the next attacks will happen. Is our community next? These mass murders, incited by the national leadership’s rhetoric, have put communities on notice that domestic terrorism and white extremism are on the rise.

John Powell

While living in the South, I heard many white people say the South would rise again. They seemed to know something many folks ignored. They believed white folks were superior to those with a different hue.

When black folks moved into northern communities, the idea of white supremacy took hold. Hatred, violence and denial of equal rights became the norm.

The South lost the war, but the battle raged on.

We have begun to realize white supremacy is an integral part of our national life. What’s happening to us and our communities is real. Does realism mean accepting white supremacy? Does it mean being blind to racial cleansing? Certainly not.

People who excuse racism and ignore racist acts are co-conspirators. Inaction emboldens racists. This represents a return to our cruelest moments in history.

Is it difficult for you to witness or experience escalating racism, murder and violence? Are you willing to do something about it?

I want to believe that what’s happening isn’t a reflection of the decency this country supposedly espouses. Yet Princeton University professor Eddie Glaude believes this is who we are. He says, and I agree, that unless we change, the cycle of violence and prejudice will repeat itself.

Several years ago, my activist peacemaking role was challenged. I attempted to justify my positions. But my answer was inadequate. I finally said that as a peacemaker I am required to live, in word and deed, God’s justice, particularly for the dispossessed.

Jesus said: “Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:44). In the midst of the hatred, mass murder and white supremacy, it’s difficult to live out Jesus’ admonition. Yet Jesus says that as peacemakers we are to do it and will be called children of God (Matt. 5:9). These words, which have never been easy, seem all the more difficult today.

Many of us confess to being people of faith. That ought to make what we think and do Christlike. James says faith without works is dead (James 2:17).

That’s our history and present reality.

Each of us has a decision to make. We can strive to become what we claim to be — or not.

We must do more than tell consoling stories of how we contributed meals to food pantries. It requires a lot of work, and it requires us to be vigilant. We can begin by being unpleasantly frank with ourselves about the current state of our community.

We must not be complacent about white supremacy. Hatred and violence are out to claim our souls. They will devour us if we ignore the problem.

Civil rights activist and “silence breaker” Tarana Burke says, “People need hope and inspiration desperately. But hope and inspiration are only sustained by work.”

The time has come when silence and inaction betray the mandate given to us. Being peacemakers means we can’t be passive. A true pacifist confronts evil with justice.

Are you a silence breaker?

John Powell, of Ypsilanti, Mich., has worked as a pastor, preacher and teacher in Mennonite churches and institutions.

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