Systems that nurtured me had opposite effect on others

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Key points:

 • Learning about Black experiences opens up understanding of white privilege.

 • “I know I must participate” in changing systems that have harmed others.

Laura Derr. Photo courtesy of the author.
Laura Derr
Photo courtesy of the author.


UM News publishes various commentaries about issues in the denomination. The opinion pieces reflect a variety of viewpoints and are the opinions of the writers, not the UM News staff.
2020 was a year of such stress. My husband, Tom, had a difficult open-heart surgery. We were isolated from our families and church friends. We had to deal with new realities in our everyday constrained lives.
But in looking back, one reality stands out that seemed unbelievable a year ago: my white privilege. I discovered how privileged I am and how my privilege has affected others negatively. In May 2020, when so many violent Black deaths seemed to occur all at once, our Sunday school class was meeting on Zoom. We talked about our horror at these events and our shock that these things are still happening.
One of our members is Black and the mother of two daughters. She burst into tears because she has had to tell her daughters that they are not safe because they are Black. She went on to share numerous events in her life when she or her husband had been treated in racist ways.
This is a person I love, one who has brought so much knowledge and diversity to our fellowship. I was stunned, and I began to read and listen to all the voices around us that have been trying to make us aware of white privilege. It has humbled me and made me question the very structures of our society I have always taken for granted.
I read several books, including one recommended by the Holston Conference: "I am Black, I am Christian, I am United Methodist." The voices in this book are those of our Christian leaders who happen to be Black.

We Are God's Family: Personal Encounters with Racism

We Are One Family: Personal Encounters with Racism is a series of commentaries of personal experience with racism and the intersection of faith and justice.  
UM News is inviting people to share their own personal stories about encounters with racism, as well as hopes and ideas for combating it. 
Their experiences are profoundly different from those of us who are white. The Rev. Justin Coleman, senior pastor at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, describes the different reality Black ministers face in predominantly white churches. He uses a term coined by W. E. B. Du Bois, “double consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others. One consciousness is your African American heritage and the other is a consciousness born out of white supremacy.”
Another book that has influenced me is "Love Is the Way" by Bishop Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. His memoir is filled with wisdom and love. Late in the book, he says, “Plenty of good people hold tight to the belief that American society is colorblind because to believe otherwise is far too painful. Their ignorance, in turn, causes great pain.”
I cannot ever take the systems that have nurtured me for granted again because they have had the opposite effect on so many. I know I must participate in changing these systems. This would have seemed unbelievable to me a year ago.

Derr is a member and the mobile food pantry coordinator at First United Methodist Church of Farragut in Knoxville, Tennessee. This commentary originally appeared on the Holston Conference website.

News contact: Joey Butler or Tim Tanton at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Friday (weekly) Digests.

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