Being Willing to Talk About Racial Violence

August 20, 2019

The week of the El Paso shooting, my son asked why the flags were not being flown at the top of the pole. It was a hard parenting moment.

“There was another person who used a gun and killed people,” I answered (I didn’t mention that there had been two mass shootings in one day, which I can barely wrap my brain around, so I didn’t want my nine-year-old to try).

We’ve talked about gun violence before after “code red” drills in school, which prepare for an active shooter in their classroom. Also, we attended a prayer service following the murders of worshippers in Charleston.

“Why do so many people have brain sickness?” my son asked, having heard my previous explanations for these shootings: mental illness.

“I’m not sure that was the problem this time,” I said. I had just heard an NPR interview about the statistics: Mental illness by itself accounts for less than 5% of interpersonal violence. It’s self-harm and suicide where mental illness becomes very important, accounting for between 45% and 75%. I hope we give attention to the mental health crisis in this country before my son grows up, but I no longer think this will, by itself, solve the problem of a white man with a gun in a Walmart full of brown people.

“I think he did this because he was full of hate. He believed that he was better than others because he was white, and he used his gun to kill people who were not white.”

“Why did he think that?” my son asked, incredulous.

“He learned it, and believed it, and he let it grow in him.”

“Where did he learn from?”

I didn’t know how to answer that.

I am concerned about the dark corners of the internet, and what my son could learn there if he found them. I’m concerned about what he sees and hears when he’s at his grandma’s house and the cable news is rolling in the background. I’m concerned about what he will hear from church pulpits. I’m concerned about what he’ll hear from the President.

I need to talk about white supremacy with my son so that he will recognize it quickly, and work against it boldly.

This summer, the CRCNA passed a resolution condemning kinism as a heresy—which is the belief that God intends for people to be separated by race. I think the person who wrote the overture to condemn kinism must have seen what I saw: pastors in the CRC dismissing concerns about the kinist minister’s blog. White church leaders seemed unable to decode the posts as heretical, as white supremacy. They didn’t recognize it.

My son lives in a world that subtly normalizes—and prioritizes—the experiences of white people, and it’s like a drug. Like me, he will get numb to it, and begin to believe what it tells him about his own worth relative to others. He will live in a world, like I do, where decisions are made by white people. Laws are shaped by white people. He will be hired by white people. Pulled over and ticketed by white people. Be operated on by white people. Hear sermons from white people that following Jesus means being kind to black and brown people—helping, saving, serving, fixing, being the one on top instead of alongside.

I want to talk about white supremacy with my child, because he is white. Because it is hard work to unlearn white supremacy. He will learn it every single day, in a world that’s curated for him.

I want to talk about white supremacy because it is sin. It will prevent him from experiencing God. It will obscure the Kingdom which has come near, the one that puts the first last and the last first. I want him to see Christ, to know Christ, to follow Christ in his life. I want the church to be the place he grows to understand these values.

I need to talk about white supremacy with my child, and I don’t want to do it alone. I want the community of resources, partners, grace and resilience to fulfill its baptismal vows to my child. I want the church to be the place I go to, not run from, when teaching my child about these topics.

Church, we need to talk about white supremacy.

About the Author
  • Kate Kooyman is a pastor in the Reformed Church in America and works for the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice. She teaches about immigration issues in churches in order to empower Christians to discern their calling to advocate for justice. She also helps to coordinate the "Immigrants are a Blessing, Not a Burden" campaign.

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  1. This is a sad, but powerful challenge to the church. I whole-heartedly agree with her challenge to the church–her son needs to hear sermons that remind us that “following Jesus means being kind to black and brown people.” And then her last sentence: “Church, we need to talk about white supremacy.” Will that happen in your church?

  2. This is such a well-written article. In some ways I want to be able to separate out white supremacy from racism. I want to make the White Supremacists only those who declare themselves as such and march as such. Racism has become the softer, more acceptable version. But I think perhaps we have all become too inoculated to the word racism saying, “Well, I admit I am racist as times, but everybody is.” Then we shrug our shoulders and go on being racist and feeling okay because we have admitted there is a twinge of it in us. This article doesn’t let us get away with that. Good job!

  3. This is a particularly important topic and the thoughts should be ones shared to all. Yes, we need to talk this talk to our children and grandchildren. It has not gotten easier as far as white supremacy goes; it has gotten hard. So we need to speak up and out to all. Thank you for doing this.