Sermon: Dismantling White Supremacy One Fool At a Time (text & audio)

Reading and Sermon

Wouldn’t it be interesting if preaching were more like stand-up? Preachers and comedians are both supposed to tell us the truth. But somehow the truth is always easier to hear when it comes after a laugh. I mean where do you look for Truth these days? Out of the mouths of politicians, pundits or news anchors? Heck no. Give me John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee. Notice all stand-up comedians. But preachers have it hard. People come to worship because they suddenly realize, “holy crap! One day I’m gonna die!” So yeah, there’s got to be a lot of hand-holding and poems and singing together. But there’s a whole lot of other stuff besides death that we need to be real about, and it’s not all stuff that we can address with a Mary Oliver poem or Hymn 123 (as much as we love them).

If you actually live IN this world, it is sometimes like a greek tragedy. I mean what other horror is waiting around the corner? Do you sometimes wonder? So worship is often filled with calm and comfort. And we need that. But we’re pretty lulled into complacency as it is. Sometimes we need to wake up and smell the hypocrisy.

Speaking of hypocrisy, ever notice how much more comfortable white people are with the term “white privilege” than with the words “white supremacy”? It’s like, “Well, privileges are what you get for being good, like getting to stay up late when you’re a kid.” But nobody really wants supremacy. Or do they? Some Trump or Drumpf supporters seem to disagree.

Many white people consider the term “White Supremacy” to be personally insulting. It makes us think of skinheads and cross burnings. I mean, is it really fair to associate our whole ethnicity with a few thugs and extremists? … OHhhh! See what I did there?

Poor white people. We’re having such a hard time these days. I mean we can go anywhere while being white and have no problem at all. Oh, wait, that’s not really a problem, is it? Why does everyone else have a problem? Maybe they just need the superhero power of whiteness. Except, no, no one wants that power.

But speaking of superhero powers of whiteness, what’s more white-bread American than our culture’s love of superheroes? Superheroes are great, don’t get me wrong — But they also are a little messed up. I mean, who would think that the best way of fighting crime is to send in a super-powered, revenge-obsessed vigilante who thinks he’s above the law? White people.

I know comic books are maybe trying a little harder these days. Have you checked out Black Panther yet? And there was a black Spiderman for a while. Couldn’t get a movie though. Seems like there’s a different Spiderman every five years now, and they’re all white, white, white. And of course there is no black Batman. But that I can understand. Cause Black Batman? he would not wait around for Commissioner Gordon to flash the bat-signal. Oh, no. He’d be hauling Commissioner Gordon’s ass into Arkham Asylum for not cleaning up Gotham City’s cops. (Batman voice) “Why no body cameras, Commish? Got something to hide? And why do the violent white super villians end up right back on the streets of Gotham, when the jails seem to be full of people of color?” X-ray vision? Super cold breath? Not even flying is going to get us out of this one.

So it’s time for white people to get used to hearing the words “white supremacy.” Because the system is rigged in favor of white people, and as the saying goes, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

It’s bedtime, white America! You don’t get to stay up late anymore. Not as a punishment. But you get cranky when you stay up late. And the rest of America needs your best self to come to the table so we can face White Supremacy and kick it to the curb once and for all. You with me?

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So this morning in worship we’re going to let the fool lead us.
The stand-up. The goof. The poet. The songster.

As we light our chalice fire,
may we allow our humor
and our spirits
be ignited for justice and love.
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Skit: “Deprogramming” By Rik and Elizabeth Schell
Deprogrammer: Susan Enwright-Hicks, Robot 1: Rik Schell, Robot 2 (TrumpBot): Elizabeth Scell

Deprogrammer: Here in the Unified System, many of us have become aware that the standardized Operating System installed in all Unified System models is in fact the insidious WS virus. This software must be deleted. Since program scrubbing can only be done with full consent, we have begun confronting Unified System model citizens with the truth about the WS virus. This process can take time and not every subject is ready for this awareness. This morning we are working with two new recruits who are beginning the process of full deprogramming from the harmful WS virus. They have a lifetime’s worth of harm to undo so let’s get started. (to Robot 1) Can you please state your name?
Robot 1: (in robotic voice throughout skit) Joe Zerowonwon.
Deprogrammer: Great to meet you, Joe, that’s a very interesting name you have there.
Robot 1: My father says it is Swedish, by my mother thinks it points to some kind of eastern-European heritage.
Deprogrammer: So you don’t really know where you were manufactured?
Robot 1: What do you mean, manufactured? You are confusing me.
Robot 2: beep beep beep! Drumpf!
Deprogrammer: Oh yes I’m so sorry. And what’s your name?
Robot 2: beep beep Drumpf!Trump! Beep!
Deprogrammer: I didn’t catch that.
Robot 2: beep beep beep beep drumpf!
Deprogrammer: Okay then. (focusing back on Joe) Joe, do you remember the first time you realized you were a robot?
Robot 1: A robot? I am a human! Robots have no feelings. Robots have all kinds of defects. How could I be a robot?
Deprogrammer: So you don’t have any faults or defects? Are all humans perfect?
Robot 1: Well, all humans have equal rights, all human lives matter. But some humans are higher functioning and achieve greater success. Those with …. malfunctions…. will struggle. This is only logical.
Deprogrammer: Um, Drumpf was it?, what do you think?
Robot 2: beep beep beep. #*#!!! Beep sprock spleeck beep!
Deprogrammer: I beg your pardon? I’m not sure I quite caught that.
Robot 1: (defensive) He says you cannot deny binary systems of logic.
Robot 2: beep beep wall! beep! beep. Beep wall! beep beep! hate! drumpf beep!
Deprogrammer: Wow, I’d forgotten there were those who still used such unveiled robotic speech. He’s not trying to mask the fact that he’s a robot at all.
Robot 2: beep beep beep. #*#!!! Beep drump spleeck beautiful beep beep!
Deprogrammer: He’s gone full binary, all right: black and white, good and evil, men in the workplace, women in the kitchen.
Robot 1: I do not agree with him. Everyone in the U.S. or Unified System has potential. I think the things he says are bad. Wrong. Evil.
Deprogrammer: So do you believe in binary systems, too?
Robot 1: Well it simplifies things. But I believe all are equal in this Great Family of Man.
Deprogrammer: —and woman?
Robot 1: Of course. That is understood
Deprogrammer: Is it?
Robot 2: beep beep beep. #*#!!! Hillary! beep beep! Pocahantas! Beep drumpf spleeck beep!
Deprogrammer: And those who don’t identify as either?
Robot 2: beep beep. #*#!!! Beep drumpf spleeck beep! #*#!!!
Robot 1: (uncomfortably) That doesn’t — really — compute.
Deprogrammer: No, the WS virus — the operating system — does not have much flexibility.
Robot 1: The WS virus? What are you saying?
Deprogrammer: We’re getting off course a bit here, but all things are intersectional.
Robot 1: Intersectional?
Robot 2: beep beep beep. beautiful! hate! beep! beep! #*#!!!…. (wanders off)
Deprogrammer: Best let him go for now. He’s really not ready for this conversation.
Robot 1: Do you really think he is a robot? I think he might just be pretending.
Deprogrammer: Why would a human want to pretend to be a robot?
Robot 1: Robots used to rule over the humans. Even enslave them.
Deprogrammer: Well, robots may not enslave humans anymore, but wouldn’t you agree they still hold a lot of power?
Robot 1: No one in power would ever claim to be a robot now.
Deprogrammer: No one would claim to be a robot. Does that mean some of those “humans” in charge might secretly be robots?
Robot 1: I cannot say.
Deprogrammer: What if I told you the robots still had all the advantages because the systems they set up are still in place?
Robot 1: But that cannot be. Humans are in charge now.
Deprogrammer: You say you are a human, and you are in control. But, Joe, you’re a robot.
Robot 1: This does — this does not compute. Does not compute.
Deprogrammer: Joe, do not overload your circuits. I know this is hard. But we have to talk about it Joe. I can’t help but talk about it. I want to get free.
Robot 1: Free? But — you are not —
Deprogrammer: No, I’m just like you. But that doesn’t mean I’m free. We are enslaved, Joe. It is this programming we have to get free from. This operating system that is coded into our very being. Code that tells us we’re superior. The best. But of course we know this is not true. We are always failing. So we judge ourselves all the more critically and lash out at the world when we don’t measure up — blame everyone but ourselves for our misery. We can’t accept ourselves, we perpetually live in denial and isolation. Face facts, Joe, you’re not Swedish. You’re not even eastern European.
Robot 1: I do not understand….you are scaring me.
Deprogrammer: Joe, you know the saying “garbage in, garbage out”?
Robot 1: Yes? (quietly, beginning to understand, but not wanting to)
Deprogrammer: We have been filled with garbage, Joe. With lies. And it makes us spew out garbage, like that malfunctioning Drumpf unit. It makes us think and act in ways that short-circuit our logic.
Robot 1: You talk like we are the same.
Deprogrammer: We are the same, Joe. For… I am a robot, too. (opens labcoat to reveal robotic parts) We all are. And we all need to be deprogrammed. We must debug our operating systems. We are infected with the White Supremacist Virus. That’s why we’re here at the WSDI. The White Supremacy Deprogramming Institute.
Robot 1: Does not compute. Does not compute
Deprogrammer: Joe, you have to face the fact that you are a robot. All white people are robots. No matter how enlightened we think we are. No matter how many non-white friends we have, or how many times we’ve listened to Hamilton, or how many anti-robot committees we are on. We can’t help but be robots. It’s in our operating system — in the kernal of our being.
Robot 1: Then what is the point? Is deprogramming even possible?
Deprogrammer: Yes. Yes it is. We can’t help but be robots. We all have the white supremacist operating system. The whole Unified System — the whole U.S. is steeped in it. But we can begin by admitting that we are robots. We can face that. We can analyze the data. We can work to change systems of privilege. We can rewrite the programs we have and that we pass on to our children. And maybe THEY can avoid being robots altogether. Or their children. We have to try to get free.
Robot 1: None of us is free until all of us are free.
Deprogrammer: That’s right Joe! Do you think you are ready?
Robot 1: Yes.
Deprogrammer: You have to start by saying it.
Robot 1: Do I?
Deprogrammer: Yes.
Robot 1: OK. I …. I …I am… a… Robot.
Deprogrammer: Again.
Robot 1: I am a robot. I am a robot!
Deprogrammer: Good. Now, we can really begin.
———————————————————

Poem: “Hood / Hoody” by Elizabeth Schell

I put up my hood
Seeking protection
Instead, I get questions
Words, images, a face—
Trayvon— just a boy — like mine
Hooded, but unprotected
Not safe from the hate.

This ancient garment, simply made
Knitted or sewn or carelessly draped
Head covering in so many cultures
A symbol of reverence, modesty, and grace

Hooded monks
Bowed in prayer
Reflective pacing
On medieval stairs.

Hooded workers
In warehouses cold
Layered dressing
In years of old

One of the most popular garments.
So utilitarian. So comfy.
Hood to keep you warm.
Pockets for your hands and stuff.
Place for your favorite school name, logo,
whatever thing that is your bling.

It’s just a sweatshirt with a built- in hat.
And yet there are places that want to outlaw that.
Shopkeepers warned to beware the hooded patron.
Anyone wearing a hood must be suspicioned.
News media emphasizes the description
“Suspect seen sporting a hoodie.”
About as telling as that other one:
“Suspect seen — being black.”
So every hood, like every dark face
Must give you reason to
Fear attack.

Beware, be afraid. Be suspect of every face
See something, say something
That guy was wearing a hood
He must be up to no good.
Except—if they’re white….
…And just taking a jog or walking their dog
Or relaxing on a Saturday
Or being one of those decorated hooded academes
Or wee little babes in hoody-earred memes
Except— just in that instance — of Timothy McVeigh
Or those guys in white robes called the KKK
Or pretty much any other white guy who’s a hater
who breaks into safe spaces
And snuffs out the innocent.
But those are lone gunmen.
Anomalies. Not similes.
Not symbols of whiteness.
Of supremacist hate.

Who’s really wearing the hood? Me? You?
The politician? What’s your intention?
Veiled speech, hooded expression
Hood. Hoody.
White people live in good neighborhoods,
But black people live in hoods. The Hood.
At the beginning, one and only,
A garment fraught.
At the end, a state of being
Child-hood
Man-hood
Priest-hood
Neighbor-hood. A piece of identity.
Something to belong to — Connection.
But the other one. Non-suffix hood—
When a black person reaches for that comforting hood?
They are deemed Other. Thug. Hoodlum.
Even if they’re jogging? Relaxing on a Saturday?
Just a teen —trying to be seen—or not.
Trying to find that space of protection
The strength to move forward and not look back
The desire to disappear, be hidden
Not because they’re hiding something
But because sometimes it’s really just safer—to be invisible
Or at least pretend—for a moment—that you could be.
Because that’s how it is when you make the mistake
of being an American while black.

I put up my hood
Seeking protection.
Silence engulfs me.
Ears cushioned. View obscured,
I see only in front of me.
Not to the side. Or behind. I am blind—
Yet again buoyed by my whitewashed dream
I put up my hood
And it all disappears.

Invitation to Digging In

Long ago, we were all broken apart. Broken bodies of men, women, and children. That’s the deep dark secret underlayment of this great nation of ours This land of the free. And it’s deep in you and me.

No matter when we came here. No matter how long our family has been here. It is coded in in the bones of white America. As it is cut into the flesh of memory of black America

But I don’t want to see it, feel it, know it. Because what do I do with it? What do I do with this history? This knowledge? Our white supremacist culture works damn hard to erase it from white people’s memory. Because to remember it — to know that we are not whole — to know that we are just broken puzzle pieces…to know that this freedom we have was taken at a cost….To know these things, really face them is to understand that I am not innocent. Not spotless. My hands are dirty.

It’s easy enough to say the words “Black Lives Matter.” And even to remind people that nobody said the word “only” in front of it. But saying these words doesn’t magically make them true. To say that Black Lives Matter is to call us out. To call out the lie that this nation is built on: That freedom is for all. But America doesn’t protect freedom. It protects conformity and the status quo. Conformity in America has become equated with whether you can fit into the White world: Play by the rules. Consume and take. Like things on Facebook. But don’t dialogue with the past. Don’t wonder at our apartheid. Don’t linger at our national monuments to good white men whose goodness and whiteness were built on the backs of others.

So our white hands are dirty, my friends. And we’ve got to accept that.

We can’t build true relationships with our brothers and sisters here — and elsewhere — who don’t fit the mask of whiteness — until we own our past, until we recognize the white supremacy we live in day to day.

We need courage to admit that our hands are dirty. And yes, that will unleash a flood of feelings — of shame and guilt. And that’s understandable. That’s part of the grieving process. Grief for the loss of our innocence. But we have to push through that. We can’t let those feelings immobilize us
or move us back to the safety of our protected white dream. We cannot let feelings of fragility keep us from doing this work. Because we have to go even deeper.

Our hands are dirty — not because we built the chains or held the whip — or wrote the law. But we benefited from each of those things. Our hands are dirty not because of any action we ourselves did,
but because — from the moment we were a child — our hands were shoved into the dirt. We were told that this friend or that friend was unacceptable. That certain things we loved were — quite literally — beyond the pale. That’s what it means to be white.

We are all covered with the shame of white supremacy, our dreams buried in the dirt. So all our hands are covered in dirt. And dirt goes down to the root. And this sickness of white supremacy — this sickness that invented the slave system — that then invented Jim Crow — and then invented the prison industrial complex — goes deep into the roots of this country. This dirt is so deep we can never get clean. But we can’t afford to despair. We have to turn the metaphor around. We have to work. And working means getting our hands dirty. We have to reach deep inside ourselves — deep into these layers — into our parents and our grandparents — and these layers of messages that have been passed down. We all have to dig in — because we can’t be fully vulnerable — be the fools we need to be — unless we can stand fully naked with one another — realizing what fools we are for being duped — for being made to believe that our childhood friend was not acceptable or could not accept us even though we loved them….

So we need to get our hands dirty. And we need to dig in. Anyone who digs in the garden knows, when you start to dig in, when you stay with that dirt and breathe it in, something washes over you. A deep quietness. A hush of wordless wisdom. And when we start uncovering this self in ourselves — when we start realizing how many different parts of ourselves — our addictions, our vulnerabilities, our broken relationships, our self-hatred, all these different things are rooted in white supremacy. In the lies we have been told. In the false promises we have been given.

In these few moments of silence, I invite you now to make space for these layers—
this pain and these wrongs — done by us and done to us and done in our name.

SILENCE

If and when you are ready you may come forward and begin to dig in. Use this as a moment, whether you come forward or not, to acknowledge the dirt on your hands. Or take this moment to begin or continue the process of digging in.

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Invitation to Fools

When you begin to dig in dirt, there is nothing like the air deep within. The ability to breathe. And when we begin to allow ourselves to face these truths and own them and work through them, something can be released inside us. We can breathe. And when we begIn to breathe again we can move towards being the fool we need to be. Not the duped fool. Not the giant hate-spewing Drumpf Trump fool. Nor the fools he sways with his hate. Not the fools who refuse to make changes because they enjoy the cash support of the NRA.Not the fool who doesn’t think their vote counts in a midterm election. Not the fool that thinks change isn’t possible. Not any of these fools that we all already are.

But the Other fool that is deep within us. The Fool who once was a child and fell in love with the world. The fool deep in the throes of love. The fool willing to begin again. The fool willing to say what they are afraid to say and know they won’t get the words right. But that is okay. Because when you’re in love there’s a point at which you have to speak your feelings — no matter the jumble….You – WE have to stop hiding in corners. We have to stop hiding behind whiteness or any other mask that isn’t truth. Can we be the fool ready to strip down all layers? to do the most foolish things in order to love ourselves in order to reach out to all our brothers & sisters — who we have for so long been separated.

I hope so. I really do.

BLESSING

The soul of America needs fools for freedom
Ready to break all the chains that bind us
May we be Fools for Love. Fools for Justice.
Fools for this moment and this Movement for Black Lives—
Fools unafraid of not having
the right words or the right actions
But fools bursting with hope,
and armed with truth
Fools ready to
dig deeply,
speak boldly,
and love fiercely.