WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

White History

By Bev Spears

“...Leaving behind nights of terror and fear⠀
I rise⠀
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear⠀
I rise⠀
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,⠀
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.⠀
I rise⠀
I rise⠀
I rise.”⠀
—Maya Angelou, “Still I Rise”

I spent fifth grade—our first time covering American History—dreading the chapter on the Civil War because I knew the issue of slavery had to come up. In Black families, enslavement was not talked about. The past was traumatic and best suppressed.

A Black child around 8 years old stares down at a desk covered in books, with a dismayed or tired look on their face.

My friend Billy and I were the only two Black kids in the class. I could tell my white teacher was nervous as she started talking about the Civil War. The whole time she spoke, I sat at my desk, head down, staring at the textbook, with its picture of a Black man standing on an auction block in chains. There was another picture of enslaved people bent over working in the cotton fields. There was no Frederick Douglass or Harriet Tubman. There was no mention that America’s economic prosperity was fueled by slave labor.

I felt the eyes of the white kids in that class laser-pinpointed on me, and I assumed on Billy. I was beyond embarrassed by the pictures, and indeed the whole subject of enslavement. And then my well-meaning teacher sealed my humiliation: at the end of the lesson, she announced to all of those white kids that Billy and I were just as good as they were.

More than one seed was planted that day. I don't think up until that moment that it had occurred to most of those white kids that we weren't as good as they were, but more importantly, it had never occurred to me that I was not as good. At recess that afternoon, a kid called me the N-word for the very first time. Billy and I never spoke of that unbearable hour. We went on as if it had never happened.

From the beginning, the story of Black people in America has been told through the lens of white supremacy. The narrative has always been controlled, distorted—willfully obscured and co-opted by white dominant culture.

What happens to Black and Indigenous people when the message we’ve received for hundreds of years is: The only worth you have is the worth we afford you; the only dignity you have is the dignity we allow you?

We spend our lives reclaiming our inherent worth and dignity until a very different history emerges, and a new story unfolds.

Prayer

Transcendent Spirit of many names and no name, may the divine spark that dwells within us be ever-evolving, ever-expanding, ever-infused with wisdom and love.

About the Author

Bev Spears

Reverend Bev Spears (she/her/ella) is an ordained American Baptist minister and congregational leader at The Unitarian Universalist Congregation Santa Rosa. She is an essayist, preacher, and teacher of Evolving Spirituality and Integral Philosophy.

Follow/Subscribe

For more information contact .