Protesting My White Shame

I expected to feel anxious, excited, empowered, inspired, and afraid when we stood in front of 10,000 people and temporarily shut down the production of Aida at the Muny theater in St. Louis last Tuesday night. I expected to feel grief, anger, and pain that evening, the two-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s extrajudicial killing on Canfield Dr. I expected to feel hopeful as we sang Ella Baker’s anthem in protest, “We who believe in freedom will not rest until it’s won.”

I did not expect to feel shame.

I felt ashamed when a sea of white people booed, giving us “thumbs down” and other, less-sophisticated digits. I felt ashamed for feeling ashamed simply because these thousands of white strangers were squinting disdainfully at me and the brothers and sisters I was with. I felt ashamed knowing that ten years ago I would have been booing us too.

And then I realized, I’m not only protesting to liberate black and brown friends and family. But I am also protesting to liberate myself and my white brothers and sisters from a system that tells us our uninterrupted theater-going luxury is more important than listening to the pain and trauma of our dying black and brown brothers and sisters for a mere 23 minutes.

This week in Ferguson changed me. I have never before felt the depth of my need for liberation from systemic structures of racism and racist socialization. And as a Christian, I can’t help but thank God for the good news that Jesus frees me from my white shame, so that I can shamelessly get on with the work of freedom.