White Savior: Racism in the American Church (2019) Movie Script

NARRATOR: November
2008-- this was
the night many people
in the United States
believed that our nation's
long history of racial division
had come to an end.
We were entering what
was optimistically
called post-racial America.
But in the decades since
the American people elected
the country's first
black president,
most of our nation's most
complex social issues
continue to revolve around race.
Why is this such a
stumbling block for us?
What will it take for us
to finally come together?
Can the issues of race
ever truly be overcome?
Or is it just human
nature to divide ourselves
along racial lines?
There are a lot of people who
believe that racism is there
it's always going to be there.
There's nothing you
could do about it.
You are the race you
are, blah, blah, blah.
And I say, no, this is
something we made up.
NARRATOR: Wait, what?
something we made up.
NARRATOR: So if we made
race up, what's the story?
A closer look at history
reveals that the story of race
is a story of labor.
Most of us were taught that
North America was initially
colonized by those
seeking religious freedom.
But in fact, most Europeans,
including the Pilgrims,
came for land and
economic opportunity.
At that time, there was no
concept of race as we know it.
No one identified by
the color of their skin,
but by their country of origin--
French, English, Dutch, Spanish.
By the early 17th century, the
colony's plantation economy
was booming.
This created a massive
need for cheap labor,
a need largely filled by
poor European immigrants.
Some land owners also
used enslaved people
from African nations.
But at the time, an
enslaved person's status
was not lifelong.
One could gain their freedom.
However, in 1676,
enslaved Africans
joined with European indentured
servants in a large rebellion
against the colonial
government in Virginia.
Alarmed by the natural
alliance between
the indentured and
enslaved, the ruling class
passed a series of laws that
segregated and permanently
enslaved those of
African descent,
while also giving their
European counterparts
new rights and status.
This divide and conquer
strategy paved the way
for what would
become an organized
system of racial chattel--
And that was how you
kept a system in place
and why you had white people
who were poor not challenging
the system, because they
were sold a bill of goods
that somehow whiteness
was going to include them
in all the benefits of society.
NARRATOR: The first legal
use of the term "white"
appeared in 1691 in
a document created
by the colonial government of
Virginia, used intentionally
to differentiate people
by the color of their skin
rather than their
nation of origin.
In 1790, Thomas
Jefferson put forth
the first US national census,
which placed the population
into the categories
of free white males,
free white females, and
all other free persons.
Enslaved black people were
counted as well, but only
as 3/5 of a person.
Native Americans
weren't counted at all.
And at its first
seating, Congress
passed the
Naturalization Act, which
stated that only free whites
could become United States
You have to be white.
That was the first
thing they said.
The very first thing.
You have to be white.
What humans have done is
ascribe meaning and difference
to skin colors and
then use those meanings
to create hierarchies.
And so when we say race
is socially constructed,
it's about the ways in which
humans have created hierarchies
related to racial difference.
NARRATOR: The construct
of race as a way
to assign value to
human beings became
woven into the structures
of this new nation,
with white people
valued above all others.
This ideology has been
upheld and reinforced
throughout our
country's history,
continually seeking
through pseudoscience, civil
policy, and bad theology,
all examined through
a white lens.
White supremacy is the idea
that not only is it great
to be white, but it's
better than anybody else.
It's better than
any other color.
It is the best.
The way that white
folks do things,
the way that white folks think,
the way that white folks do
church, the way that white
folks write and talk about God
is better than anybody else.
As a person of
color, I notice this
when I walk into
denominational headquarters
or I walk into seminaries
and Christian colleges
and I look at all the important
people of that denomination,
and they're old white men.
And it's telling me that for
the history of this denomination
or for the history of
this Christian college
or university, they believe
that the only important people
to put up on the walls
are old white men.
That implicitly is affirming
or asserting white superiority.
NARRATOR: Whiteness became
a culture in and of itself
to be defended at all costs.
In the 19th century,
Chinese immigrants
became another target of
racially biased policies.
And because
there was this fear
that these Chinese laborers were
stealing "good white man jobs,"
as if those jobs
belonged to them,
this sentiment kind
of emerged and swelled
and ultimately led to
the Chinese Exclusionary
Act, the one and
only time we excluded
an entire group of
people from being
able to immigrate into
our country just based
on their ethnicity.
The Exclusionary Act
starts as a 10-year act,
but ultimately is
extended for 60 years.
NARRATOR: European immigrants,
such as the Irish, Italians,
and Germans, were also
initially viewed as a threat
and were often persecuted.
But they had one
distinct advantage--
they were light-skinned.
So over time, by
stripping away or hiding
their ethnic heritage,
eventually they
could assimilate
and become white.
The United States has been
referred to as the melting pot,
a metaphor for the fusion
of nationalities, cultures,
and ethnicities.
I've never really liked
the term "melting pot"
because it just means that
it's going to become one thing,
and so who decides
what the one thing is?
When you're the minority, that
means that everything of yours
is lost.
NARRATOR: It seems the metaphor
of the melting pot in truth
is a push for white
homogeny rather than
an embrace of diversity.
My own children are way
lighter-skinned than I am.
What's happened I think
even with my children
is that our celebrations
and our language
are slowly dissipating
and disappearing,
and I wonder what my
grandchildren will be like.
And I keep thinking they'll
be the next white generation.
NARRATOR: Today, the concept
of race and the structures
that hold up whiteness as the
norm have become so embedded
in our culture that
it's extraordinarily
difficult for most white people
to see the ways they influence
life in this country.
Because being white
is what's normal,
and it's normal for everybody.
It's just what it
means to be human.
We don't think of
it in racial terms.
And so my question's always
been, what is white culture?
Let's talk about that.
And that's hard to
define because really
what they might be alluding
to is white supremacy.
We don't see the advantages,
and we usually only recognize
it when we are with
persons of color
and they get treated
differently than us.
What we think as normal
is really an advantage.
advantages are often stark.
A 2016 national study
of household wealth
found that the median net
worth of white families
was eight times higher than
that of Hispanic families
and 10 times higher than
that of black families.
Another 2016 study revealed
that black, Hispanic, and Native
American children
are more than twice
as likely as white children to
be living in low income homes.
When we focus on
what makes us, quote,
"the same," it denies the fact
that our lives are not the same
and we live in different worlds
with different realities.
And so when we focus on the
things that make us the same,
we can't agree on humanity.
I think what we have
done with race is evil.
I mean, I'm of the belief
that difference is not evil.
NARRATOR: You and I did not
start this system of race
in white supremacy, but
if we do not actively
work at uncovering
our own inherent bias
and tearing down the
system, we are guilty still
of supporting it.
We need to recognize
that we do live
in a society that is
oppressive to people of color
and has had a long history
of white supremacy.
This has always
been who America
is, the dissolution of the
American exceptionalism
dream, where we're
realizing sort
of in our collective
that we're no better than any
empire that's ever come before.
NARRATOR: We've been taught that
the United States was founded
on religious
liberty, which means
the history of the
American church
is tightly bound to the
history of American culture,
including colonialism,
racism, and white supremacy.
But how is it possible
that a religion founded
in the boundless love
and compassion of Christ
could ever align itself
with the ideologies that
have only brought harm?
It's all in the interpretation.
no concept of race in the Bible
because race is a thoroughly
modern construction.
There are, though,
a lot of things
that look like
race in the Bible.
NARRATOR: In the Old Testament,
a great deal of focus
is placed upon a concept
of people, translated
from the Hebrew word "am."
People, in this instance,
are God's chosen people,
the Israelites.
Those who were not
a part of Israel
are referred to as the Nations.
The Nations shared a common
ancestry with Israel,
but worshiped different gods.
It does not involve
facial features, skin tone,
things that are physical
New Testament, we
find a similar divide
between Jewish people
and non-Jewish people,
who are called Gentiles.
And so while
there are components
of national identity,
components of cultural identity,
they're all subsumed
under this question of,
what's your religious identity?
NARRATOR: The white
church in the US
would often interpret
these passages
about ancient religious
divides as parallels
to the racial divides
that were deemed
essential to the success
of the American experiment.
In American theology,
that divide then
gets applied white
versus other--
Israel equals white Americans,
the Nations equals the others.
Book of Joshua, we
see the Israelites invading
and eradicating many nations--
the Hittites, the Girgashites,
the Amorites, the Canaanites,
the Perizzites, the
Hivites, and the Jebusites--
all in order to claim the
land God had promised them.
In the age of colonization
and westward expansion,
North America became
the promised land.
The Pilgrims, the
Puritans, and the Pioneers
became God's chosen people, and
the nations they were subduing
were the many
Indigenous tribes--
the Seminoles, the Algonquin,
the Cherokee, the Choctaw,
the Iroquois, the Chickasaw,
and many, many more.
In the case of
slavery, we can trace
the progression of this
race-based theology
through colonial law.
In 1656, an enslaved
woman of African descent
named Elizabeth Key won her
and her infant son's freedom
in court partly on
the grounds that she
was a baptized Christian.
At that time, it was English
law that a baptized Christian
could not be enslaved.
Shortly after Key was
freed, a new colonial law
was passed that eliminated
this loophole clearly stating
that baptism did
not equate freedom
from the bonds of slavery.
If you already think that
slavery is an institution that
needs to continue for
your economic survival,
you go to Ephesians
and you say, Paul says,
slaves, obey your masters.
And the problem with this
is it's an incredibly
decontextualized reading.
It was the Christian
church that baptized Africans
as they left the shores
of Africa into slavery
and gave them Christian
names, or English names,
to replace their African names.
The ability to be
a Christian and still
be a slave owner, which I think
most of us today would say
is completely contrary
to the scripture
that we read, that
foundation was
built by white theologians
who, in a sense,
manipulated the text.
NARRATOR: Even as slave owners
used the Bible to justify
and sanctify the
ownership and oppression
of other human beings,
the slaved Africans
embraced biblical narratives
of justice and freedom,
finding hope in the
story of God's promise
to deliver an oppressed people.
And so we see
enslaved Africans
taking Old Testament
stories of Israelites
and using that to connect
with, to understand
that there were enslaved
people in the Bible and God
freed them.
We also see enslaved
people contesting
the ways in which masters
used the Bible to subject them
and saying, this is morally
wrong and morally corrupt.
has long helped
fuel black peoples' fight
against injustice in the United
States, from the
abolition of slavery
to securing the right to
vote to ending Jim Crow laws
and on into today.
When I think about the story
of Jesus and connecting it
to enslavement, to the
history of African-Americans,
it's always being on the side of
those who are most marginalized
and trying to transform society
to respond to those people.
So you look at
the Bible and you
read the first century church
and how the church was formed.
It was formed in
Jewish communities,
and Jews in the
first century were
an oppressed ethnic
and religious minority.
So the church, though, that
came to the United States came
from Europe, and it was a
church built on colonialism
and white supremacy
was interwoven.
And so what we received was a
European form of Christianity
that was very
different than what
you read about in the
pages of the Bible.
NARRATOR: Even as our
theological frameworks
have expanded to reflect the
experiences and theologies
of Christians around the world,
the bedrock of white supremacy
still shows through
our language.
When we talk about
Western theology,
we don't say this is
actually Swiss theology
or German theology or
specifically American theology.
We just say it's theology.
We centralize Western
theology by just calling
it theology and all the
others are on the periphery--
black theology, womanist
theology, liberation theology.
And we've created an otherness
because we're saying,
you're not the norm.
My entire experience
in seminary, we're
going to assimilate
you, we're going
to teach you good
theology, we're
going to teach you
the way that we do it,
and then we're going to
send you out there, right?
It's the way we
think about how
we're going to bring our
good American or Western
progressive theology to a world
that doesn't know any better.
To say, we're going
to go to Africa
and fix their theology for them.
We're going to go to Asia and
fix their theology for them.
I think that assumption of
the superiority of one culture
or one people group
over against the other
is much more common
than we realize.
If you're not
willing to submit
to the leadership
of a local leader,
an Indigenous leader,
a leader of color,
then you're not actually
coming in to do ministry.
You're actually going to be
manifesting colonization.
Just the way
that I saw missions
being worked in our communities
of color here in Chicago
as well, seeing how white
churches that had money
would come in that thought
that there wasn't Jesus here
until they came, that they were
bringing Jesus into our city.
And I'm like, Jesus is
already in this city.
Jesus is already working
through plenty of us
that are doing this work.
NARRATOR: The Eurocentric
roots of the American church
have created structures that
focus on the experiences
and perspectives of white
people, a focus that creates
all kinds of unseen biases.
I'll be honest, I know
I have plenty of bias.
I have plenty of things that
I assume about other people.
And so I think
it's not a question
of not having assumptions.
I think it's a question of,
what do you do with them,
and are you aware of them?
I think the most important
thing that we can do
is to get out of
the way in the sense
that there are people
in the United States
and people around the world
in immigrant communities,
in global Christianity, who
are reading the Bible very
differently than we are.
And by having folks speaking
for their own communities,
speaking of how they
interpret the scripture,
we now have a
counternarrative that
can be put in conversation
with our traditional narrative.
NARRATOR: The diversity of
voices around the world serve
to remind us that the word
of God carries a core message
of inclusion and that God cannot
be limited to one cultural
There is a popular story of
race in the United States
that goes something like this.
United States of America
is the land of opportunity,
a melting pot, where
people from all over the
world come to live in freedom,
to escape repression, to
share in the American dream.
a familiar story,
one we've all heard many times.
It is the story of
American exceptionalism.
This story is about
a noble war to end
slavery in the United
States and extending
the right to vote to formerly
enslaved peoples, of banding
together to win a world war
twice, a story of civil rights
earned, equality before the law
and equality at the ballot box.
This is a story of progress.
In this story, there
is no organized effort
to harm black people
by white people.
BILL O'REILLY: The truth is,
there is no organized effort
to harm black people
by white people.
That doesn't exist here.
There is, however,
a counternarrative
of our nation's history.
There are these
huge gaping holes
in what we call US
history because it's not
told from the perspective
of people of color
because it's not written
or institutionally affirmed
by people of color.
NARRATOR: Filling in the gaping
holes of US history paints
a very different
picture of what it means
to celebrate the United States.
This story includes
the beginning
of the trans-Atlantic slave
trade and the growth of slavery
across the English colonies.
This story recognizes
the resistance
to evil among those
who were enslaved
and the commitment to
slavery among white people.
This story is characterized
by the violence
against black and brown
bodies, and born out
of white supremest
theology, racist laws,
and cultural
oppression, one that
celebrates black achievement
in the face of such oppression
and confronts violence always.
White Americans
have never needed
to tell this other story.
The narrative of
white supremacy makes
it possible to see only
the story of progress.
I think white folks
don't need to imagine it,
or thought they didn't.
If you're not thinking
about black folks 24/7--
and by black, I mean
people of color--
you can spare yourself.
You can read books.
You can watch TV shows.
But at the end of the day,
you can go back to being white
and be spared.
served in rural Ohio,
we were the only black family
in the town that we lived in.
And it was about as
challenging as you can imagine.
I just had another baby.
That was our youngest.
So I'm at home and
getting ready to nurse,
and Benhi, my husband,
goes for a walk,
takes the two other kids
in the double stroller.
And as he's going for a
walk, he comes right back.
I mean, just a matter of two
minutes, he's right back home.
And I said, what happened?
And he said, this
parishioner, he said,
he just tried to kill us.
I said, what are
you talking about?
I'm thinking he's exaggerating.
He said, he tried
to run us over.
He drove up onto the
curb and he said--
it was right after President
Obama was re-elected--
he said, "that fucking
nigger president
is trying to ruin
my country, and I'm
going to run you fucking
niggers out of this town,"
and proceeded to
drive up onto the curb
to kill my husband and
our two small children.
The American mistake
is believing that we
are exceptional and different.
This is a country that's built
on the genocide of Indigenous
people, that an entire
economy is built
on the black backs of people
who've never been given
reparations, and has
continued to reinforce
those racist structures and
systems for its own benefit.
And that fault line runs through
the entire American experience.
This has always
been who America is.
NARRATOR: It's easy to think
that the story of violence
against black bodies belongs
to the country's past,
but white supremacy
is still on the march.
Enabled by the lack
of understanding
of how society reinforces
racial prejudice across legal,
educational, professional,
and social metrics,
racist systems are
failing black Americans.
One example is home ownership--
--The centerpiece of
the American dream.
What we understand and what
historically we can see with
African-Americans is that the
way that you become a citizen
is through ownership.
Because what happens
when you own a home?
You have say not only
of your own domicile,
but then you get to be a
part of a community that
can take political action.
NARRATOR: The benefits of
home ownership in the US
are enormous, from tax
breaks and credit benefits
to building equity and
passing it to our descendants.
These benefits have been
systematically denied
to a majority of
black Americans.
In the 1930s, as
part of the New Deal,
loan programs were created to
help Americans purchase homes.
In order to determine
who received a loan,
the government created
color-coded maps,
where green neighborhoods
indicated low risk and red
neighborhoods were high risk.
This practice, now
known as redlining,
heavily favored
white communities.
Homeownership for
African-Americans has been
racially contested because of
the ways in which the federal
government colluded with
mortgage companies to red line
and to blockbust
African-American neighborhoods.
Neighborhoods that were
predominately African-American
were automatically
deemed high risk,
which meant they were
less likely to get
loans to purchase, right?
Right after World War II,
we had this huge endowment
or investment in the suburbs
that came from the Federal
Housing Authority.
Of the $120 billion that was
invested in suburban housing,
less than 2% of that went
to non-white families.
is Levittown, Pennsylvania,
a new suburban community
of 60,000 people midway
between Philadelphia
and Trenton, New Jersey.
With its giant shopping
center, winding
lanes named for
flowers and trees,
it is fairly typical of
communities all over America,
where families are
pursuing the American dream
to give their children
a better chance in life.
Why did you select
Levittown to live?
We were looking for
a place to buy a home.
We looked at Levittown, and
we liked the homes here.
We liked the advantages
that Levittown
seemed to offer in
comparison to other cities.
And we understood that it
was going to be all white,
and we were very happy
to buy a home here.
NARRATOR: In the 19th
century, the US government
claimed that people of
African descent were property.
In the 20th century,
the same government
worked to ensure black
Americans couldn't own property.
Predatory and biased
lending practices
have been exposed over and
over in the United States,
revealing a continuing
systemic effort
to withhold economic
benefits from black families
that are readily available
to white families.
So what is a white
homeowner to do?
Give up their home?
We're not asking
you to sell your home.
We're not asking
you to even move.
But we're asking you to
think about the structures
that we all implicitly buy
into that create and replicate
inequality and how we can
think about dismantling those.
The answer to the
problem is eventually
when you find that
there are no more areas
to which a white person can
move without having a Negro
family in, well, that
would be the best end
that there could be to
segregation and is probably
something that will
happen in the future,
perhaps in the near future.
Christopher Columbus
arrived on the shores
of a new world in 1492,
he brought with him a belief
in his God-given right
to take over any lands he
found in the name of Spain
and Christianity.
This right was given to Columbus
and all European explorers
by various papal
edicts that would
come to be known as the
Doctrine of Discovery.
It's hard to
overstate the impact
the Doctrine of
Discovery has had
on the world in
the last 500 years.
So the Doctrine of
Discovery is basically
an agreement between
the European nations
in the 15th century.
Whoever discovers it first
and lays claim to the land,
they own that.
If Portugal goes out and
discovers some land in Western
Africa, and 15
years later, France
goes out and discovers
the same land,
who does this land belong to?
NARRATOR: With the
Doctrine of Discovery,
such questions are
easily dispensed of.
It essentially starts out as
this peace agreement between
European nations, but
really what it becomes is
the theological authority to
enslave non-Christian people
and also just to strip their
land of all the resources.
Any movable or immovable good
now belongs to the crown.
NARRATOR: The earliest
edict of this kind
was the Dum Diversas issued by
Pope Nicholas V in 1452, which
gave colonizing Europeans
permission directly from God
to, quote, "capture,
vanquish, and subdue
the enemies of Christ, to put
them into perpetual slavery
and to take all their
possessions and property."
That papal bull
is kind of the birth
of white Christian
relationship to Native people,
to Indigenous people.
One of the things it did was
it allowed people, white people
or non-Native people,
non-Indigenous people,
to put themselves on a higher
level of their relationship
with God.
NARRATOR: 40 years and
numerous additional edicts
reinforcing these beliefs would
pass before Columbus set foot
in the new world.
By the time Columbus arrives
in the Western hemisphere
in 1492, the thought that
these people he's encountering
are made in the image
of God doesn't even
enter into his
consciousness at that point
because for 40 years
now, the church
and these European
nations have been
operating under
the understanding
that these are not people.
It's like any other resource.
You can do what
you will with it.
And we, as Natives,
kind of point
to this as the foundation for
all of the atrocities that
takes place with so-called
discovery and imperialism
because we were
not seen as human.
We were seen as barbarians.
We were resources to either
be enslaved and utilized
or removed entirely.
Doctrine of Discovery
was both a political and
religious document sanctioning
centuries of slavery, genocide,
and other atrocities worldwide.
Even now, its tenets remain
embedded in modern society.
The very fact that I
have a piece of paper
that says that I own this
house and the lot that it's on,
my right to own that is rooted
in the Doctrine of Discovery.
NARRATOR: In the 19th century,
a series of Supreme Court cases
updated the Doctrine
of Discovery
from the age of exploration to
the time of westward expansion.
In the 1823 case of
"Johnson versus M'Intosh,"
the court ruled unanimously
that Natives did not
own the land that
they occupied, as it
belonged to the European
nation that discovered it.
That ruling provided
the groundwork
for westward colonial expansion
via the land rush, the pioneer
spirit, and the belief
in Manifest Destiny--
Manifest Destiny being the
belief that white settlers had
a right imbued by God to claim
all the lands of the continent,
from the Atlantic
to the Pacific.
This land is mine!
Mine by destiny!
The value for Native people
has always been our land.
That's what they wanted.
They always wanted our land.
NARRATOR: The hunger for
land required policies
for the removal or eradication
of Native communities.
These included forced
relocation to reservations,
forced conversion
to Christianity,
outlying native spiritual
practice, and child removal
to boarding schools.
Well, I guess I can start
out with my own story.
I was sent to a boarding
school when I was a child,
and it was called St. Mary
School for Indian Girls,
and it was run by the church.
And when we got to the school,
we were isolated or separated
from our families.
We went to school, of course.
We took our classes.
But before we did
that, we worked.
We were the maintenance
crew for the school.
So we took care of the grounds,
we took care of the buildings.
We did all of the work.
That is the Doctrine of
Discovery on the church side
because they took
our family away,
they took our identity away.
We really became non-children.
boarding school system
aspired to nothing less
than the total annihilation
of Native identity.
As Brigadier General
Richard Henry
Pratt, founder of Carlisle
Indian Industrial School,
wrote, "Kill the
Indian, save the man."
Quite literally,
boarding schools
are where Indians went to die.
You don't know who you are
anymore because your family
traditions are gone, your
cultural traditions are gone,
your pride is gone.
You aren't Indian or
Native American anymore
and you're not white.
The voice that screams from
the shadows of these boarding
schools is that these
were horrible places.
These were places of
trauma, abuse, of death.
NARRATOR: The goal of
eradicating Native identity
has allowed white people to
ignore the very existence
of modern Native people.
People don't bring
Native Americans
into their collective
and collective consciousness
into the 20th century
and certainly not
into the 21st century.
People say, well,
you say you're Indian,
but you don't look Indian.
NARRATOR: What does it
mean to look Indian?
For many, it means a
romanticized pop culture
A noble chief on
horseback wearing
a headdress or an Indian maiden
at the sight of a babbling
brook doing her daily tasks.
NARRATOR: The failure to imagine
contemporary Native people has
left American culture
dangerously uninformed.
Now listen up, these
are our seats now,
and there ain't a damn
thing you can do about it.
So why don't you and Super Injun
there find yourself someplace
else to have a powwow, OK?
I would say it probably
happens twice a year where
someone will say,
I seriously thought
that the Native people
had all died out,
that there were no
Native people anymore.
NARRATOR: The erasure of
Native identity in America
and in Christianity
has left all of us
looking at an incomplete
image of the world.
When we ignore cultures,
erase authentic identities,
we ignore part of
God's creation.
What is missing when you
completely other Native people
and you shut them out and you
don't allow the wisdoms from
their ceremonial practices
and their spirituality,
you don't even give it audience,
you don't even give it a good
face-to-face, you're
missing so much.
You're missing rootedness.
You're missing connection.
ALL: This is what a
feminist looks like!
This is what a
feminist looks like!
accounts, the Women's March
in January of 2017 was
the biggest single day
protest in the history
of the United States.
In response to the election
of President Donald Trump,
an estimated 4.5 million
people marched in the streets
across the nation.
But not everyone felt welcome
at the marches that day.
Many women of color,
in particular,
felt excluded from
the organizing efforts
and unwelcome at the event.
The critique was
of the Women's March
was that it only represented
a narrow portion of women.
NARRATOR: The event's original
name, the Million Women March,
was the same as the
historic March in 1997
organized by black women to
protest the feminist movement's
history of ignoring
women of color.
There was this focus on
what the general understanding
of women's rights and
equality would be.
And for some, that's what
white women's interests are.
NARRATOR: Because some
considered the Women's March
to be primarily an expression
of white interests,
it places the event in a
long history of tension
between the efforts
for women's equality
and advancing rights
for people of color,
a tension perhaps
best illustrated
in the person of
Susan B. Anthony.
Anthony was a Quaker born
in 1820 in Massachusetts.
She spent her life tirelessly
fighting for women's rights,
particularly the right to vote.
A founding member of the
American Equal Rights
Association and the National
Women's Suffrage Association,
Susan B. Anthony is perhaps
the most well-known figure
from the women's
suffrage movement.
She is a towering
figure in the fight
for women's equality
in the United States,
more specifically
equality for white women.
Susan B. Anthony's legacy
in the feminist movement
stands and should,
but it should not
be divorced from
her legacy on race.
Anthony was close friends with
abolitionist Frederick Douglass
and active in the
anti-slavery movement.
But upon the passage of
the 14th Amendment, which
gave voting rights to black
men and not white women,
she responded thus.
WOMAN: "We say, if you will not
give the whole loaf of suffrage
to the entire people, give it
to the most intelligent first.
If intelligence,
justice, and morality
are to have precedence
in the government,
let the question of the
woman be brought up first,
and that of the Negro, last."
NARRATOR: Words like
these established
the women's equality
movement in the United States
as one primarily
motivated by white women
seeking power comparable to
white men, interests that
alienated women of color
from the feminist movement
for over a century.
I never thought of
myself as a feminist
because the way it was
portrayed in the world
is it felt like a
very white movement.
You know, burn the bra.
No one's going to
burn their bra.
Their bra costs
10.99 or whatever.
So it was always
this kind of, where
do I belong in this movement?
Am I a part of this
movement at all?
NARRATOR: Excluded from the
women's movement due to racism,
women of color also
faced oppression from men
in the civil rights movement.
Consider the story
of Ella Baker.
I am here to represent
the struggle that
has gone on for 300 or
more years, a struggle
to be recognized as citizens
in a country in which we were
I would call her a leader.
She probably
wouldn't call herself
that because she
was a person who
liked to be behind the scenes.
NARRATOR: Throughout
her work, Baker
argued for truly shared power
among a network of leaders
rather than relying on
charismatic individuals.
This opinion was not popular
with many of the prominent men
in the movement.
And what she noticed among
the black ministers there
was their extreme
sexism, and she was not
afraid to call that out.
And so Ella Baker had these
difficult relationships,
particularly with
folks like Dr. King
and with black ministers
because they did not
want to see black
women in positions
of leadership and power
because of the gender
dynamics at the time.
NARRATOR: Baker is remembered
as a crucial organizer and voice
for black women in
the civil rights
movement, someone who stood
up to sexism when she saw it.
And she was not alone.
Ella Baker's life becomes kind
of a mirror through which we
could see the lives
of other women.
The fact that we have
many black women working
behind the scenes doing all
types of work for the movement,
and yet we know very
little about them.
And Ella Baker really caused
us to redefine and rethink
leadership and the democratic
potential of civil rights.
NARRATOR: There is a word
for the combined experience
of oppression that
women of color
have faced in the United States.
It's a word that has become
very popular in recent years,
but is often misunderstood.
NARRATOR: The word
was coined by civil rights
activist and professor Kimberl
Crenshaw in 1989, calling
attention to the reality that
an individual can experience
compounding oppression from
multiple directions
for different aspects
of their identity.
Usually we think of race,
class, gender, sexuality, et
What parts of a
person's identity kind
of come together to create their
specific form of oppression?
NARRATOR: Attention
to intersecting
identities began to
emerge in the 1970s
with groups like the
Combahee River Collective,
which formed to address
the needs of not
only black feminists,
but also black lesbians.
One member of the
Combahee River Collective,
poet and activist
Audre Lorde, succinctly
captured the importance of
intersectional feminism.
WOMAN: "I simply do not believe
that one aspect of myself
can possibly profit from the
oppression of any other part
of my identity.
Within the lesbian
community, I am black,
and within the black
community, I am a lesbian.
I cannot afford the luxury of
fighting one form of oppression
NARRATOR: The influence
of women like Ella Baker,
the Combahee River Collective,
and Kimberl Crenshaw is
evident in the more recent
creation of a powerful
political movement--
Black Lives Matter.
Black Lives Matter was created
by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi,
and Patrisse Cullors
after George Zimmerman
was acquitted for the murder
of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
In the past 10 years,
Black Lives Matter
has grown into an international
organization comprised
of dozens of chapters
fighting on behalf
of racial profiling, police
abuse, transgender rights,
and many other injustices.
I really like the
organizational structure
of Black Lives Matter in the
sense that it's decentralized,
that the way they think about
leadership is different.
Instead of having one
particular charismatic leader,
they don't have that.
They call their movement
a "leaderful" movement.
I think the fact that not
only is it three women,
but three queer women
starting Black Lives Matter,
I think that's really
important for thinking
about the ways in
which we can be
more intersectional in
our approach to justice.
NARRATOR: In the late
1700s, Richard Allen,
a formerly enslaved devout
Methodist and lay minister,
accepted an invitation to
preach at St. George's Church
in Philadelphia.
Allen's preaching
was very popular,
causing a rapid growth
of black membership.
Soon the church had outgrown
its seating capacity.
But when Allen requested
the church create
a second congregation
for black people,
the white elders refused.
Instead, they built a balcony
to segregate black members
from white members.
In 1792, a fellow lay
minister, Absalom Jones,
challenged this division
by sitting downstairs.
He was then physically removed
during the opening prayer.
In response, Richard Allen led
the entire black membership out
of the building.
Later, Allen said
of the incident,
"We all went out of
the church in a body,
and they were no
longer plagued by us."
Allen and Jones
each went on to lead
their own black congregations.
Reverend Allen would
eventually form
a new denomination, the African
Methodist Episcopal Church,
the first independent
denomination founded
by black people in the US.
Even after the Civil War
and the end of slavery,
the divide between the white
church and the black church
remained wide and
kept getting wider.
In the early 20th century,
facing rampant inequality,
voter suppression,
persecution, and violence,
droves of black
families moved out
of the rural southern
United States
into urban areas of the
Northeast, Midwest, and West
in what is called
the Great Migration.
Millions of black
people left and sometimes
had to escape from
the South because
of the horrid conditions
there, and they
came north for better
opportunity, for better jobs,
for better education.
It changed the
landscape of America.
NARRATOR: In 1890, around
90% of black people in the US
lived in southern states.
Over the next 80
years, nearly 50%
would leave the
South in an exodus
of over 6 million people.
The growth of black populations
in historically white
communities led to
another kind of migration.
What we know that happened
during the Great Migration is
this mass group of
African-Americans moving
into these urban places
creates housing problems.
And so instead of many
cities firmly addressing
these housing problems,
what typically happens
is overcrowding.
In conjunction
with overcrowding,
what happens is that white folks
also are leaving neighborhoods.
And that's when you see the
growth of the megachurches
in the suburbs because a lot of
the churches in the cities were
being abandoned by
white Protestants,
moved to the suburbs,
and created kind of these
communities in the suburbs
that are white middle-,
upper-middle class communities,
as well as white middle-,
upper-middle class churches.
And many of the urban
centers became places
where ethnic minority
churches were started.
NARRATOR: Despite the progress
of the civil rights movement,
school desegregation, and
policies like Affirmative
Action, Christian
communities have
remained highly segregated.
As of 2014, nearly
80% of Christians
attend churches where they are
among the overwhelming racial
Unlike most large
US institutions,
the church is not required
by law to integrate.
Congregations are made of
individuals who intentionally
choose to come together, which
means a majority of Christians
are choosing segregation,
making church possibly the most
telling measure of where race
relations in the United States
actually stands.
Even well-meaning
white congregations
who might want to reflect
the full diversity of the US
population struggle
with the reality
that their theology
and practices are
immersed in white cultural norms
that alienate people of color.
Our liturgy is
constructed a certain way
that feeds and fills
white Christians.
The way that we choreograph our
movement around the sanctuary
is also very white
and very European.
The way that we talk,
how we keep things
under 12 minutes
in our sermons, how
we sing three verses of a
hymn, how the hymns always
have to be played from the
organ or from the piano,
those are constructs
that make perfect sense
in our mind as being
worshipful, but at the same time
are excluding.
we singing songs by Germans?
Why don't they include any
songs from authors and composers
that are not white?
Who decides that this is the
way that we should worship
and this is the way that
we should do things?
I remember sitting there
when the service was over
and thinking, hmm, I came in,
I sat down, I was prayed over,
I was sang to, I was preached
at, and I was dismissed.
For me, there was no
spiritual component
to the worship service, and I
thought it was very sterile.
NARRATOR: Black churches, on
the other hand, often focused
on Christ as a source of
hope and rescue in the face
of ongoing
oppression, a theology
shaped by the history
and experience
of black lives in America.
When I have to be able to
rise above the pain of the cuts
that I receive on a
daily basis, when I just
need to let go and
let God, connecting
with people on a much deeper
level because of the pain
that we have
experienced together,
it's different than what I
could imagine a life where
I have everything that I need.
I'm not suffering at all.
It's just different.
It's a different place.
NARRATOR: Can black
and white Christianity
find common ground?
Can the chasm between us created
by racism and white supremacy
be overcome?
There is not enough
diversity in our congregations
in our denomination because
we refuse to make space
for that diversity.
And so when they talk
about racial reconciliation,
they don't really want their
congregation body to change.
They don't really want
50/50 white and people
of color, maybe one
or two, because I
think people are comfortable
where they're at.
When congregations
become multiracial,
you will often see a group of
white people leave the church.
And it's either
a fear of change,
a fear of doing
things differently,
a fear of losing power.
Allen and Absalom Jones
left St. George's Church
because it was not,
in fact, their church,
but a white church they
were being allowed to attend.
The persistent
segregation of churches
today raises the question,
how much has really changed?
Baptize me, John.
I think it's very
hard for us to grasp
the depths of the
racism inherent inside
of our own church.
10 years ago when
I was here, if you
were to walk into the
sanctuary, front and center
at the top of the chancel
would be this gorgeous painting
of a Norwegian Jesus, and it was
beautiful and it was inspiring.
But any time anyone who
didn't look Norwegian
looked at that painting,
they never came back,
and we all scratched
our heads wondering why.
I see a white Jesus,
that's telling me
that whiteness is good,
whiteness is holiness,
and that even the creator,
the savior of the world
who came down to love us,
in physical form is white.
Everything about kind of
the history of Christianity
from Europe to the US has
been built around whiteness.
It's just in the DNA
of the US church.
The church feels very white.
The phrase "white
Christianity," the phrase,
it's an idolatry.
Think about it.
White Christianity
is an idolatry.
And what do idols
do in the Bible?
Idols separate us from God.
NARRATOR: How can a church
immersed in white supremacy
even begin to reconcile its
ongoing legacy of exclusion,
oppression, and violence?
Is it even possible?
Reconciliation, take things
that are out of balance
and bring them
back into balance.
But the assumption is that there
was a balance to begin with.
Reconciliation implies a
prior healthy relationship,
which we don't have
in the United States.
So you can really only
speak of reconciliation
in theological terms.
There is a white Protestant
obsession with reconciliation.
It's the scariest
thing I've ever seen.
When do we get to
the reconciliation?
When do I get to feel good?
I don't know.
I haven't felt
good for 400 years
historically in this country.
I don't know when you get
to feel good about this.
Christians have looked
to foster unity by embracing
the ideology of colorblindness,
that we should look
past skin color and view
everyone as the same.
But this is problematic at best.
Colorblindness at a sort
of very simplistic level
seems like what we
should all embrace.
The reality is if I
don't see someone's color
who is not white, then
I don't see the fact
that they experience racism.
So I don't see color.
That's not reconciliation,
that's denial.
But to say we don't see
skin color automatically
makes me shake because I'm
like, well, am I invisible?
It basically means,
I see you as white.
I see you like me.
I've made you kind
of into my own image.
And it strips away all
difference of culture.
And so people take
up their experience
and then just lay
it over top of me.
Whiteness is going
to create whiteness.
And white supremacy, once
it's embedded in the culture
and in the culture
of a church, it
doesn't give you the
tools to dismantle itself.
the church might,
we cannot whitewash this issue.
White supremacy must
be addressed directly,
with all the hard
truths exposed.
Acknowledging our
history and breaking down
the systems that
have upheld whiteness
as the norm will be messy.
It will be controversial.
And above all, it
will be painful.
When we talk about
racial injustice,
when we talk about
brokenness in our society,
when we talk about churches that
are hurting, maybe some of us
need to realize it's a
funeral service and not
a hospital visit.
We can't go into the
room and say, hey,
we're going to
just sing "Kumbaya"
and join hands and
say, I love you,
man, and things
are going to be OK.
We've got to deal with the
dead body that is in the room.
Because to be blunt, most of the
dead bodies in American history
are black and brown
and red bodies.
And if we ignore the
dead bodies and we
don't lament over
the dead bodies,
we're just kind of playing
the games of faith here.
We're just pretending
that things
are OK when they're really not.
Book of Lamentations,
the Israelites, after
turning away from God,
were exiled into Babylon.
They had lost everything.
Yet, God does not offer
them hope of deliverance
from their plight.
God doesn't call them
to reclaim their strength
and to go back and make
Jerusalem great again.
That's not the call.
The call is, enter
into a space of lament.
a joyful noise unto
the Lord all ye lands.
Come before His presence,
come before His presence
with singing.
NARRATOR: But in the case of
modern white Christianity,
there seems to be an
aversion to lamentation.
The church in America is lousy
at engaging suffering and pain
and lament.
And most churches, when they get
to a lament psalm, a song that
talks about suffering
or lament hymn
in their liturgical reading or
in their liturgical worship,
they skip it.
They drop it.
We're talking about a pretty
profound act of disobedience
to God to skip over the
parts of the scriptures that
make us uncomfortable.
Reality is, there
is no resurrection
without crucifixion,
and we're going
to have to go to
those painful places.
We're going to
have to acknowledge
the things within us that have
to die so that Christ can rise
and live in and through us.
In exposing issues,
it gets really bad
because you're
exposing this wound,
and the first thing
is recognizing
that we have a wound.
And I think we're in that
kind of messiness right now
of saying, we have a problem.
We have to let go of
what we think is right.
We have to let go of
what we believe we know.
We have to let go
of the structures
that we thought were the
right way to worship God.
NARRATOR: God calls us to stand
together as a diverse body,
to humbly and courageously
name and renounce the root
causes that divide
us, confronting
white supremacy at every turn.
This is the lifelong commitment
of racial justice and equity
in our churches, our
communities, and the world.
This stuff is not
happening in a vacuum.
The last four or
five years is not
some anomaly in human history.
And there have been people
who have been walking
this path for a long time,
and you need to find them,
you need to listen to them, and
you need to ask, what can I do?
And sometimes what can
I do is just shut up.