This past Wednesday was the Feast of Epiphany (which means “revealing”), and here in the US a LOT was revealed as a violent, racist mob stormed the Capitol building, forcing lawmakers to suspend proceedings and shelter in safety until order could be restored.
There are dozens of things to say about all this, but one of the things that was revealed that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit is just how fundamentally violent white supremacy is. Most of the time its violence is hidden under legal policies or language that obscures it, but this past Wednesday the violence of white supremacy was on full display in the bodies and faces of the rioters.
I’ve also been thinking about how all violence is rooted ultimately in fear. I’m sure the story the rioters believe about themselves is that they were showing “strength,” but in reality, it was an expression of profound fragility. A deep fear drives the violence of white supremacy.
True strength is the ability to remain nonviolent in the face of provocation, and only the unafraid can truly be nonviolent. And only those who are able and willing to see and confess their fear can ever become unafraid.
So while I’m sure this isn’t over, I think one way to respond right now is to simply commit ourselves again to self-awareness and truth-telling. Notice your emotions (instead of just reacting to them), and find a community where you can tell the truth about yourself, confessing your fears and desires and sins.
It’s only from this foundation that we can cultivate communities that can expose the lies of white supremacy, and bear witness to the good news of God’s justice, without violence, no matter the consequences.
The Eastern church’s celebration of Epiphany is called “Theophany,” which I quite like, because it takes the “general” word of epiphany (“revealing”) and makes it specific: “the revealing of God” in the body of Jesus. So over the next weeks, I’m praying that as we witness the revealing of white supremacy in all its fear and loathing and violence, that we would also witness all the more the revealing of God incarnate among us in Jesus Christ.
George Blasy says
I am in total agreement with you Ben. My wife and I recently have been discussing the teachings of Jesus on nonresistance. We see that those of the world are taking a total opposite approach. It seems that we may be in the time of the separation of tares and wheat. Being a recent convert to Eastern Orthodoxy has made this even more clear to me.
Daniel Betts says
Ben, I agree that racism is an ugly and sinful problem with many people in the world. However, please clarify. Do you accuse all of the people who were demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the election results as white supremacists? I’m sure there were some participating and they may have been caught up in the violence. But are you suggesting that all Trump supporters are white supremacists?
Ben Sternke says
Hi Daniel, thanks for your question. The answer depends very much of the definition of “white supremacy” and “white supremacists.” If, by “white supremacist,” you mean someone who holds and expresses overtly racist views (i.e. the Proud Boys, etc.), then no, I am not accusing everyone demonstrating of being white supremacists, nor am I suggesting all Trump supporters are such. However, I will say that, in my view, “white supremacy” was on display during the riot at the Capitol, and it does not only live within the hearts of overt “white supremacists” but also lives as a cultural and historic reality that we ALL swim in, and I do see this dynamic very much evident (often in quite subtle ways) in the rhetoric of the Capitol riot and the dissatisfaction with the election results in general. I’m still learning about all this, but this seems pretty clear to me as I listen to BIPOC voices analyze what’s happening.
Ben Sternke says
So, for example, I’m the furthest thing from a “white supremacist” in terms of my overt beliefs, but I *feel* the cultural and historic force of “white supremacy” at work in my body every time I reflexively want to tune out discussions about racism, or when my body reflexively tenses up in the presence of an unfamiliar black body.