I remember when I was wondering whether I would have marched during the civil rights
movement. While I hoped the answer would have been “yes,” it honestly felt like a moot
point at the time. Growing up in a predominantly white community in the Midwest gave
me the impression that racism was a thing of the past. Overt signs of prejudice were
rare. Racist jokes were generally considered to be in bad taste. And people tended to
point to one or two people of color they knew as evidence of living in a post-racial
As a result of my experience, for much of my life I operated under the assumption that
the dream of racial equality that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of, and civil rights
activists marched for, had already been realized. Yes, ghosts of America’s racist past
still made an appearance from time to time, but it seemed to me the nightmare of
injustice and inequality experienced by people of color was over. From my perspective,
we had reached a point where opportunities for education, employment, health, wealth,
and fair treatment by the criminal justice system were not impacted by the color of one’s
skin. And my assessment of this actualized state of American society aligned with the
outlook held and articulated by those around me.
As a result, the question I had when I was younger about how I would respond to
movements advocating for equality and justice for people of color remained largely
But I am becoming aware that this question for white Americans today is as relevant
now as it was during the Civil Rights Era, during the time of Jim Crow, during the time of
Black Codes, and during the time of slavery. At all these points in our past, the vast
majority of white Americans believed there was nothing wrong with the treatment of
people of color in our country. Consequently, the existence of racism has been met
over the course of our country's history with either defense of it, indifference towards it,
or outright denial. And regardless of which of those responses has been most prevalent
at any given time, invariably confessing the reality of racism and addressing its impact
through changes in practices and policies has been widely resisted by white Americans.
While I am grateful I was raised to believe that the racism in our past was wrong, I am
now recognizing how important it is for me to expand upon what I have understood
about racism. Not only was racism in our past wrong, it is also wrong to believe that
racism no longer negatively impacts people of color in our country.
What I have missed as a white man--learning, socializing, and worshiping in majority
white communities--I am becoming aware of through stories and statistics. Statistics
showing the significant disparities that exist today for people of color accessing health
care, education, and employment as well as opportunities for economic mobility and
wealth accumulation. Such statistics are embodied with names and faces through
stories I’ve heard from people of color. These stories tell of vastly different experiences
than I have had, from things as simple as how one is looked at and treated when
shopping to things as systemic as what it was like trying to get a home loan or what
interactions with the police have looked like.
These sources of information--statistics and stories--teach me that not only have all
lives not mattered equally in the past, all lives still do not matter equally today in our
As I Christian, I believe that all people bear the image and likeness of God. Therefore,
whether all people’s lives matter is not the question for me. It’s also not a question to
me if historically all lives have mattered equally in our country--clearly they have not.
The relevant question for me now is how I will respond to the current movement for
racial justice and equality so that black lives will finally matter as much in our society as
white lives always have.
Rev. Ben Konecny
Minister, Head of Programs