By Leeann Shaw Younger
I won’t co-op the hashtag symbol, but I felt plenty of ME TOO heartache watching the President of the United States demean three, black, female reporters recently. Words like “loser” and “stupid” don’t belong in public discourse, but the most powerful white man in American swung these words like a bat at black women who were guilty of nothing more than doing their jobs.
I could say I was shocked but that would be lying. There is an historic wound in the relationship between black women and white men. It’s borne of abuse and perpetuated by the unacknowledged pain buried deep in the American soul. The image of an angry white man mustering up his counterfeit brand of courage to verbally smack down black women was almost normal. The abused and the abuser, these are our historic roles.
As black, female pastor in predominantly white ministry settings, I’ve found certain white men to be the most challenged by my role as a leader. To be clear, no one has ever insulted me the way the President insulted those black journalists. Church smackdowns are much subtler. Agitated white men have told me to “tone it down,” to “step out of the way” and to be “careful” and “less direct” when leading. In response to one of many civil, but soul-shrinking moments, I told a parishioner, “I just don’t think you white guys are used to having a black woman in leadership.” He paused and offered, “you might be right,” after a moment of reflection.
It took me years of reflection to realize how right I was. I tried to shrink so that the white men around me felt more comfortable. I tried to “tone it down” and “step out of the way.” But the One who created me to lead called me forward. God said it this way to the prophet Jeremiah:
“If you have raced with men on foot
and they have worn you out,
how can you compete with horses?
If you stumble in safe country,
how will you manage [when things get rough]?
This is not the time for any woman to “tone it down” or “step out of the way.” The hard and humbling work of Loving Mercy and Doing Justice requires that God’s people, men and women, “compete with horses”. We’re on a mission and speaking truth to power is never easy.
I was heartbroken to see three strong, black women endure invective that carried the echo of our racist history. But I felt inspired by their resilience and perseverance. They are black women on a mission and they aren’t shrinking for anyone. And neither am I.
- The women who have come forward have found strength in numbers in the #metoo movement. They have found solidarity and support. For this season we have asked each of our authors to write about the dark and uncomfortable places, not necessarily sexual assault, where they too wish for those same things; solidarity, support, love and hope for a better future. Thank you for joining our journey