A Word to White Men

BWKBy Rev. Bill Wylie-Kellermann, presented at the inaugural Council on the Way convened by Ruby Sales in Washington D.C. on October 19, 2019

You, White men, Christian and not, sit in darkness, unseeing how you are advantaged by aggression against others. Your humanity suffers a gaping wound you have been taught not to feel. You are justified by a faith that is an idol and a lie. You are in bondage to a system and a spirit, white supremacy, which is nothing less than a form of death itself.

You, with your dark web and your hate chat, the safe, encrypted anonymity for trolling and flame wars. You with your automatic open carry at the march, your training grounds and target range in Howell. You, spray painting swastikas on the underpass pillars, flying the confederate flag from your truck in the downtown construction zone. Feared or afraid?

You, in your suburban cul de sacs and wall-trenched expressways. Split-level and sprawling white-flight churches. Your joggable neighborhoods and upscale cinemas telling your story or gazing on others. Your well-funded college-bound schools. Your safety north of 8 Mile defended by fleets of white cops eyeing profiles and aiming sidearms. Oblivious to history, from stolen land and stolen labor to Jim Crow lynchings, from GI Bills and post-war loans, to restrictive covenants and redlining, you imagine you built this, earned this, deserve this. You are brutally self-deceived.

You, White mayor, politicians, and judges. You embrace emergency managers with their unilateral authority. As in disaster, they cut red tape with a knife and reorganize the footprint. They suppress the vote which you further corrupt. When the fix is in, you can win by a landslide as a write-in and still live in your suburban home. There is money to be made and contracts to be bid or hid. Whole Black neighborhoods to be cleared for greenspace and future industry. Blight to demolish. If you were Black you’d be doing 28 years for corruption, but you will probably skate and assume a cabinet position.

You, flooding “home” to White downtown, Midtown, Corktown, making Detroit great again. Commanding the road, the bike lane with your electric scooter apps. You keep your driver’s license address back home to save on insurance and never have to worry about attending the police oversight commission, the school board, or the charter commission. The corporate fascism of emergency management is a shrug of indifference. Oblivious to history, you have imagined the city as a blank slate on which to transcribe your art, your cultural creativity, your inventive and nostalgic locally named business, with start-up grant funding. You draft memos headed “Dear conquistadors,” chuckling at your irony and naming the programs and communities that need to be moved out of “your” neighborhood. Ubiquitous private surveillance, like corporate cops, a good idea. While, out of sight and mind, other neighbors are being moved out of the city by tax and mortgage foreclosures, water shut-offs, blight removal, school closings, church closings, transportation and infrastructure withdrawal, facial recognition and the criminalization of black bodies – all your interest and service.

You, with your good intentions to save the city, hiring on to the non-profit, domesticating movement. You are paid to attend meetings that community folk struggle to make. You have a place at the table and a microphone. You do the week long immersion and decide to commit. You buy the foreclosed home for a pittance. You glimpse the White savior complex and think the hipsters suffer it. You come with Teach for America and don’t notice you displace veteran Black teachers. You do the bidding of the foundations, funders saving the neighborhoods they have selected. They know its future, what’s best for the city, so you know likewise, and say so in the grant report. Your agenda is officially confirmed.

Me/Us with our anti-racist lingo and street credentials. We move in Black movement spaces like we’ve earned our way with words and deeds, when we’re granted access only by relationship. We protest too much the White savior script. We learn the cultural codes. Maybe we do the dozens like pros. We have our arrest records and jail times to show. The color of our Facebook friends. We name our locations and watersheds. We reassess our histories and upbringings. We sample other people’s stories and tell them. We publish our critiques. Hence, and still, it clings to us, hides in our depths. Addicts of whiteness, the demon grips our souls.

So, White men all, we are called to confess. Confess our bondage, confess our faith in the freedom which scripture calls good news. We begin yet again with ourselves. But call on others, all men of the White lie to embrace the truth of our full humanity. This is not a solitary task of individual effort, but a work of community and movement. It is work. It is prayer and intercession. It is naming and exorcism. It is reparation and self-healing. In threat and crisis, it is inextricable from this moment in history.

2 thoughts on “A Word to White Men

  1. Oscar (Oz) Cole-Arnal

    H Brother Bill,

    As I read this piece I found myself initially turned off–by your finger-pointing “you” terminology. I am sadly aware of the “WHITENESS of my sin, yet I felt what arrogance to read these words from yet another “finger-pointing white guy.” Thank God I kept reading, because I noted joyously that the last two paragraphs brought you and me & others into that collective guilt and that collective life-transforming Biblical repentance. Thank you, dear bro, for that healing walk we take to purge ourselves of that “WHITE GUILT.”

    Bless you, dear brother,

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