This is an excerpt from a talk given by my friend and colleague The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis. It is reprinted here with permission. The full article is found here.
I’m not an expert on dismantling systemic racism and anti-blackness. I’m not an expert on unlearning the messages that are continually and consistently telegraphed reminding me that my dark skin is not as valued as white skin. But I am expert on my life and my story, and I want to share a bit of it with you and then name the hope and challenges before us.
The part of my story that is fairly public knowledge is that I was born and raised in New York City—the granddaughter of Shinnecock Indians on one side and sharecropping descendants of slaves on the other. The first ten years we lived in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn—and I attended a diverse elementary school with black, white and Latina teachers and black, white, Puerto Rican and Jewish classmates. We had next to no money but a lively neighborhood where the owners of the mom and pop stores knew the name of every kid.
When I was ten, we moved to Staten Island, and I’ve never gotten over it. We were now living in a segregated space. White kids took the yellow school buses to our junior high school, and black and brown kids mostly took the city bus or walked the seven blocks to school. Many days, as I walked home alone, there were older white kids and adults who would spit at me and call me the n-word. Each Friday there would be reports of the “race riots’” at one of the local high schools—meaning, blacks and whites fighting after school, every week. I figured out by seventh grade that testing out and getting to a specialized school in Manhattan would be a better choice because I didn’t want to deal with that kind of racism. So I commuted an hour and half each way taking a bus, ferry and subway train to midtown Manhattan for high school where the diverse world opened back up for me.
For whatever reason, talking about race, building bridges, having friendship groups that looked the like Benetton ads of the 1980s has been my lot for over 40 years. And I’m tired because I’ve spent my life pushing away and unlearning the messages that whites and black can’t be real family and friends, but too many white folks won’t do the work of unlearning those same messages. I’m tired of the burden white supremacy places on me and the black and brown people I love. I’m tired of black folks bearing the symptoms of white sickness. This exhaustion is not two weeks old or global pandemic old. Black and brown people spend our lives learning to live with the exhaustion of white supremacy as a survival mechanism.