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But Aren’t We Good White People?


But Aren’t We Good White People?

Some twenty years later, the older brother is killed, triggering the sister to attempt suicide. As a result of the suicide attempt, the viewer learns that the sister had been in therapy with a Jewish psychiatrist to whom she had presented herself as the child of Jewish Holocaust survivors. The psychiatrist explains to the surviving brother that she immediately knew the sister was not Jewish, but wondered why she would choose to portray herself as the child of parents who had suffered such great tragedy.

The psychiatrist’s wondering got me wondering about how all family members tell their histories and why, and, more specifically, why my white parents had told me my white family’s history through a social justice lens.

In 1923, my father’s father, the Reverend Edward Oliver Clark, organized what, in 1924, became the Chevy Chase Baptist Church, situated in Northwest Washington, D.C., just outside Chevy Chase, Maryland. He pastored that church from 1924 to 1956. It is of note that the church proclaims to have “restarted” its mission in 1998, and my grandfather’s founding role is no longer mentioned. Next time I am in D.C., I will stop by to see if the bronze plaque of him that was affixed to the outside of the church for as long as I can remember is still there.

From my father, I was taught to understand my grandfather’s pastoral commitments as forward thinking. The main story that my father told and retold during my childhood and into my adulthood as illustrative of this thinking was about how my grandfather taught theology for a year at Howard University, an HBCU, during the “Great Depression,” and did so without compensation. As a result of this role, my grandfather had occasion to invite one or more Howard University students to his home during holidays, ostensibly because these students’ could not afford to travel to their own homes during these periods.

My father describes his engagement with these students as having had a profound impact on his own consciousness regarding race and racism. I am eternally grateful for that because I surely benefitted from it—I am a different person today…

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