Andre Henry is a musician, an author, and an activist. This week we’ll be journeying through his book “All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep.” It has been circling through our community for the last few months. Here, you can listen to two members of our Leadership Team relate its content to our church’s struggle against racism. Let’s prayerfully read through his prophetic work this week.
Today’s Bible reading
The parts of our body that are presentable don’t need this. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other. (1 Corinthians 12:24-27)
More thoughts for meditation
“In their book This Is an Uprising, movement historians Mark and Paul Engler argue that polarization is essential to effective nonviolent movements for social progress: “By taking an issue that is hidden from common view and putting it at the center of public debate, disruptive protest forces observers to decide which side they are on.” When the Freedom Riders performed their own illegal integrated bus rides and the national press published news of the violent mobs who attacked them for it, white Americans had to face the question: are you on the side of your neighbors trying to peacefully ride the bus or on the side of the vicious mob attacking them? Once people have chosen a side they’re more likely to take action that’s consistent with their position. Polarization can be crucial to a winning strategy.
This doesn’t mean we should just throw unity out the window altogether. A certain kind of unity is important. We do need to be united for the purpose of jamming the gears of the white power structure through nonviolent struggle. We need unity in our vision of tomorrow, unity in what strategies we’ll use to realize that vision, and unity in what values will guide our work as we fight. But we don’t need the fetish for the idea of racial harmony that’s so popular in white America. We seek unity not for its own sake but for a purpose.
When Dr. King talked about people coming together in his “I Have a Dream” speech, it was for the purpose of engaging in disruptive nonviolent campaigns. He says, “With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.” White people are out here quoting the “together” part and leaving out the part about “struggling” and “going to jail.”
To see what “unity for struggle” looks like in practice, let’s stick with one the most famous protests Dr. King was involved in: the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Unity played a central role in the success of that campaign. Ninety percent of Montgomery’s Black citizens stopped riding the bus. They also organized a carpool to get protesters to and from work. And their unified actions dealt a major blow to systemic racism, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial discrimination in public transportation unconstitutional. That’s unity for struggle in action. It’s important to note that the success of the Montgomery Bus Boycott didn’t depend on convincing white people to “come to the table” and sing “Kumbaya The Black community needed unity among themselves, so they could act collectively.
The same is true in all struggles for social progress. We primarily need unity with those who are working toward the same goal.” (Andre Henry, All The White Friends I Couldn’t Keep, Convergent, 2022, p. 187-189
Suggestions for action
Can you appreciate the difference between unity that Andrew Henry is describing? When we have the same goals, unity is essential and division is deadly. But if we have much different goals, unity is counter to our mission and goals. We are working to get people to unite against racism. Let us consider Paul’s words above, that we can achieve unity when we elevate and honor those we have dishonored. Elevating their voices is essential to our goals, our unity, and for them not to leave our church too.