When we think of inheritances, we think most often of inheriting assets – money, property, treasures, traditions, gifts, abilities and such. But debts can also be inherited. Some of us have experienced repaying debts of our parents or grandparents after their deaths. All of us are mindful of the impact of our nation’s debt passed on to our children and grandchildren.
We attend less often to a debt that those of us who are white Americans have inherited from our ancestors: the debt we owe to black Americans whose ancestors were bought and sold and held in bondage as slaves in America. Even those of us whose ancestors were not in America during the time of slavery have inherited the privilege of whiteness in America and so we, too, inherit the debt generated by slavery and by injustice that persists to this day. Conversations about reparation for this debt are not new, but they are renewing. Just days ago, one recommendation of a study presented by the United Nation’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent was that reparation be made in America to the descendants of African slaves, through a variety of means including health initiatives, educational opportunities, and technology investment.
Study, discernment, and action around reparation for slavery is a huge endeavor. The dollar amounts named by scholars in this field are enormous. It’s tempting to do nothing while we wait for bigger minds and hearts to figure it all out, but another possibility in the context of ongoing study, discernment, and action is to do what we can when we can. Here’s one idea:
The American Missionary Association, one of the historic treasures of the United Church of Christ, gave shape to a commitment to education and to racial equality by founding six colleges with missions to provide empowering educations for the descendants of slaves. These six historically black colleges continue as racially diverse settings for higher education. As we make our tithes and offerings between now and year’s end, those of us living with the privilege of being white in America can send offerings to the general scholarship funds of one or more of these colleges, as small repayments of our inherited debt:
- Dillard University, New Orleans, LA www.dillard.edu
- Fisk University, Nashville, TN www.fisk.edu
- Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, TX www.htu.edu
- LeMoyne-Owen College, Memphis, TN www.loc.edu
- Talladega College, Talladega, AL www.talladega.edu
- Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, MS www.tougaloo.edu
Are you registered for a rich new learning opportunity in the Iowa Conference this month? October 7th is the deadline for registering for A Day For Sharpening Pro2717. “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.” (Proverbs 27:17). We will gather at First Christian Church in Des Moines with Drake University Professor Jennifer Harvey, author of Dear White Christians. Dr. Harvey will guide a day of sharpening our understanding of racism and white privilege in our Iowa communities and our discernment around repaying an inherited debt.
I’ll see you there!
—Jonna Jensen, Associate Conference Minister