My last name, Busse, is German. When telling people how to spell it, I say,
“It’s like a school bus with an extra ‘s’ and an ‘e.’” You pronounce it, “Bus-see.”
But people say, “Boo-see” or “Bus.” They try to add a ‘y’ at the end. It’s strange, but you get my point. For a short little last name, it seems to cause big problems in the realm of pronunciation and spelling. While I’ve never been ashamed of my last name, I have been ashamed of the heritage it represents.
My mother is Swedish, and it was her Scandinavian heritage that was celebrated in my home growing up. Our Christmases were Swedish with Norwegian overtones. My parents avidly collected Danish Christmas plates for years. In second or third grade, we presented a Christmas Around the World extravaganza for our school Christmas play. Because of my Swedish DNA, I desperately wanted to be Santa Lucia – the saint of Swedish tradition. Little Swedish girls dress up as her on Christmas day, complete with her outfit of a white robe and a crown of candles. But I have dark hair, so I played the traditional Italian character – I don’t even remember who that character was – and my friend, who was very blonde, played Santa Lucia. (It turns out that the real Santa Lucia was, in fact, Italian and had dark hair. I could have played her! I still have some issues with this, but at almost age 52 I’m trying to finally let it go.)
As a child, even as a teenager and young adult, I never really thought about the fact that my dad also wholeheartedly accepted the Scandinavian traditions we celebrated. Not once did we ever talk about anything German. He never shared what might have been a German tradition from his family. Both of my grandfathers were ministers, so I know that on holidays such as Christmas they went to church. But traditions from
were not a part of my family life; not at all. I never questioned this. I knew
that I was ashamed of my German heritage because of Hitler and Nazism, the
Holocaust, both World Wars, but I did not think about the fact that my father
was ashamed as well.
It was not until I was in seminary in my late 20’s, and I was reading the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer that I began to let go of some of that shame. I shared that with my dad, and that is when he told me that he felt the same way. He also felt shame for being German and for the terrible evils that had been done by Germans. He also started reading Bonhoeffer and it helped him too. It helped to know that there were some Germans who did not actively participate in the Nazi party; Germans who did not turn a blind eye as their Jewish neighbors were herded from their homes, but who resisted Hitler, who worked against Hitler, who willingly sacrificed their lives to stop Hitler and the evil, the complete and utter evil that Hitler and his Nazis unleashed on the world.
I write about the shame I have felt over my German DNA because I also feel shame about the color of my skin, my whiteness. I cannot help that I was born white, anymore than anyone can help being born in their unique skin regardless of its particular amount of melanin. But I am ashamed of my whiteness, because it has given me privilege, and it has given me power, and so much evil has been done in its name.
This past Sunday, after a weekend spent watching the terrible and tragic events unfold in
I changed the course of my sermon to call out racism. I’ve gotten some good
feedback and positive affirmation. But as I have read through the sermon again
and again, I know that it is not enough. I wish I had said more, written it
differently, better. I’m holding my sermon up to a blog I subscribe to called AfroSapiophile.
It can be tough to read, or maybe it is just tough for me as a white person to
read. But I read it anyway, because I have to. It serves as a relentlessly honest
mirror into which I must look. Sometimes as I am reading the hard statements written
about white people and whiteness in Charlottesville, Virginia America,
“No! No! That’s not me. I’m not that white person! I see the injustice in our society. I see it. I acknowledge it. I don’t defend it.”
Yes, Amy, all that may be true, but what am I doing about it? Racism is a cancer that needs to be excised out of our country, out of our systems, and out of our individual persons. I serve a church that is as diseased by racism as any other institution. Yes, a lot of us are woke, or trying to wake up. We are trying. But there is so much more to be done. So much more we must do. Maybe the first step as a white person is admitting our culpability in a society that rewards us for being white. As white people we have to talk about this. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable. We have to be willing to look at pictures that hurt and read stories that hurt and listen – this is a big one – to people of color. Somewhere, I don’t remember where, I read that many people of color wish that if they could have one super power, that power would not be invisibility or super strength, it would be that white people would believe them. White people would believe them when they say that they are treated differently by police, and that they are treated differently in stores, and differently just out in the world. I never realized that wishing for the ability to fly was a luxury. Some people just want to be believed.
I do not want to be ashamed of who I am, of who God created me to be. But in the name of my skin color, other people, who are different from me biologically only by the shade of their skin, have been made to feel less than human. Worse, far worse, those other people, those sisters and brothers, have been treated as less than human. This brutality didn’t just happen a long time ago, then it ended and people need to get over it already. This reality goes on and on and on. It will not stop until we make it stop. It will not stop until white people acknowledge that it is real and happening, and that we are culpable. It will not stop until we make it stop. We have to make it stop.