I have confidence in the laws of morals as of botany. I have planted maize in my field every June for seventeen years and I never knew it come up strychnine. My parsley, beet, turnip, carrot, buck-thorn, chestnut, acorn, are as sure. I believe that justice produces justice and injustice, injustice.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Six months ago I signed up for the Fighting Racism Cohort through the Denver Interfaith Alliance. I am unsure what compelled me to say “yes”, but it seemed like the next logical step in my quest to understand why black lives matter and to engage in a conversation with people who know far more than me. My corner of the world holds few people of color, so a monthly trek to Denver was a worthy price to pay to learn and engage and reconcile with some hard truths.
Our group began that first September Sunday afternoon with about thirty people. This past week, we had ten. The numbers have dwindled, but the conversation has bloomed. We have moved from learning about our personal white privilege and the plight of people of color in America to creating an action plan in our faith communities. As we’ve collectively spanned the election of 45 and the aftermath of his inauguration, we have grown together in our understanding. Our black members consistently place the onus on us white folks to talk to our cousins, our parents, siblings and friends. Our work, as the dominant power in this nation is to carry the mantle, to share the knowledge we’ve obtained, to be the allies that deserve to speak on behalf of the black community, because they are tired, worn and fighting for survival. We must own the conversation with one another, debating, discussing, fielding and answering questions.
I took offense at first. I wanted our black members to teach me, to tell me what to do, to shadow me so I didn’t make a mistake. But, the reality is, I need to make mistakes. I need to fail and feel shame and pick myself up and try again. My safety isn’t in danger because of my skin. My sons are not in danger because of their skin or hoodies. I can sleep at night, I do not fear for my children’s safety or my husband’s or mine. I can rest. I can put my feet up at night. I can drive home knowing if I am pulled over I am pretty much entitled to a smooth transaction on the roadside.
The amount of getting-through-the-day-energy expended by my black friends is beyond my comprehension. I am seeking to understand my implicit bias, my privilege, my entitlements and how all of these woven together places burden and condemnation, disempowering and threatening communities of color. None of us will ever know these things, none of us can claim full understanding. Our indoctrination is so great, generation upon generation of sin, of slavery, lynching, segregation, incarceration. Our racism and supremacy buried, the life and dignity of another, shuttered, silenced, cast aside. Our racism, until faced full and fierce and intentional, will always compromise, will always seek to dominate and over-power, unbeknownst to us.
We must educate ourselves. Read the books, understand the materials, watch the news with an immense side of doubt, have hard conversations. We must place the onus on ourselves to divest ourselves of power in order to bring another up. How we do this? This is the material of conversations and debate, the material of hard and well-earned trust. This is the material that bruises the ego and requires vast humility and stamina. The work is far from easy, but ease should never be the bar. The bar is high and worth every moment of strain. We owe it. The work is essential. And we must forge forward and find our white cohorts, we find our white partners and form the groups and have the conversations, without additional burden upon the black population.
I’ve heard much about bootstraps over the years. I’ve said much about bootstraps over the years, about requiring people of color to take the responsibility. I was ignorant. The only thing accomplished was maintaining my comforts, my lifestyle, my ability to be in white circles without dissonance or displeasure. If they would just…. Until we seek to walk in another’s shoes, trying to understand, teasing out the white privilege and systems of supremacy, it is inevitable we can only be contributors to the racism. We will only contribute the debasement of people of color. Until we learn and seek and strive to understand the desperation, the fear, the lack of opportunity, we white people have no right to speak with authority. We have no right to tell another what to do. We have no right to criticize and condemn, for we know not what our black and brown cohorts must endure at the hands of our nation’s powerful white constituency.
In the state of our nation today, our foremost work as Christians is love – to live in love, to fight injustice, to seek dignity for our fellow humans. The Church was never intended to be a white country club. The church is a place to come and work alongside another to bring light and relief to the hurting, the disenfranchised and marginalized in our communities, to bring light and relief into our own souls through the good work of justice.
We get what we put in. We reap what we sow.