I guess all we can really do toward racial reconciliation is work on our own selves, right? Prioritizing understanding over self-defense is a good first step (although a doozy). Being heard is THE prerequisite to healing conversations. If you try to understand me then I automatically want to try to understand you. Humility and empathy draw us toward each other.
So here is what I’m going to do:
I am neck deep in conversations with folks in the black community. Facebook groups, Skypes, phone calls, emails, coffees. I’m listening. I am saying, “Tell me what it is like to live your life.”
I am going on a ride-a-long with my good friend Ryan who has served faithfully in the APD for years. I want to see what he faces and how the view looks from his police car. I will say, “Tell me what it is like to live your life.”
I am going to deeply and truthfully examine my own heart, because I have some deep-seeded racial biases in there. I do. (Why else would a group of black teen boys walking perfectly normal down the street make me nervous? I got stuff.) I am going to repent and ask God to make me clean, which I suspect is harder than I even think.
It’s not everything but it is a start.
184 shares. 4 thousand likes. And dear Jesus, the comments.
I read this last night at midnight and got fired up. This is not where white people should start.
White people do not start by having black people explain their lives. White people do not make black people be their teachers. White people should not be depending on black people to do the work for them.
Instead of having a dozen conversations with black people to understand their lives, read one James Baldwin book.
White people need to begin with reading. White people need to begin with history. White people need to begin with people who have eucharistically broken their souls open in public, and sit with their words.
I think it is misguided, and actually perpetuates harm, when we temper our desire to understand with the requirement that we also be understood. No. Black people do not owe white people any understanding. Black people do not need to validate white feelings in order to be heard and understood.
They do not, they do not, they do not.
There is an economic equivalent to social media, I think. Social wealth. When a socially rich person makes this kind of statement – well, actually, it’s an injustice. We do not need any more famous white people sharing their own words. We need famous white people elevating the voices of those in the black community. Elevating the voices of wisdom. Understanding the structural issues at play. (White people also should not ask famous white bloggers to talk about race. And then either accept, or nominate other white people. What they should do is step back and recommend black voices.)
You can have friends and family members that are police, and they can be very nice people. That does not mean there are not structural inequalities and racism built into the system, and no amount of police ride-alongs can fix that.
The place for white people to start is the 305.896 section of the library. The place for white people to start is with the words of Austin, Christena, Drew, Rod, A’Driane, Shay, Brenda, Daniel, Ebony, Lisha, Marvia, and Ta-Nehisi. Start with black poets, black fiction. Sit with the works of James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. Read and read and read, and wait for the dawning realization that these books don’t have happy endings. That sometimes they don’t even resolve. And realize what that means, why that is.
Healing conversations is not what we need. What we need is a thorough understanding of the systemic racism that our country is founded on and that our laws continue to uphold. And then we need to dismantle the system. White evangelicals need to start with Divided by Faith and learn how our individualized faith is inadequate in dealing with systemic sins. Examining our own hearts is great. Examining how the white majority culture has seeded racism inside of us is even better.
The place for white people to start in the pursuit of racial justice is not with our individualized opinions and conversations. Our limited view of the world and our conditional and cautious acceptance of reality does nothing to help the situation.
White people being heard is not the answer. It is a *privilege* for white people to set conditions on how conversations with black people happen, and whether or not they are legitimate. I don’t expect black people to hear me or empathize with me. Frankly, I don’t expect black people to like me or give me the time of day. My learning and listening and dismantling of my white world has nothing to do with whether or not people in the black community are willing to talk to me.
And quite frankly, when you live in a city that has *serious* racial problems and a devastating history of injustice, the place to start is in your literal backyard. Which is, you know, probably every city in America. That’s another place for white people to start. Study the history of your town. Look into the demographics, and learn why they are the way they are.
Other simple places for white people to start – find your local hip-hop station and listen to it. Drive down the ‘bad’ roads, in the ‘rough’ neighborhoods during the day and see it for what it is – places where people live. Places where humans live, and notice how they do the best they can. Notice the beauty in it, and let your heart break open over the unfairness of it all.
Practice the art of looking black people in the face. Do you know not all black people look alike? I know you logically know that. But do you know it? Look at their faces – sit with the fact that some of the faces looking backing at you might be filled with resentment. But notice how many smile. Notice how all of the people you see are people. Notice how your fear of black bodies fades away.
Dismantling the prejudice that has been instilled in you is not as simple as deciding not to be prejudiced. It requires a building up of habits, thoughts, actions that affirm the humanity and value of all people. And, sometimes you might even have black people who mistake you for another white person, because all white people look alike, and it’s pretty funny.
The place for white people to start is not in our own little individualized bubbles. The place to start is with the needles that pop. And I wish to God that white people with over 230,000 followers would recognize that before talking about racial reconciliation.
Start by following these people:
Start by reading these books:
and a Young Adult version of the same event – Mississippi Trial, 1955
These last few via Airea D. Matthews
Read the links in this post.
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