The multi-racial uprisings across the country, led in most part by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, may be different than other uprisings in the past. I don’t know. I’m not a trained historian or social scientist or grassroots activist with experience on the ground. What I do know is that more of my white peers are using the language of transformational systemic change than I’ve ever heard before. More of my white peers are regularly talking about racism, capitalism, white supremacy, slave patrols (the roots of police), and other key subjects. And we do need to know about these things. However, while we’re learning new terms, new vocabulary, and maybe even gaining deeper understandings, I worry we won’t really do anything to help make necessary changes a reality.
I worry about this because I am only just beginning to act on the knowledge I’ve gained over the last 30 years since my learning about racism began. I know what it is to not feel ready; what it is to feel afraid to do much beyond trying to “understand better.” And, I know my experience is a common one for White liberals and progressives. It keeps so many of us stuck on the side of supporting white supremacy, no matter how much we want to be anti-racist.
My anti-racism work is a part of my spiritual life these days. Racism and white supremacy is intertwined in my identity, my sense of self, and my ability to be in relationship with others. I don’t want to turn off the atheists among you, but it’s been my experience that until I brought my spiritual life into my antiracism work I wasn’t able to even tip-toe into being bold. Maybe spirituality isn’t a requirement, but viewing anti-racism as part of my spiritual practice has helped me take larger and more productive steps forward. Addressing my internalized racism—including the aspects that keeps me stuck in “needing to learn more” instead of acting—requires the relationship I have with a higher power (that I call “god”) to bring me strength.
I’m writing about this spiritual aspect of anti-racism work because a friend of mine—a Friend, too, as in, a member of the Society of Friends, the Quakers—recently shared a video she made for our religious community. We are members of the Portland Friends Meeting. We have been meeting virtually, of course, since the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re not familiar with “unprogrammed” Quaker Meeting for Worship, here’s a quick summary: We sit together in silence, in silent worship. Some are called by Spirit (or God or the Light or… there is no creed, so our common language is flexible and varied) to “vocal ministry” and they share what has come to their mind and heart. We then return to silent worship, waiting for the Light together.
One of the changes in this latest flood of new awareness in white progressives and liberals (and moderates and even conservatives!) has been a reminder for me that I’m not alone in these efforts to change myself so I can more effectively help change the world. At the end of this post, I am going to share the video my friend made that didn’t “rise to the level of vocal ministry” during our Meeting for Worship for our mostly white community, but that she felt called to share later. I’m so grateful she did.
In it, I hear her saying that we white people must learn, of course. We must read books, attend workshops, conversations, classes, etc. that’s true. But she says so beautifully and clearly that we must not let the need to learn be an excuse to hide. We must, for ourselves and for our Black family, dive into action before we feel ready.
I’m not suggesting you should feel ashamed if you want to join a book club/discussion group to help deepen your understandings of racism. We white people need to do that, too. But that’s not going to save Black people’s lives. We must show up in ways that feel uncomfortable (Maggie describes helping at a protest) and do it anyway. What does showing up mean? Google can help, but it takes a little digging to get beyond “understand yourself and understand racism.” Here are a couple links to get you started: Opportunities for White People in the Fight for Racial Justice: Moving from Actor → Ally → Accomplice, and A Call to Action for White Folks
Of course there are more resources for actions. Perhaps you might commit to spending some time googling questions like, “how can white people dismantle white supremacy?” or other questions like that to see what comes up. Find the actions recommended by Black people, find the actions that scare you but also fit into your life. Try those.
Now, here is my friend (and Friend!) Maggie’s video. I invite you to view it with an open heart and explore (with other white people) what comes up for you as you listen:
[An evergreen reminder: I am a White woman writing about racism so I might share with other White people what I learn—mostly what I learn from Black, Indigenous, and other people of color—so we can all work toward societal transformation, liberation.]
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