Just a few random and rambling thoughts from my middle-age Black mind.
I have reached a bit of a crossroads, where I am truly struggling to grasp whether or not anti-racism work is simply feel-good busywork for white people. Or if transformational change is possible that doesn’t come at the emotional and mental expense of Black people and other people of color.
This past week has been filled with a clarity that is painful. Even in explicitly anti-racist spaces, most of the heavy lifting is carried on the backs of all the non-white folks in the space and not only are we not collectively on the same page but, in many cases, we aren’t even reading the same book.
If change happens at the speed of trust, how are we building trust? Are we creating spaces that are not just superficially welcoming, but are spaces where Black and brown people can truly be present without fear of reprisal? Or is whiteness still centered in those spaces? Can these spaces hold our respective truths without anger and recriminations?
Intellectually, I know that anti-racism work is relational. But the stumbling block that even I face as someone well-versed in the work is the day-to-day task of being in relationship with white people. Even when the desire is present to build a better world, we—like star-crossed lovers—too often fail. One of us has to sit and live with a lens of duality that carries the weight of centuries of oppression; the other gets to duck in and out of the relationship as it suits their emotional bandwidth. That is a wide gulf to bridge, especially if the more privileged person is being asked to part with material resources on behalf of the other.
How do you build with someone where power and privilege is so unequal? Can the privileged body part with material resources without holding the other to the standard of white ways? Can we truly be anti-racist without decolonizing our mental spaces?
As I share these thoughts, I have no answers. I can only trust that like a love that on the surface makes no sense, there is something of value. That if we bring our most raw and vulnerable selves to the table with a commitment to truth and change, we must—despite the pain—be building something better.
Otherwise, we are accepting that the racism that is our foundational truth in the West will never be dismantled. I refuse to accept that—but damn, this work is hard. I just wish that we could start with seeing and hearing our respective truths. If we could lay down the body armor that gets us through our days, we might just see enough of the snippets of humanity that lie beneath, perhaps giving us the fuel to keep us going and staying in relationship with one another.
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3 thoughts on “My Black Thoughts”
The Poor People’s Campaign has a tenant pointing at “the weight of centuries of oppression” confronting the myth of religious nationality. Sherry Mitchell (“Sacred Instructions”) traces the trauma of God justified oppression from Augustine of Hippo’s 4th Century thesis of a “Just War” — that governments and individuals may kill guilt free if done in the name of God.
As a white Christian I find myself being a beneficiary of the heavy mantle of oppression known as “The Doctrine of Discovery” and as “The Right of Christian Nations” to capture, colonize, enslave, dispossess, and exploit in the name of God. The foundation of racism is deeply embedded in my (all of our) world view truth.
I hear your anguish.
Reading your blog, I gain much understanding and feel and hope I’m gaining a ‘cloak of inclusion’.
Thank you for yours and your colleagues’ work.
I really appreciate this essay, Shay. How do we as white people initiate and fully stay in relationship with BIPOC people, along with continuing the work around dismantling racism? You’re right, we have built-in breaks with our skin color and privilege, which you don’t have. I, like you, don’t have answers. I can only hope that knowing better, & doing better, are important steps. Though I think this is true, I know this can sound trite, and still has the built-in privilege of “duck & cover”, privilege and rest, that others don’t have. I need to trust that conversations like this matter, and help in small ways. Thanks for continuing the work.
Maybe just maybe, the answer lies with the children ? In Boston the other day, I saw two young boys- one “White”, the other “Black” walking and laughing together. I remember my own young “white cousin” and his friendship in the 1960s with a young “black male”, who discovered the normalcy of it all.
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