Complacency, Complicity, and Confrontation

I’m looking forward to participating in this event on Thursday October 8th at 12 EST, and am grateful for the reminder the event hosts in its title: CONFRONTING white complicity in racial injustice

As I confront my own role in racial injustice, I think about the false narratives embedded in white supremacy. False narratives that say my body will be protected if I remain silent on issues that matter, a false narrative which coddles and comforts white people. Upon these lies, countless systems of oppression have been built, systems which white people benefit from and knowingly or unknowingly participate in. 

So what I am learning is that this work requires a daily, moment to moment confrontation of myself and my complacency in issues of injustice which is often bound up in my comfort. And that complacency is precisely what leads to my complicity.  

One of the most significant ways we are failing Beloved Community, as white people, is that we are failing to go deep. We are using “Black Lives Matter” as another form of tokenism, a performative platform,  while still being coddled by oppressive systems built upon injustice. And until we truly step into the daily and moment-to-moment discomfort, this will exist.

And, as we know, the depth begins with us–it begins with the individual work that must seep out into all areas of our life. The individual work which leads to collective work.

The work isn’t comfortable, but the only other option is complicity.

I hope you’ll join us for this conversation so we can all continue to learn and grow, together.

“When liberal whites fail to understand how they can and/or do embody white supremacist values and beliefs even though they may not embrace racism as prejudice or domination (especially domination that involves coercive control), they cannot recognize the ways their actions support and affirm the very structure of racist domination and oppression that they wish to see eradicated.”

bell hooks

“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

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A Prayer for White People (including myself)

For those afraid to begin for fear of being wrong and being corrected. “White feelings should never be held in higher regard than black lives.” (Rachel Cargle)

May we get over ourselves. May we see the value of being uncomfortable, the importance of trying and getting it wrong until we get it closer to right.

For those whose ignorance is debilitating humanity’s resolution. “it is hardly possible for anyone who thinks of himself as white to know what a black person is talking about at all.” (James Baldwin)

May we read, watch, listen, heed, and do our own work both individually and collectively.

For those who fear moving away from the comfort and safety of “being good.”

May we remember, there is always a place for “creative trouble” (Bayard Rustin), “Good trouble, necessary trouble” (John Lewis)

May we pivot into discomfort, lest we perpetuate the status quo.

May we recall that “There is no place in this war of liberation for nice white people who want to avoid taking sides and remain friends with both the racists and the Negro.” (James H. Cone)

For those so focused on their self-worth’s connectivity to black worth that we fail to do the work from the right intentions.

May we remember, “Anti-racism work is not self-improvement work for white people. It doesn’t end when white people feel better about what they’ve done. It ends when Black people are staying alive and they have their liberation.” (Rachel Cargle)

For those flailing so much that they’ve chosen to do nothing, without realizing the privilege of choice. “When liberal whites fail to understand how they can and/or do embody white supremacist values and beliefs… they cannot recognize the ways their actions support and affirm the very structure of racist domination and oppression that they wish to see eradicated.” (bell hooks)

May we stop flailing in the sea of to-dos and begin to be moved to change and step into risk––one task at a time.

For those who cannot see the work of justice in a riot.

May we see the truth of the fire and see both within and beyond it.

For those who cannot understand the rage.

May we awaken to the necessity of uprooting systems of oppression embedded in American society and our very lives.

May we recognize these systems and be against them, clearly and boldly.

May we know that disruption of a system which holds on to the status quo is necessary for these are the systems which refuse to “relinquish [their] oppressive ways without confrontation. This is the methodology of the oppressed as they are fighting for liberation.” (Pamela R. Lightsey).

May we remember that “to practice love is to disrupt the status quo which is masquerading as peace.” (Austin Channing Brown)

May we see and understand that “Oppressive systems must be exposed and deconstructed or dismantled (even in sacred texts), not simply recycled or cosmetically adjusted to palliate and opiate the oppressed and their allies.” (Mitzi J Smith)

May we see the distress, agony, and trauma of these systems which is perpetuated in our own white bodies, ways of being, and participation (see Resmaa Menakem’s book My Grandmother’s Hands).

For those claiming only silence or spending time in prayer is necessary for such a time as this.

May we heed the balance demanded of a truly contemplative life.

May we remember “All contemplation should be followed by action.” And that the wholeness of contemplation “MUST consist of both inward solitude and reflection, and an outward response to the situations in which we find ourselves present and awake.” (Therese Taylor-Stinson)

May we remember that the “altar of justice” clearly shows historically and biblically that “resistance was [and is] an action” of our faith. (Dean Leah Gunning Francis)

For those who think we can “set the timetable for another man’s freedom” (MLK, Jr.) No, just no.

“How much time do you want for your progress?” (James Baldwin)

May we heed the “fierce urgency of now” (MLK, Jr.) and recognize God in our fellow humans who are literally struggling to breathe in this. very. moment.

For those who still can’t get behind the phrase, “Black Lives Matter.”

May we remember “we don’t live in a world where all lives matter.” (Alicia Garza) Thus, we must elevate the lives deemed unworthy by a society we (as white people) perpetuate (whether unknowingly or not).

May we remember that “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.” (Toni Morrison)

May we wake up to see this truth in our everyday lives: our schools, our places of work, our streets, our parks, and our homes.

For those at home, unable to leave for health reasons of their own, another’s health, or unable to be on the streets for other reasons.

May we remember that there are countless  ways to show up.

May we recall that “Revolution is not a one-time event” (Audre Lorde) nor a one-place event. But may we also remember that for a revolution to take hold, it must seep into all avenues of our lives.

May we remember where we spend our money matters, our voice or writing matters, our work with our white friends, white children, and white family members matters.

May we learn to see by paying attention.

May we learn to understand by listening.

May we learn to change by doing our own work.

May we be true to both ourselves and our unique expressions while also being true to our human family.

May we participate in the revolution, a revolution that doesn’t need us but will define us.

Closing: “Spirit gets what Spirit wants, so we might as well listen.” (Lerita Coleman-Brown)

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

(Fannie Lou Hammer)

(Icon: Ferguson Mother of God: Our Lady against all Gun Violence, 2015 by Mark Dukes).

 

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The Wall Between Grace & Domination

Parking along the street felt ordinary enough. Our group of seven got out of the car to see ourselves flanked between an everyday row of homes and the Arizona/Mexico border wall. What a strange thing to see amid a neighborhood. What a strange thing to opt traveling to.

As we walked along the wall on the US side, I noticed an immense amount of garbage and an unnecessary amount  of razor wire. We listened to a story of a pregnant woman climbing the wall and falling to be shredded by the wire. We kept walking. We listened to the story of a young boy being shot by border control on the Mexican side—a boy who was not attempting to cross the border. The bullet holes still embedded on the wall. We kept walking. We heard about how the border agent was tried twice only to get off twice and that all issues with border agents are handled internally. We kept walking.

bell hooks explores the fact that domination and love cannot coexist, writing, “Whenever domination is present love is lacking…. The soul of our politics is the commitment to ending domination.”* And, I wonder, what on earth are we––the United States, doing?

The humanity across the border was pure grace — the people, the beauty, the art, the color. The ways in which the kindness of the people embraced us with smiles, warmth, welcomeness and inclusiveness. That same sense of inclusion we claim to host within our church doors and even our nation. This was grace. Grace from a group of people who owe me––us, nothing. Grace from a space whose demands supersede my provisions and yet whose kindness seeks nothing in return.

Then, there was the art. The radiance of colors telling stories. The boldness of truth painted around bullet holes. The clarity of love depicted by an array of mediums while the quiet hands behind the scenes of these pieces were nowhere to be found. Artisans of justice. Visionaries of peace. As similar to me as my own flesh and blood, and yet, caged away like animals, barricaded apart as though monsters. By what form of grace do I deserve to see this beauty, to witness these artists and to receive their love?

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It seems to me that so much of learning someone or someone is showing up. James Cone writes that “a man is free when he accepts the responsibility for his own acts and knows that they involve not merely himself but all men.” Often times this means showing up to the truth of someone which may not reflect nicely upon myself. This also means stepping far enough away from my own (and my nation’s) missteps that I am truly present to the fellow human before me. The one I’ve show up to. The place of presence I’ve chosen to be.

In the same breath, I often find myself wondering: what does this solve? What does showing up really mean in a world of walls and laws, a world who tears families apart and imprisons them? The answer is: I’m not sure. I only know that bearing witness to the truth of someone is a means of love, of friendship, of solidarity in our common humanity. This journey of being a human is impossible to accomplish alone and often in my place of privilege I fail to hold before me the clarity and urgency of what that really means.

Domination shrinks the table while Grace has the table set and expanded for our arrival.

Domination feeds fear while Grace always assumes the best.

Domination has nothing to teach me while Grace patiently awaits my arrival to the classroom.

The following day, our group went on a hike behind a home to visit migrant memorials. Locations where the bones of bodies once filled with breath were found and laid to rest. Pausing at each grave our group read poems, breathed prayers, and considered these lost lives. we finished with the gusto of “uno, dos, tres: ¡PRESENTE!” This, to remember the presence of those we’ve lost on this journey of dreams and freedom. To remember:

“Now your bones are part of the story Part of the architecture of this landscape. Your spirit followed the evening star into a new day. One we all will enter when it is our time. The bones you left behind we all share … In what farm, village, or city does someone look at an old photo weep and say your name Again and again and again like a prayer. Caress that photo as though you were still near… Here in this place we hold questions falling in tears Remember that once you were here in this place. Know that we, too, will leave our bones behind. Know that we, too, will carry some answers Beyond the reach of those we love” (Marie Vogl Gary).

The final grave belonged to a teenage boy. A young woman in our group said, “my mom and dad used to sing me ‘You are my Sunshine’, can we sing that?” As we all sang the song we ended with the final words that felt more like a gut punch of truth, “You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

The US/Mexico border situation is beyond words. But I can listen to grace. I can see the vibrancy of story. And I can witness my fellow human in this in this world of unimaginable pain and suffering.

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“The embracement hopelessness rejects quick fixes. Now, I think one of the problems is when we think of hopelessness we think of despair, and despair was horrible, I mean despair I just want to roll it up into a fetal position and cry but hopelessness is not despair, it is desperation.

And there’s a big difference. When a migrant decides to cross the desert, it’s not an act of despair. It’s an act of desperation, even though they know they probably will die. And as a side note, every four days five brown bodies die crossing the desert in this country. Probably the greatest human rights violation occurring since the days of Jane and Jim Crow.”

–Miguel De La Torre

To learn more about the story of Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez watch this to hear the story from his grandma. 

*bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics.

 

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