by Rev. Jan Thomas, ChI Community Minister
As someone who carries the skin privilege of whiteness, a mantra that has informed my own response is the ubiquitous traffic guidance I learned as a child: Stop, Look, and Listen.
STOP what must be stopped. What’s happening now is systemic, unrelenting, and has been happening in some form since African people were taken forcibly from their homes four centuries ago. These systems of harm must be unearthed and dismantled, and we all have a role to play in this sacred endeavor.
LOOK, really let yourself look at and learn about the inexorable and systematic hurts that are experienced by people of color. White people need to be open, humble learners about racism’s pervasive reach and how it impacts people of color. “Being with what is” can be a powerful and necessary act that opens further doors of awareness and action.
LISTEN actively, with an open, undefended heart—then listen some more. Resource yourself so you can stay fully present and open to the painful information that is being presented, and to what this knowledge may ask of you.
It is not unusual to hear the words, “But that’s not me; I’m not racist.” It can be almost a reflexive response to feel guilty… or to defend, explain, and justify. But please don’t! This kind of response is deeply unhelpful, even alienating. As we explain or defend, our inner walls go up and we constrain our ability to take in the hugeness and horror of what is being revealed. So don’t make it about you; don’t be invested in proving you are a “good person.” Stay present and quietly be with what is being shared. Absorb the learnings and let yourself be challenged and changed by them.
Those of us who have the skin privilege of whiteness are called to grow our own understandings as well as our capacities to facilitate courageous conversations that bridge racial and cultural divides. Here are several helpful suggestions from people of color that I have taken to heart:
—Center the voices of those who have been marginalized.
—Open up and share your stories, and support others to do the same. Sharing our experiences is powerful and is a vital part of the solution.
—Connect with the anti-racist movement and get knowledge and training—this is essential! The beauty of this is that you can engage just as you are, including if you are unaware or under-informed. Whatever level you can show up and participate is useful and moves the work forward.
—Know that it is better to speak than to be silent, even if your words are not perfect.
May we, the ChI Interfaith Community, nurture a dynamic community of learners as we grow our capacity to have—and to facilitate—courageous conversations and action to transform institutions and beliefs that perpetuate racial harm. In doing so, may we continue to cultivate Beloved Community that honors the sacredness of all.