Let sincere whites go teach nonviolence to white people!~Malcolm X
The history placed into my developing mind by adults, texts, and images, didn’t reflect reality. It heavily favored the white man, and overlooked the barbaric history of the land I live on. This is a common experience had by white and black children alike. Without going into a lengthy narrative, suffice it to say that I have been working to undo the false history with the accurate history, as painful as the truth is, for almost a decade.
As an experiential learner, and the student of a college with a predominantly African American student body, in a predominantly African American area, I took it upon myself to explore the area, attend church in the area, and create bonds with the people there, though at times it was uncomfortable.
Some of my most treasured relationships, and the safest people in my life, I met during that time of “exploration”. In fact, it became less an area and time of discomfort and exploration, and more an area and time of just, well, living life, among people who said it like it was, and didn’t put me or my differences down to boost their own egos.
For many reasons, those people became the people I preferred to be around, and their worldview and history began to infiltrate my own.
As a teen, I thought the best way to bring people together was to bring them in proximity with one another. I thought, if other white people saw what I had seen, and made connections like I had, they, too, would begin to dream of a unified, and equitable way forward.
Looking back, this was a huge mistake. I brought black children and friends into white settings that were uncomfortable for them at best, dangerous at worst. In the wake of the 2016 election, it became apparent that people who I believed would change for the better, were they simply exposed to people who I saw as being from “the other side of town”, actually changed for the worse, and saw those people (my friends included). as people from the “bad part of town”. That’s code for where black people live.
Since then, I’ve wised up. Assuming that other white folks had done (or would do) the work to be safe, non-triggering people to our black neighbors, was naïve of me. I was wrong. I own those mistakes, and I am grateful that, as far as I know, lasting psychological, emotional, and physical damage was never done to the black children whose parents entrusted them to me, or to the young adult friends that I brought around my white community.
The amazing thing is, not once, has a black friend cut me off, or argued with me, or been resentful toward me over these mistakes. No one is perfect, but people who make space for the shortcomings of their friends feel more perfect than those who don’t.
In the years since the election I have studied the black experience at great length, and done my best to stand as a faithful witness of, and supporter through, the unimaginable, deeply unjust and dehumanizing struggles that black folks face simply as a result of being alive in the USA. I have kept the white community out of my black friend’s lives, and recognized with humility, that no one ever asked me to combine the two, and great philosophers and intellectuals–not to mention people of color, and elders in my community–know more about integration than I do. I’m not saying integration isn’t the way forward. I think I am saying that I can’t integrate people’s hearts for them, and I had to learn that where the rubber meets the road.
As my osteopathic doctor (a true medicine woman), told me, “You can pray for their ears to be open, but you can’t make them hear.”
I learned this experientially (and undoubtedly will learn it many times to come), over many years, and through the revealing explosion that was the 2016 election results. By grace, the casualties of my mistakes were few.
The reassuring thing is that this lesson lines up with the words of the amazing black leader and Muslim minister–killed far too early in his powerful life–Malcolm X: Working separately, the sincere white people and sincere black people actually will be working together.
When I spend time nurturing friendships in an authentic manner with people, regardless of their race or socioeconomic status, if I am being true to my values, and to my calling of white allyship, I am right there in the fray. I don’t have to go to black communities to go to war. In fact, the war is within the hearts and minds of people like me. We are the temples in which racism is still worshipped. From within us, we need Jesus to rise and turn the tables. Black folks know they’re human, and deserve to be treated as such (sending blessings to any black brother or sister who doesn’t feel human…your life is sacred); we are the ones who must undo the dehumanizing infrastructure set up in our minds and housed inside our very DNA.
I guess what I am saying is, don’t take the battle to black people, and don’t take black people to battle. What is ours is ours, and integrating our minds and hearts is a long labor, that will lead to wholeness in our own communities, and freedom from the shadow of despair that white supremacy casts over everything and everyone that it touches.
Be sincere, be diligent in self-examination. Trace the impact of every dollar you spend. Elevate black voices. Take the time to learn. You will make mistakes, as I did, but there isn’t a formula to get it right, and don’t you dare ask a random off-the-street black person (or a black friend for that matter, odds are, if they don’t start the conversation, they don’t want to have it with you) to concoct that formula for you.
Look inward. Do the work. Listen. Humanize yourself to humanize others to make the world a softer, more equitable place.
We are on a journey, friends, and we are going somewhere better, together.
(S)He has told you, O (wo)man, what is good; and what does the LORD (Spirit) require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? ~ Micah 6:8 (The Bible)