I’m not here to be a teacher. I’m here to show how I’m learning to be a student.
For one reason or another, this particular BLM moment has woken me up to the realities of the systematic dehumanizing of black people of color and systemic injustice. Of course, this is not the first time these things are surfacing. My eyes are just opening now to the realities that I’ve been blind to and what I’ve been privileged to never consider.
I grew up in as good a situation as can be imagined. Middle class family living in the suburbs or in the country. I’m white. I’m male. I’m cisgender hetero. I was born an American citizen. I can check every box down the page to put me in the fully privileged camp. And honestly, up until a few weeks ago, I was deaf to any call to help me realize it.
I thought life could be this easy for everyone.
I thought life should be this easy for everyone.
I thought life would be this easy for everyone.
I like to subscribe to a full metaphysic of libertarianism, of individualism, of a truly free market of things and ideas. I believe that free will is our reality and that we have a responsibility to do work we love while providing value in excess of what we charge for our time and effort. The romance of “the American dream” is deep down in my bones. And until recently, I would have written off this whole movement in the culture. Even now, it’s hard for me to pay attention to systemic issues, when the Individual is so attractive to me.
What’s been teaching me slowly to see things in terms of systems and societal forces is Rob Bell’s spectacular talk on YouTube, Everything is Spiritual. In the talk, Bell shows how the evolution and unfolding of our universe gives rise to new phenomena when components are combined at previous levels. Quarks combine to atoms. Atoms combine to molecules. Molecules combine to cells. Cells combine to bodies. And when bodies, human beings with thoughts and personalities combine, what emerges? Civilization. Society. Systems. This is what Christians through the ages have called “the Body of Christ”. This unification of individuals gives rise to a new thing, a collective consciousness with it’s own pain, joy, orders of operation and modality. Like I said, if this is all obvious to you thus far, I’m the student here. And I’m working through my lessons. So this is the birth of social systems. Then…
There is a concept being talked about now called White Fragility. Many have taught the concept. Many have fumbled with a rebranding of it. I will not attempt to work with it besides acknowledging that it is very real. As a white man, I’ve been insulated from race-based stress my entire life, so when it comes to the forefront of the culture and I’m told by black people of color that this has been a reality for them their entire lives and that I have work to do to deconstruct implicit and unconscious racist forces and beliefs within myself, I can easily start feeling attacked. I can sense in my body a visceral, lizard-brain response that starts screaming “FIGHT or FLY”! That, my friends, is what I now know to be white fragility. That impulse to instantly defend. That impulse to fire back with #AllLivesMatter! That impulse to claim that there’s not a racist bone in my body or that I have POC friends. That is what I’m learning to pay attention to. Because precisely where my hackles stand up while my heart drops into a steady race, my hands start to sweat, and I begin tripping over my tongue, that’s where I need to learn to sit with the uncomfortable truth of my privileged position. No one said this was easy or fun. We must learn to be uncomfortable if we are ever to arrive in a world of equitable justice, fair and safe police training and practice, and true unity in our diversity.
To my white brothers and sisters and siblings: If we are indeed ready to see that a group of individuals combine to create society and systems, then we must be ready to collectively work on that thing that arises in our midst. If we can see our collective-ness in this hyper-connected world as a Body, maybe even the Body of the Christ, then we must be ready to heal that limb, that organ, that operation that has been wounded.
We’re being called to listen to the part of our Body that is hurt. When the leg is sending blinding pain signals to the brain, alerting the Body to a broken femur, the healthy arm does not refuse to help, claiming that #ArmLivesMatter. Instead the arm joins the rest of the body in stabilizing the fracture, picking up the extra weight of the Body that the leg is no longer prepared to bear, and works to join in the healing work. A doctor tending to the broken leg bone would not prescribed a shoulder sling. The injured leg must be allowed it’s due attention.
So when we hear Black Lives Matter, it is simply not helpful, even harmful, to respond with All Lives Matter. The real, living experience of our black POC friends is that they matter less than their white neighbors. So until they matter as much as the rest of us, without a second thought or question, then we say Black Lives Matter. It is our work to educate ourselves on our national history, identify biases and implicit beliefs within ourselves, and offer an open hand of allyship. History does not get rewritten unless the history writers pick up the pen. And like it or not, acknowledge it or not, white men are the history writers in this country. So learn how to write. Learn how to speak up, speak out, and speak against that which would degrade the dignity of our black brothers and sisters. Learn the difference between simply not being racist and being anti-racist. I’m right there with you. Let’s be students together. I do not know the systemic fixes and won’t claim to be an expert in policy. So I will begin with me, the individual. I’m here for an education. As Brene Brown says, “I’m here to get it right, not to be right.”
“The work of anti-racism is the work of becoming a better human to other humans.” – Austin Channing Brown
Here is a list of podcasts, books, videos, Instagrams, music, and prayers that I’ve been paying attention to in my education process. This is in no way comprehensive. Let these take you in your own direction. (Please feel free to contact me with feedback, comments, and questions)
- The One You Feed: Austin Channing Brown on Racial Justice
- The One You Feed: Ruth King on Healing Racism
- On Being: Resmaa Menakem ‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence’
- On Being: Eula Biss Talking About Whiteness
- On Being: Isabel Wilkerson This History is Long; this History is Deep
- The Next Right Thing: On Racism: Learning to Speak and to Listen
- The RobCast: Swords and Plows and the Great Unmasking
- Tim Ferriss Show: Coach George Raveling
- James Finley: The Mystics and Social Justice
- Unlocking Us with Brene Brown: Ibram X. Kendi How to Be an Antiracist
- Unlocking Us with Brene Brown: Austin Channing Brown I’m Still Here
- You Have Permission: Listening
- You Have Permission: What Comes After a Racial Awakening?
- Fresh Life Church: The Upper Hand
- The Liturgists: Black and White: Racism in America
- The Liturgists: Is All History White History?
Books (full disclosure: these are books on my wish list, I have not read them yet)
- Resmaa Manakem: My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies
- Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
- Austin Channing Brown: I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
- Beverly Daniel Tatum: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
- Christena Cleveland: Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart
- Ibram X. Kendi: Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
- Jemar Tisby: The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism
- Michael O. Emerson & Christian Smith: Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America
- Bryan Stevenson: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
- Brown eyes and blue eyes Racism experiment Children Session – Jane Elliott
- What this girl chooses to do in this protest footage is incredibly moving to me.
- TEDxTeen: Eva Lewis: Chicago: A Land of Wilderness and Oasis
- My friend Ashley @papergram put together this great series of graphics that served as a major introduction to me. Check it out here.
- The music of William Matthews’ record, KOSMOS
- A Confession of Sin
- The Crucified Christ
- A Prayer for Peace
- Prayer of St. Francis
- “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
- “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” (Repeat while journeying around a string of prayer beads)