Many of us are waking up to the racist systems we’re swimming in, and what is more humbly, the ways we’ve unknowingly been perpetuating those racist systems. As we march or watch marches, we’re becoming more aware of the deep-seated problems faced by people of color in the United States, and of the ways we daily benefit from white supremacy.
In the wake of these awakenings and in response to some of the worship and educational spaces we’ve held at Northminster over the last few weeks, I’ve been hearing one question come through clearly:
What do we
People use different words, but the need to do right, to be part of the solution, is consistent. There’s a sense of helplessness. Do we go march? Do we post in solidarity on social media?
What difference would it make?
What do we
That’s an excellent question.
On one hand, we often feel so pressured to
, that we do things which aren’t actually helpful. Last week, in an interview with
, author Ijeoma Oluo said this about purely symbolic acts of solidarity:
These [symbolic acts] are not things that black people come up with. When I’m thinking, what would help me feel safe in this country? It’s not “I wish everyone’s Instagram squares were black.” I can’t feel that. Especially when coupled with the disengagement — people do this performative gesture and then disengage. People aren’t even open to the feedback of why that’s not helpful or what they could be doing to be helpful.
Be wary of anything that allows you to do something that isn’t actually felt by people of color. Be wary of things that are purely symbolic; they are not helpful. We are not dying because of lack of symbolism in this country, so question who benefits from that. If what you think is, oh, it made me feel better, then you’re the one who’s benefiting from it.
Stay away from those things and question them, because that energy does take away.
As one who changed his profile picture to a black square, I think I speak for all of us when I say,
. There’s a temptation to feel helpless, but then I remember what Maya Angelou wrote:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
The black square, and other responses like it, are an indicator for me what when many of us ask what we can do, what we mean is:
What pre-scripted thing can I do that’ll make me feel like I’m doing something good?
I’m reminded of an interview with Ava DuVernay regarding her documentary
. In trying to come up with a way to end her project, she intentionally resisted the urge to put a specific call to action on the screen. There is no
Call this number
Give to this organization
Contact your senator!
Instead, she pointed out that there are so many levels to this problem, from ideologies to institutions to individual interactions, that there is no single “pre-scripted” piece of advice she could give someone that wouldn’t be a reduction. There are many on-ramps into this story, and she wanted us to find our own. As Wil Gafney wrote, “No one is going to hand you a safe and effective platform for change.”
So, if we’re staying away from helpless inaction on one side, and pat, symbolic answers on the other,
what do we do?
Here is one way to answer that question, the way I believe to be the most helpful:
You get ready to say yes.
Right now, unless there is a clear path forward for you (in which case you’re probably not reading this!), spend your energy educating yourself about systemic racism and your place in it. Read articles. Read books like
How to Be An Antiracist
. Watch films like
Black Power Mixtape
The Hate You Give
. Expose yourself to Black voices and to the stakes in the fight until you cultivate a spirit willing to take risks for what’s right. Come into awareness of the ways racism is so deeply ingrained in the system, in air you breathe, because even for those of us who think we’re “progressive,” this work is never really done.
, when a way opens, you’ll be ready to say yes. Then you’ll be ready to recognize what is uniquely yours to do, moment by moment. Then you’ll be ready to respond, not just with passion, but with
passion. Then you’ll be able to jump in not just as an ally, but as a
, willing to share in the risks.
That’s what we’re hoping to equip you to do, to the extend you’re ready to do it. We are creating spaces in worship and over Zoom to wake up to the reality of systemic racism, to find our place in it, so that when our moment comes to respond, we’ll be able to authentically step in as informed, anti-racist co-conspirators. If anyone has questions or pushback, or just wants to talk more about this, I would welcome any phone or Zoom calls.
If you'd like to explore what becoming an anti-racist organization looks like for Northminster right now, see DH's "Holy Idea" in the Holy Ideas section below.
May God bless this holy work of anti-racism,
[Photograph and article referenced from