On Being a Beginner
I’m having a really hard time writing this week. Everything I write seems completely inadequate. I want to speak clearly to the deeply rooted sin that is racism. I want to do that in a way that expresses the personal responsibility each of has to uproot our internal beliefs, our personal actions, our personal inactions, and also our participation in and benefit from racist systems. I also want to comfort and support all those who are forced to endure the pain of racism.
“We have sinned against you, in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves” (BCP, pg. 360). These can’t just be words that I pray. Confession means nothing unless it is followed by conversion of heart, mind, and behavior.
I don’t want to be harsh. I don’t want to be divisive. I don’t want to cause more harm. But I also don’t want to be wishy washy. I want to speak clearly. I feel outraged. And as I feel outraged from the relative safety and comfort of my own life, I see how easy it is for that outrage to turn into self-righteousness. Self-righteousness assigns blame to someone out there and distracts me from my own responsibility. Self-righteousness gets in the way of deep listening, which is the only path to clearly seeing reality, to understanding, and to wisdom. When I do speak, I want to speak truthfully, even as I acknowledge that I don’t yet understand the depth and breadth of all that is unfolding. And I certainly don’t understand the depth and breadth of the suffering caused by the plague that is racism.
And perhaps that is one of the main reasons I’m having a really hard time writing this week. I’m a beginner. I’m a beginner who thinks she should be further along. But “should” does me no good. And “should” does nothing to stop suffering. I breathe. I tell myself to accept that I am a beginner. And I pray about my next step.
There are many possible next steps. I can better inform myself by watching videos, reading books/articles/blogs about racism and anti-racism. I can get more involved in the Episcopal
Public Policy Network (EPPN)
to influence political leaders and legislation. I can show my solidarity by making choices to spend money at businesses owned by people of color. I can practice calling out racist jokes and comments. I can practice calling in to greater awareness while still maintaining relationships.
Some of you are not beginners. Some of you are not beginners because you have suffered from racism throughout your lives. I sit at your feet. I don’t expect you to teach me. I don’t ask you to teach me. I know it’s not your responsibility to educate me. But I do promise to listen if you want to tell me about your experiences. And I promise to do better as I know better.
Some of you are beginners like me. We might feel guilty. We might feel ignorant. We might feel afraid and unsure of what to do. All the awkwardness and discomfort and pain we feel…we need to just hold that. We need to sit with it and not push it away. We need to hold that and know it’s barely a taste of impact of racism. Let that pain be a teacher. Let that pain make us more compassionate, more humble, more motivated to work for justice.
It’s okay to be a beginner. But let’s not stay there.