Putting In The Work
We've not completed two months of 2015 and already we've been inundated with news of terrible violence in the US and around the world. Its a daunting thing to think about love, justice and reconciliation when everything seems so big, so alarming, so terrifying. But I want to encourage you not to give up on the goals and resolutions you laid out for yourself at the New Year. To support you, I want to offer a few ways that we must put in the work to practice love and freedom.
Own your education. Please do not turn poc friends (or acquaintances) into fountains of information for your personal growth. You want a list of books you should be reading. You want an explanation for how the X community feels about Y. You want to know who you should be following on Twitter. But you have to do the work. Just like we did. There seems to be this misconception that [insert race here] are born with some super knowledge of all things related to our history, culture, present and future. But we had to find authors. We had to read history books. And then re-read corrections to those history books. We had to search the "ethnic" section in bookstores. Were there recommendations along the way? Definitely. But no one handed us a guide-to-understanding-racism-and-anti-blackness + a-3-step-plan-to-fight-against-both-in-the-bonus-pages. We've had to work for knowledge and understanding, for historical context and accuracy. And so do you. Eventually you will find yourself receiving recommendations. You will read a book and the author will basically scream at you who to read next. You will take a class and be forced to read and interact with new ideas. But you must take FULL responsibility for your own learning. Otherwise those around you are not friends; they are libraries. While I love a good library, I'm not interested in imitating one. In this age of google, electronic books, streaming video, overnight delivery, and the number of people who consult, teach, train and write on this topic- you really have no excuse. Seek and Find.
Be Picky. Read books you want to throw across the room. Read books that make you feel uncomfortable, that challenge everything. Theological, social, cultural comfort has defined far too much of your existence to continue at this point. Use your anger and outrage to pick up books that will make you argue out loud, that must be read slowly because the words are painful. Be stretched by what you read. If your current habit of media consumption left a void so large that the events of Ferguson shocked you- perhaps its time to let those forms of media go. Pick up some new authors, some new theologians, some new documentaries, some new historians, some new directors, some new producers. You should be having an emotional reaction to what you put before your face. You should want to put it down because everything you thought you knew is being turned upside down. This should be an exhausting and uncomfortable experience. It should be working to tear apart all the walls that kept you safe and comfortable and silent.
This Is Both/And. If you are serious about this journey, you are going to have to realize this is a both/and journey. You have to focus on both the systemic and the interpersonal. You dont get to chose one over the other, nor prioritize one over the other. If you are attending protests and marches, but ignoring or demeaning people of color on your job- something is wrong. If you are participating in die-ins but regularly offend the people of color in your church- something is wrong. If you are tweeting stats and stories about #blacklivesmatter but have trouble conversing with people of color- something is wrong. Similarly, as you do the work of uprooting and unlearning racism- you dont have the luxury of making this your personal journey of salvation through niceness. The internal work is hard. There is a lot of racist thinking that must be dismantled, even as you do the work to dismantle unjust systems. You should be changed and challenged on a deeply personal level by the work. So when you sign your name on the dotted line, know that your internal world and your wider world are about to get rocked.
Be not afraid. So, I cant really tell you not to be afraid, but I hope I can encourage you to push through the fear. There are going to be many moments when you are afraid. I don't suggest joining the work of justice and reconciliation to win popularity contests. This work really could cost you friends, your church, maybe even relationships with certain family members. You could get kicked out of your social networks. You might be branded "the one who won't shut up about race". Do the work anyway, for you are not doing it alone. There's a community of justice seekers here and around the world. Some focus on education while others focus on health. Some focus on the justice system while others focus on employment. Our work bleeds into one another, as it should, reminding us of our shared humanity and the rights thereof. You're not alone.
This is only a start. There is so much more to learn. So much more to do. But this is a start. We all must start somewhere.