Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Movement for Black Lives, Change & the Liberal Conundrum

There is no longer only Black & White. Or, person of color, and then "white people." When I hear the rhetoric of Minister Farrakhan at the #JusticeorElse rally, I am partly there, and partly not with him. He is preaching a white-devil rant that has not been successful in moving things forward yea, these past forty years. This is a musing about people, white people, liberal & progressive people, who are working against racism, and working on their own white privilege, and why it seems so hard. It is also a collection of my thoughts on why so many progressives seem not to be on board right now.

First: Farrakhan. I understand the genesis of his words, and the roots of his rhetoric.

I, a white person, stand accused. If not guilty of overt racism, surely I am guilty of white privilege and of not hearing the many calls to see this in my own life and community.

But this is a new day.

This day, in this era, we see, if we look, that a whole generation of young people, people of color and non-POC, will not tolerate the racism, or the bigotry, or the heterosexism of the past. We who are older, we who tolerated it, and we who benefited from it, must support them, engage them, encourage and empower them. How will we do it?

One: example. Our children, grandchildren, and the young people in our neighborhoods and religious communities are watching us. As we do, so they will follow. When someone says to me that placing a Black Lives Matter sign in front of our church might endanger the children downstairs, I say: If you are so certain that people of the calibre you speak of surround us even now, then allowing our children to grow into this world without seeing us speak up and speak out endangers their very souls... not to mention, continues the mortal threat to the well-being of people of color faced daily.

Whence comes the resistance of liberals to full engagement in the movement for Black Lives? Those of us who've jumped in feet first have seen it. We've been unfriended, unfollowed, disliked, and not-liked on facebook. I get dozens of "likes" for a post on pumpkins, but 2 or 3 (with over 1,000 friends) for one on Black Lives. The silence is audible. Almost all of my friends and "friends" are progressive.

But, they want, it seems to me, progress in a way that doesn't take away anything they have. That includes material things, but more: safety, security, their 'stories' of their lives, comfort, clean consciences, the myths we all cherish, shared rituals & holidays, patriotism, and a reasonable belief in a future in which these givens will continue.  So, two: work through grief.

(If you are able to enlarge the chart above, you can see how the stages of change/grief correspond with the process of becoming Anti-Racist. In my opinion, many people revert to resistance/denial because they are unwilling to give up the comfort, safety and familiarity, not to mention needing to be "right."

To acknowledge that for almost all of Black America, none of this is guaranteed, the future is an ever-shifting mirage, the present a fragile and threadbare tightrope, is too painful, too destructive, for most people, even, or perhaps, especially, most liberals. Because we, liberals and progressives, want so much to feel good about ourselves. We're rather self-righteous and we can be, well, smug. The way we all watched Jon Stewart every night, thinking okay, now I feel vindicated, the way we come together in our liberal circles, and laugh or despise people like Donald Trump and Rush Limbaugh without questioning: What is it, though, that people are seeing in these pontificators? 

How do I know all of this? Because: I am one of these people. This is my story. I have walked, and waded, and trudged through my own white privilege this past few years. I think lots of us have. I sometimes wish there were a tattoo or a little badge we could wear to identify ourselves to one another: "I'm here. I'm working this out. Hey! You too? It's so painful. But it's so good to finally see the truth." Then, three: Find allies.

I want to compare the feeling of actually recognizing white privilege, seeing it with unclouded vision, day unto day, in all of one's affairs, so that you cannot make a purchase, enter into a contract, or engage a conversation without an awareness of how privilege you have been and always will be with an experience people will recognize. So let me try:

For me, it was like realizing that what I had believed was a reasonably happy childhood, albeit marred with sadness due to the early death of my mother, was actually one in which two of my siblings were suffering repeated and severe sexual abuse at the hands of a stepbrother, a person who has still not been legally prosecuted, and who still, despite extreme efforts of my behalf, has young children in his custody.

I can only imagine that it might be like thinking you've been happily married or partnered, and finding that, indeed, your spouse has had one or many long-term affairs of which you were blissfully unaware. Not only are you chagrined, disturbed, and shocked, and impelled to do something to bring about justice, you have to reimagine what you thought and felt your life actually was.
Four: Move through grief, and be willing to re-write your life story. The whole version of your life as you imagined it. This may be more painful than anything you have ever done, and it may take months or years.

God is in the details. Once one starts to wake up, to really see the interconnected web of oppressions and lies and myths and to listen to stories, again and again, reflecting a reality that many white people will never experience, there is really no turning back. You will dedicate your being, your time, your money, and your soul to healing this evil. You will hear and answer every call.That's why I think Farrakhan is partly wrong. Cornel West said it when he addressed the UUs at our General Assembly: "I think there are people in this room that are willing to go down swinging like Muhammad Ali." And then he turned and walked off the stage.
And, five: Enter the territory of the enemy. Give up all of your privilege and everything it contains, and walk right out onto the field as an ally, a co-sufferer, armed with love, truth, God, and courage. Go to death if need be, because you know that this is one cause that is absolutely worth it. Become a warrior.

I know some of these people. Some are UU people, and some are just people.

But they keep me going, and I love them with all my heart, from up close & afar.