Of blackness and whiteness and systems and gills……

~~~
I’ve been in the thick of a tremendous wrestle;
feels fearful to share because in hurtful ways I may get it wrong
but the conversation seems important enough
to take the risk so please hold space for my fumbling
~~~

Dear black people,
I didn’t actually see you.
Didn’t see your experience, that is.
I never heard clear all the places where your hearts bleed –
didn’t understand the depth of generational trauma.
Sometimes I wanted you to stop acting like a victim,
to stop being so angry.
It became a habit to just not look

I held a secret hard edge
because of the fear I felt in high school
when the frequent fights would break out,
especially when the friend I rode to school with each day
in his sky blue Volkswagen beetle was stabbed and beaten so severely
that he never again returned to our high school.
I felt undone by the loss and bewildered at your rage.

I didn’t see the system we were all swimming in,
the one set long in motion against you.
I didn’t understand that blackness and whiteness were constructs,
and that in this system my whiteness gave me gills.
I never saw how hard you had to fight to surface again and again for air.
I come from people who taught that we all have a reasonably fair swim,
that if you just swam harder…..
(wince and grieve)
I really didn’t see.

That same system stacked against you – to disadvantage you – was rigged to make
us believe there is no rigging.

And the thing is,  I’ve considered myself a progressive.
I recoil at obvious white supremacy.
But when I watched the recent murders with my own eyes
I realized I was seeing something  that was screaming to be recognized
and that I needed to brave behind that curtain and sit in the discomfort of a painful look and listen.
I took an 8 week deep dive into an intensive with diverse and challenging voices;
actually learned some history (not just the whitewashed parts)
and considered the effects of The Doctrine of Discovery,
Reconstruction,  Jim Crow,  Affirmative Action. 13th Amendment,
–  too many to unwrap here –
that “in the U.S. we often let our institutions do our sinning for us.”
I finally see the spirit of racism is a shape-shifter,  and that once chattel slavery ended,
the evil re-emerged again and again through new policy and law,
still at large and armed.

I realize I cherry-picked the hand-full of black voices saying what I already thought,
realized that we still benefit economically as a nation,
from oppressive,  exploitive laws and trauma to people groups,
that the harm has not been addressed- there’s been no formal reckoning.
The wound is still open on a systemic level even if individuals have heroically moved forward.
Few states have formally apologized, and until we have owned it as a nation,  taken responsibility,
and stopped the effects by deconstructing and re-imagining systems,
that just moving on isn’t even biblical (for my Christian friends).
(Do we think that God is at a lack for strategy?)

I’ve considered that this monster, racism, isn’t political;
that both parties have contributed significant pain
(thank you,  Mark Charles.  And deep respect.  You have my heart’s vote).
I’ve considered what we did,  not just to you,  but to Africa,
considered that racism’s power is to destroy everyone’s humanity.
I’m learning to learn slow,  to take the time to search a thing out,
to not move in a spirit of suspicion toward orgs like Black Lives Matter,
even when I can’t buy into all the internal ideology.
I’ve explored the foundation of conspiracy theory and slander and
grown in respect for the 9th Commandment
(and love for the God who I’m re-discovering as Justice and Mercy).
I’m learning to listen less defensive,  to lose more of my flinch
and let entire ideas roll out like carpet and air dry
rather than hurriedly tossing them with my hasty opinion
(example:  defund police to re-imagine public safety,
or statues – what was the context of the erecting of all these statues?
When were the artists commissioned?  What was going on in society at the time?
I committed to practice slowing my roll,  to listen with humility)

I could hardly stay in my skin at times these last 8 weeks.
My stomach hurt and my heart pounded with shock
and eventually lament.
I’ve stood in the breakers of your unheard voices
instead of diving for cover or scurrying back to shore
as I’ve done so many times before.

For now I have just this,
and I’m sorry for the drop-in-the-bucket nature of my words,

Just this,  dear black people

I acknowledge you.

I acknowledge your suffering,
from the cruel effect of of systems created
in order to advantage one group by disadvantaging another.
By disregarding and dismissing your humanity.
I see you showing up still
and it humbles me.
Your patience, long-suffering,  resilience,  courage – it drops me to my knees.
I don’t know how reparations will be made or when or what my part will be
but I will participate wholehearted.
For now, I just want to thank you.
For who you are and how you rise.
Please don’t give up.

– With love and respect,
one white person who is seeing clear enough at last
to get messy in the fight for change.

“An event has happened,  upon which it is difficult to speak,
and impossible to remain silent.”
– Edmund Burke

Time and space are limited here and I’m still digging out words to do justice
to what is burning and churning in my heart;
I’m not lumping all of anyone together – that’s not my intention.
My language is limited and

I’m wrestling still for the words to cobble together.
Please hold space for my inevitable fumbles.

Congrats to Cathy Davis for winning the giveaway;
I’ll be sending you a Tell Me Something Good bundle.
And offering up another with this post – plunking your name in hat with each comment!

 

Comments

  1. Thank you.
    So much.
    The issues are the same here, though less die in the fight. Less die but colour is still a construct and a label to excuse/justify behaviour which is neither excusable/justifiable.
    I do hope that we are all able to acknowledge past wrongs and move forward. Together.

    • Yes. The together-ness is my big dream also.
      And thank you for your kind encouraging words – they really are courage to me.
      Gratefully,
      Jennifer

  2. Wow…just, wow. Powerful, my friend. Thank you for sharing, as always, the hard stuff. I, too, am trying to listen more intentionally and looking at myself and my part.
    Love you…

    • Thanks for your presence here, Eva – it means the world.
      And big appreciation for your encouragement. It hugs the scared kid of me:)
      Always,
      Jennifer

  3. As I read this I realized my jaw was dropped with admiration for your bold, naked honesty, your powerful words, your awakening heart and mind and the beautiful soul that reached out to understand. Your words deserve a far wider audience than your blog. Thank you for opening and sharing this.h

    • Thanks big for your nudges, Jeanie; such a fearful thing. I wish I had the prowess
      to navigate those waters – babystepping with hope and willingness to learn.
      Practical suggestions so appreciated (i’m good at some things and so very not at others)
      I appreciate always the encouragement,
      Jennifer

  4. Jane Brocious says

    I can’t begin to express how much I admire your soul-work and your exquisite “fumbling ” Thank you, Jennifer!

  5. Your courageous and powerful words are soul opening, your honesty, remarkable. We are living in a fallen world in need of redemption. I acknowledge that our black brothers and sisters are precious in the eyes of God. What I don’t understand is why white society has tried so hard to look like them. They curled their straight hair, tan their pale skin, inject their lips to make them appear fuller etc… They try to look like them while on the other hand, they persecute them.
    I pray for equality for our black brothers and sisters and for peace and an end to racism.
    Thanks for your bravery. Happy Labor Day.
    Hugs, Julia

    • That’s an interesting comment. I don’t honestly think that I’ve ever had that thought.
      Lots of food for thought – thanks, Julia.
      I appreciate your share,
      Jennifer

  6. I loved every single comment here…your posting..always so raw and fragile, yet so STRONG. Just the way we need to hear it. “…and that in this system my whiteness gave me gills.” What a visual. How deep and meaningful. I’ve been wrestling so much with ALL of this as well. Trying to educate myself…reading and reading and listening and listening. Thank you.

  7. Wow. Once again i read your words and it feels like my own thoughts being spoken. The wrongs done to non-white people seem so monstrously huge and entangled, as if they could never be made right. But the immensity of the wrong must not deter us from doing whatever we can to move in a more just direction. I remind myself that what seems so very wrong and entrenched and impossible to “fix,” is what POC live with every day. Jennifer, thank you for putting these words out here—they help me fumble my own way forward.

  8. Bless your big, soft, sweet, strong heart. I read all of your words very slowly and drank them deep and I remain by your side, slowing my roll through all this, too.
    I agree so much with Robin, what visuals!

  9. Now you’ve enter a whole new realm. This poetic power, masterfully eloquent must be shared and read by many!

    • Thanks for nudging me on, Lisa.
      I do intend to send some things out; babystepping:)
      I appreciate your big warm verbal hug,
      Jennifer

  10. Written beautifully and straight from the heart! People also need to use more common sense in all that has happened. We are all in this together!!! Can’t wait for my special
    gift from my very special cousin!! Love to you always!!

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