I write to you to admit my own blindness as a white woman to our history of racism and the harm that has been done and continues to be done to our brothers and sisters of color. I encourage us white folks to support one another as we open our eyes to these hard truths and our call to respond.
We all have much to learn in taking responsibility for our white advantages and listening to and working with people of color to dismantle racism. While my journey continues to be uncomfortable, disturbing and challenging, I am grateful for the ways my eyes are being opened and that I can’t go back to being blind. For example, I participated in a contemplative justice group over a 12 week period reading the book Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. I found the stories and depth of research in her book disturbing, compelling and eye-opening. Our group’s honest sharing about our experiences in reading Caste helped me to work through my uncomfortable responses in seeing how America today and in our history have been shaped by a hidden caste system. This experience strengthened my commitment to my journey as a recovering racist and I co-facilitated a couple of book studies afterward.
An article that resonated with me about this journey is “From White Racist to White Anti-Racist the Life-Long Journey” by Tema Okun . I found her insights into the stages helped me understand and be more compassionate about my own and others’ behaviors and struggles on this journey. In the article she states that “This is also not a linear ladder in that the stages don’t begin and end distinctly. They overlap and elements of one stage will show up in another. The ladder is a generalized attempt to describe the different steps that we go through as white people developing our awareness and abilities as an anti-racist activists. Where we are on the ladder depends at any given moment on our history, our experience, our relationships, our experience with other oppressions, and our exposure to information.” At times during the Caste study, I went through being in the Taking Responsibility stage of the ladder, tipping my toe in the water of the Collective Action stage, and getting stuck in the Guilt, Shame and Blame stage. Whew! I found when I was getting stuck in the Guilt, Shame and Blame stage it helped me to be grateful for ways I am beginning to see, to lean into the support of others on this journey, and to listen to inspiring stories.
For those of you who have been on this path for a while, I ask for your understanding as I stumble and work through my own resistance. Your courage and actions prod me to not become passive and to continue moving forward from awareness to action. For those of you who are new to this path, I encourage you to continue and to know that you are not alone and reach out for support. Wherever we are on this path, we cannot do this work without making mistakes.
The Color of Compromise
Most recently, I attended a study this past fall in a church community with other white folks based on Jemar Tisby’s video series and study guide The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. I would highly recommend this series. The study encompassed the connection between the American church and racism throughout our history up to the present time. In sharing our responses to his reflective questions each week, the facilitators provided a sacred space to listen to each other and keep it real. This study continues to affirm the importance of doing this work in community and supporting each other wherever we are on this journey. I am also learning to listen to my resistance and having my perspective of our history and connection to current events unraveled and expanded.
Awareness, Relationships and Commitment
The last chapter of the study guide and video concludes with a framework for practical applications to partner with the cause of racial justice which Jemar Tisby calls the ARC of Racial Justice. “The ARC consists of “three steps everyone can take to promote racial justice where they live.” The ARC contains: Awareness, Relationships and Commitment to action. He emphasizes that ARC is not a linear process and instead is a cycle that continues as long as we are engaged in this work. The facilitators used Mr. Tisby’s ARC framework at our closing class to look at what we individually and as a church community can do in these areas. To bring this home, I would like to share a few of my past experiences and grace-filled encounters as I see related to the ARC of Racial Justice:
Justice and Mercy
In 2015 I watched a Super Soul Sunday show which had an interview by Oprah Winfrey of Bryan Stevenson who wrote Just Mercy . I was drawn to Mr. Stevenson’s perseverance, spiritual grounding and dedication to working for those wrongly condemned and trapped in our criminal justice system. I read his book soon afterward. I was shaken at how much I lived in a white bubble and had so blindly assumed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 took care of all of this. In talking with my spiritual advisor, I shared my desire to get out of my white bubble. She suggested volunteering as a soul friend at a Women’s Correctional Facility and thus began my journey into prison ministry. I can’t begin to convey the education and graces I received from the women I encountered.
Another experience was reconnecting with Betty after I retired. Betty and I worked together for many years and she invited some of us who were retired over to her place for tea. I consider Betty a woman of faith and was grateful for the ways we had a faith and prayer connection at work. We continued to reach out to each other afterward. As my eyes continued to be opened, I yearned to understand more of her experience as a black woman including our work world. One time after listening to her share of her experiences, I asked her what she would say that black folks want to see from white folks. She said “to get educated.”
Attending Church Together
As we continued to meet, Betty invited me to attend her church one Sunday. When I attended, I was the only white person in a predominantly black congregation. Betty introduced me to the deacons of the church (around 10) who were all black men. All of the deacons and everyone else I met at the church service that day welcomed me with open arms and lived out open and loving hospitality. Internally I experienced a visceral sense of fear which became less and less as the service continued. I left uplifted and was touched by the heartfelt praising and singing.
On the way home, I reflected on how quickly and intensely the visceral fear arose in me as soon as I stepped into the church. Where did this come from? As way of background, I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and didn’t encounter people of color until high school and after – even then my experience was very limited. In my aha moment, I realized how much I have been affected by the ways black people and particularly black men have been portrayed in our society. For example, movies, TV shows and news programs I grew up watching so often portrayed black men as criminals and dangerous. Rarely did I see portrays of black life and families in a positive way. In my white world, I also imagine I unconsciously picked up the fears of those around me. I have much to learn and to unlearn!
As my knowledge and understanding have expanded, I can see how woefully uninformed and naïve I have been in seeing the reality of slavery, of Jim Crow, of institutionalized racism and so much more. In the last video of Jemar Tisby’s series, he mentions the Awareness part of the ARC as the knowledge part of what it takes to fight for racial justice and that you have to know how race operates in order to be an effective anti-racist activist. Some ways he suggested included watching documentaries, taking a class in person or online, reading books, and talking to others to get their perspective. And to all of this I say- Amen, Amen, Amen!
In reflecting on the ARC in the The Color of Compromise study series, I can see how my past experiences have fueled my resolve to continue to cultivate awareness and relationships and to discern my commitment to action individually and in community. “Action does not have to be national laws or sweeping proposals. Action can be steps of solidarity in neighborhoods, to schools, jobs, and churches. Action can be challenging unjust hiring practices or confronting discrimination.”
God grant me the wisdom and integrity to take actions even if I make mistakes on this journey, the courage to stand up to racism in my encounters and the humility to acknowledge my part as a recovering racist.
With knowledge and awareness comes responsibility in all of our daily encounters and actions. Let us support one another in continuing on this journey and not take the easy way out of putting this on the back burner. This is in itself a white advantage as our brothers and sisters of color cannot put the consequences of racism and injustices on the back burner. As our eyes are opened let us pray for God’s guidance, grace, and courage to do what is ours to do.
“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” .
Kathleen’s background includes prison ministry, volunteering in hospice, providing spiritual direction/soul friending, sharing in caregiving responsibilities for her mother and sister, and working on the 12 steps in Al-Anon. Above all, Kathleen is passionate about staying curious, learning and unlearning and building connections.
 Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson, copyright 2020
 “From White Racist to White Anti-Racist the Life-Long Journey” by Tema Okun
 The Color of Compromise video study series is available on Study Gateway to join for a fee or free trial: https://www.studygateway.com/invite/qp4Z. The study guide that accompanies this series is The Color of Compromise, by New York Times bestselling author Jemar Tisby with Tyler Burns
 The Color of Compromise study guide and video series, session 11 “The Fierce Urgency of Now”
 Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson, copyright 2014
 The Color of Compromise video series, session 11 “The Fierce Urgency of Now”
 The Color of Compromise study guide, session 11 “The Fierce Urgency of Now”
 Micah 6:8, New International Version