Over 60 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr., stated:
“A solution of the present crisis will not take place unless men and women work for it. Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable. Even a superficial look at history reveals that no social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every stop toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle, the tireless exertions and passionate concerns of dedicated individuals. Without persistent effort, time itself becomes an ally of the insurgent and primitive forces of irrational emotionalism and social destruction. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.” Excerpt from Stride Toward Freedom (1957)
But what does action look like? What needs to be done?
For the majority of my life, I naively thought that the act of reconciliation needed to take place only in the hearts of the “racist” people. Since I didn’t identify any of my actions as “racist,” I could leave the action up to others. “Those people,” over there, were the ones who needed to have a holy encounter. I believed that they would somehow miraculously realize, despite the ingrained prejudice toward another race, the err of their ways. This led to complacency to accept the status quo because I didn’t see my role in its solution.
Growing up in rural Tennessee in a town right outside of Nashville, our history lessons were filtered through a screen of white guilt and white privilege. Since we didn’t have much diversity within our town, I didn’t often see the impacts of racism on the world.
It actually wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to realize how big the problem of racism actually was. As I read more and built relationships with people outside my race, I realized racism was more than just hatred of one person to another within different races; it was systematic oppression built into laws, media, history lessons, hiring processes, and so much more. I had heard the phrase “systematic racism” but I never fully understand the impacts until I had a friend tell me stories about how the systems put in place centuries ago still shape his life, furthered in a recent reading of Between the World and Me, that safety is not guaranteed for all.
Once I realized how big of an issue racism was in America, I felt so small in my ability impact it. In my heart, I knew something must be done, yet I didn’t know where to start.
For decades, passionate, dedicated people have risked their lives fighting for freedom we experience today yet we are still a divided nation. People have marched, spoken, written, sang, danced, painted, and sculpted their responses to the injustice of the world, yet it still exists. While this country has come a long way, there is quite a ways to go.
We are constantly inundated 24-hour news stories reminding us of the brokenness in our world: the division, the disrepair, the destruction, and the desperate need for action. It often seems like the action needed is some grand gesture that will cure racism once and for all. But what I’ve come to realize is that our nation isn’t going to be healed by a grand gesture. I believe it starts small. It starts in the hearts of us as individuals as we come to terms with it and allowing God to work through us to help others heal as well.
In a recent interview for “Feature Friday,” my friend Celia said, “Before we can begin to work as reconcilers, we must first start with self-reflection, conviction, and repentance.”
As a practice of self-reflection, I ask each of you to take a moment and pray with me?
Psalms 139:23-24 AMP
23 Search me thoroughly, O God, and know my heart;
Test me and know my anxious thoughts
24 And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
We all have prejudices and biases shaped by our experiences and culture and we must address them through deep self-reflection. While we may not identify as overtly “racist,” there are systems that each of us are a part of that contribute to the oppression of others.
For Lenten Season, I’ve be reading through the daily devotionals provided by The Repentance Project, which I highly recommend to people who identify as white. It is a daily devotional written to “foster healthy and vibrant interracial communities by clarifying the systematic legacies of slavery and create opportunities for repentance, healing and a just future.”
In their introduction, it reads: “If racial and structural injustice is the water in a fish tank, The Repentance Project is an attempt to help White Americans recognize what water is, that they are wet, and others are drowning.”
During this study, I’ve started to discover more of my blind spots. I had never realized how my perception of certain people groups was so drastically shaped by media and when I didn’t have someone to defy those stereotypes created, they were ever present in my understanding of the world. In a TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie, she shares on the “Danger of a Single Story” where the danger comes when we have a single story for a group of people – a stereotype of that group that shapes our understanding of all who identify with it. This narrow perception limits a person’s understanding of the unique characteristics of the people within the group. Often, the stereotype is more anecdotal than actually representative of the majority.
I am not suggesting a “one and done” self-reflection. This is the beginning of journey of discovery of how we have been shaped by the world around us. I am a 29 year old woman who identifies as white. I learn a little more each day. I still have a lot to learn. But I am learning and taking action.
But how do we go beyond ourselves and address our collective story and defeat apathy?
White Privilege makes space for apathy. Apathy is described as lack of interest or concern. When someone is not faced with the issues of racism on a daily basis, the separation of themselves and “other” can lead to inaction which can become complacency. Complacency is defined as “an instance of usually unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction.” Thinking that the issues of racism are not of your concern leads to complacency.
This is not the time for complacency. Action is required.
Recently I listened to a talk by Brené Brown in the wake of the tragedies in August 2017 in Charlottesville where she noted one of the biggest issues within our country that contributes to the proliferation of racism: not owning our collective story. The collective story of America is one of oppression and power struggle and racism.
“Until we own our story, it owns us.” – Brené Brown
She lists the three components to owning one’s collective story: The Three Ps. We must first acknowledge (1) Privilege-the unearned rights/access/authority when it comes to race. We must practice (2) perspective-taking-being able to understand the perspective of another. And finally we must assert use (3) power to affect change in a positive way, one of reconciliation.
Recently I participated in a Privilege Walk, where a group of friends and I were asked a series of questions that moved us forward and backwards accordingly. At the end of the exercise, we each looked around and noticed that we were like a scatterplot. While people were all over the place, I did notice that the people of color in the room moved back further than the rest. This was not surprising because the questions asked circled around the systems that have been put in place for centuries to oppress people of color.
This can be difficult for some…. Many. As Brene says in her talk, “we each have our own lens which has been shaped by experiences and culture, through which we see the world. Perspective-taking requires us to recognize the lens and try to understand beyond it.” This is also where humble listening comes in. To truly understand the perspective of another, you must allow them to authentically tell their story to you. This is where relationship building is really important. You must enter the space between, the divide, and have honest, respectful conversations where each of you can share stories with the other.
Power is the ability to create change. It can be abused as it has been for so many centuries but it also has the ability to make positive impact on the world, if used for the glory of God. People with more power have more responsibility to use that power to affect positive change. They must use that power in action to lift up their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now with eyes opened and a searched heart, I hope you are feeling more empowered to move in the world as you were called to love your neighbor as yourself. While you are only one person, you have an opportunity to be part of massive change. It starts with a conversation. A conversation that requires a humbled heart and and a curious mind.
As Albert Einstein once said, “The world won’t be destroyed by those that do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”
We can no longer sit idly by. Action is required. Join the conversation today.
Amanda Gann is Mission Reconcile’s Creative Director bringing her brand management, graphic design and photography skills to the team. By day, she is a communications manager at the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. Her heart for reconciliation led her to go on a South Africa Mission Trip for the past two years. On mission she serves to provide educational opportunities and empower the next generation of South Africans. She will be returning in May for the third year. Above all, she is a reconciler. You can follow Amanda on Instagram at @insta__gann and Twitter @amanda_gann.
Mission Reconcile thanks you for taking the time to read its blog and welcomes you to share with others below.