Writing a public piece on social justice, in our current climate, during this moment in history feels like a weight—one I have not yet earned the right to carry. Yes, I’m alive in this moment watching, alongside the rest of the world, to see how our country navigates our way through the minefield of systematic, historical, covert, and poisonous racism. But the topic is complex, possessing a history steeped in tradition. The hurt and pain make it a hard subject to broach, let alone untangle and understand.
I am a white girl who was raised on the outskirts of Detroit. I learned early on that discussing race or skin color was rude. Manners dictated that we treat all people equally (until, that is, a person with black or brown skin broke the law—then a person’s attributes were only skin deep).
The truth I was taught to live by was, “It doesn’t matter the color of someone’s skin; it’s who they are as a person that matters.”
As a child, I didn’t understand what “whitewashing” was. It was served to me as the sweet taste of utopia. “We are all human. Don’t focus on what makes us different.” My school books all told the same story. All the heroes looked the same. Same history. Same story. Racism wrapped up, done with, in the past. It’s over; let’s move on.
What I didn’t realize and took for granted was that this story, this limited version of history, was so easy to digest because it wasn’t the full painful truth.
I exchanged my youth in Detroit for an adulthood in Minneapolis. For the last 15 years I have lived at the intersection of Black America and Systematic Racism—with front row seats to a very different story I only thought was written about with the flavor of folklore…something from the past.
Without the last 15 years, I probably would have been shocked by the events in Charlottesville this past weekend. I’m not though. (I was devastated, but not surprised.) Not anymore.
I live in a neighborhood that is predominantly people of color (POC), but you know that I have white skin. North Minneapolis holds some of the highest demographics in our area for POC. It is also red lined, marginalized, neglected, and underrepresented. When politicians talk about the struggle of the inner city, they are talking about those who live on these streets. Living in Black America I have never been more aware of my whiteness and the systematic privilege that comes along with it.
I share beer with neighbors on my stoop because they aren’t sure if a white woman is welcome on their auntie’s stoop. “White girl in the garden!” is yelled while I work in the community space. I walk into our community’s stores and restaurants and I am the only white woman present. I am more aware of my existence, my responsibility and my ignorance than ever before.
I speak of skin color not because it is the easy answer, but because society has minimized people as such. The color of our skin wraps around the heart of our struggle: the fracture and breakdown of the value of human life. It is the way we measure to which group you belong; what side of the line we force you to live on. It is our oversimplified version of assessing friend or foe.
I have watched this past year as people with hate agendas strengthen their platforms—and yet, at times, play the part of victim. I have watched the false narrative of history, blatantly ignoring white man’s role in theft, and genocide. I have listened as the God I know is used to further an agenda he never put forth.
I have watched as we struggle not just with hate in hearts, but with how that hate can so easily transfer over to policy and law. It is a battle not just on the floor of our democratic country, but also in the flesh and blood of those whose feet stand upon it.
How does social justice come about when such hate and bigotry are at work? The painful act of whitewashing obliterates the gift of diversity, removing cultural traditions, and history.
I see the church try to address the issues of the heart while seemingly leaving the weight of systematic injustice lay heavy at their feet. Their voices cry “love wins”! But how? I see a new generation coming to the fight, holding their elected officials accountable. It gets some things done, but if hate is left, and only a few rules change, are we better for it?
The heart and the law.
Policy and people.
I see activism, and movements toward social justice, as people removing barriers. These are barriers that stand in the way of just policy and law. These barriers keep marginalized people from possessing real freedom.
There are barriers in the hearts of those who hate.
Can these barriers be removed?
It is overwhelming to think, “What can I do?” Or even “What is true?” What I know to be true is that I have so much more to learn. My way is not always the right way. I don’t need a personal connection with another human being to understand that I can take time to learn about life from their perspective; to see what they see and work to understand their experience.
Does it take time and energy (and hard work) to learn new things? To wrestle with my bias and racism? To surrender my own comfort? To work for those who don’t experience peace?
But what kind of country do I want to live in? What kind of follower of Jesus am I?
Yes, the events of Charlottesville were both astonishing not completely surprising. I think we all can admit that hate and bigotry, racism and extremism exist, but it is jarring to then see it and hear it and witness in real time; in our communities, and on the news. To talk about what happened in Charlottesville, we can’t ignore or erase our entire history that led us here.
We created a full system of rules and regulations around the original statement where “We the people” didn’t mean all-the-people, whether we like to admit it, or not.
I don’t live in my youthful ignorance anymore. We have lived in our current neighborhood for almost two decades now, and these last few years have given me an acute awareness of how deep and wide our need for change really is; how nuanced and unassuming the hate and bigotry. And yet, how blatant and deadly their force can be.
One thing has been abundantly clear, there is a pain and struggle that reaches far beyond anything I can change all on my own.
So I sit and I wonder…
How do we stand against hate?
Where does the freedom of speech start and end?
How do we build trust in the midst of our differences?
I get it, we all want to chant “love wins.” And I need to believe that, because otherwise I will be lost. But how? How does love win? Is it in our churches? Is it in the fight? Is it at city hall? Is it in college halls and courtyards? Is it lobbying on the state capitol? Is it in protests? Or equitable rights?
How do we, as a family, address hate?
We raise our children to understand the value and need for diversity and respect of human life.
We speak up.
We are active.
We choose differently.
How do you address hate?
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on social justice and activism from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.