Been doing a lot of reflecting and journaling this week, following the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. One of my white friends shared an article on Facebook titled “From White guilt to White responsibility” which spoke to me and helped me figure out how to say things I’ve been struggling with articulating. The article and recent conversations with kasamas have also reminded me that sometimes it’s not about having the perfect thing to say but its being willing to say something. This is a blog I’ve been working on for quite some time and this week I realized, its time I finish and publish it because I can’t (and my community holding me accountable can’t) wait any longer.
As a white American, I’ve become increasingly aware of my privilege and the challenge to not just feel guilty or stop there but instead to have the challenging conversations to learn how I can support people of color to dismantle the racism that my ancestors created but I couldn’t figure out how to put that into words.
The article starts off by talking about the “backpack” of privilege that we as white people carry just by the fact we are white but the ties in the backpack our not ours alone. They belong to the community and its up to the community to decide on how to use them. The author explains it:
“It is not simply unfair that we have certain unearned advantages; and the appropriate response is not simply to feel guilty about it. Rather it is unjust that we possess things taken through theft, and the appropriate response is to take responsibility and take action.
White guilt paralyzes us and maintains the norm. White responsibility motivates us and disrupts the norm.
I was recently asked whether it was acceptable to use white privilege for good. My response was that it is not ours to use; once we know that, we can never use it alone again. We must first gather around the table with those who do not carry white privilege, who we trust to hold us accountable. We must then empty the backpack onto the table, and ask the community how we will use what is rightfully communal property.”
Further in the article, the author gets real about where our backpack of privilege came and that we have to both be willing to accept the history AND take action to stop the cycle of crime that continues to add items to our backpacks at the expense of others.
“…Until we dismantle systems of injustice and white supremacy, the backpack will be ours to carry; attached to us regardless of how we feel about it, because it clings to us as tightly as the skin we are in. Yet, it will become increasingly more heavy as we come to a deeper understanding of why it contains what it contains. Once you realize and accept that what is in your backpack was acquired through blood and death and rape and cruelty; through slavery and the massacre of indigenous peoples; through the theft of bodies and the theft of land; what we were once told was an inheritance we will come to know as an inheritance of others, stolen through the blood of their ancestors.
No, we were not the ones to steal it. Yet, we make ourselves accomplices to the crime if we choose to keep it after knowing how it became ours. That is why we must pick up white responsibility rather than white guilt if we are ever to stop the cycle of this crime.”
As I read and reflected on the whole article, I couldn’t help up also think about my own journey from feeling guilty to realizing the need to take responsibility and action toward dismantling the system. A journey that I continue on today for I know, there is still a long way to go
In my time as a missionary, white privilege was something I struggled with. Feeling guilty about the basic things I could access. Living in Asia where white meant door opened for you, being able to travel, accessing building and spaces my friends and community were forbidden from or had to have special access to and having learned my ancestral history in school. My community abroad worked with me to process these struggles as I also learned what it meant to live collectively. Sometimes there weren’t words in other times they sat patiently explaining what I did with my privilege was the most important thing because I couldn’t change the color of my skin.
Learning the most important thing is listening to my community, working with them to identify how I can best use my voice in solidarity and speaking up and out. My backpack became collective as I sat and listened learning of their experiences, learned more about the history of colonialism, racism, and human rights violations that my ancestors committed to gain my privilege, listening to their demands, and learning how to articulate them when people wanted to talk to me.
The struggle grew even more when it came time to return back to the USA. I better understood the history of what I was walking into but the realities were going to be something I needed to learn on the ground.
As I’ve learned, listened and been reminded that sometimes explaining why I am present to learn is the first step that has to happen. Challenges have arisen, I have made mistakes, mistakes that with the accountability of kasamas and my community I’m working to fix.
In this past week, reading a mixture of reactions to the violence on my Facebook news feeds, I’ve also realized I’ve been silent for too long and in the sharing and quoting of articles isn’t enough. The current mainstream media approach of investigating the victims isn’t ok, these aren’t isolated incidents. The oppression of black people and people of color isn’t isolated, it’s the system that we built to protect our white selves. It is the day-to-day reality that we has white people can either actively work to dismantle the system and replace it with one that is truly balanced OR in staying silent we can continue to support and oppress our neighbors.
Yes God loves all people, yet Jesus says loved the least and the last. Care for the oppressed. Right now in our world that means “Black Lives Matter.” and being the Good Samaritan.
We don’t live in the America of our ancestors, but we live in the America that the actions of our ancestors built. Yes my ancestors included. The time is NOW (or more like yesterday) to start listening, unpacking your backpack of privilege in community accountability with people of color, and taking the actions they request to work toward repenting of the sins of our ancestors and ending racism and the uneven system once and for all. Silence is not an option for silence reinforces racism, oppression, and the killings of our neighbors of color.