You guys, I am overwhelmed. Absolutely full to the brim. I’m still at the airport coming from a truly soul-shaking transformative experience. And I’m racing around to plug in my dying laptop at the airport in Chicago because I cannot wait another second to share. There will be many more posts along this topic because there is just too much to write in one sitting and I truly hope I’m able to do this experience justice, which just would not be possible in one post. That also gets me off the hook from feeling like I need to be a fact-sharing reporter of my experience when all I feel prepared to do right now is process the lessons in real time.
For those of you who don’t follow me on Instagram or who may have missed a post or two, I have just left the most beautiful experiential training put on by the NEA (National Education Association) and Advancement Project on a tool called Peace Circles. I will make sure to share resources on how to access this training at another time because if you are an educator, administrator or community member (holla!) this is something you should apply for and experience for yourself. I am trained to keep circles (can’t wait to tell you more!) but I am not trained to train others. So if after hearing more about what Peace Circles are, you want to be trained, I can connect you to that.
So I just got to spend 4 days 9:30-5:30 in this training. It felt like straight up 8 hours of group therapy! And I have to tell you, it was exactly what I’ve been looking for. I think I’ve written in the past about my fascination with black culture in America. Having been in non-diverse settings up and down the west coast for most of my life and not knowing how to pursue relationship with African Americans for fear of committing tokenism I have been in a state of longing. I didn’t know how to dive in and I didn’t want to offend. It was like standing on the edge of the jump rope on the playground as a kid bobbing your head up and down looking for an opportunity to jump in and just not knowing how to get the rhythm right. And because it mattered so much to me and I didn’t want to hurt, I didn’t jump in. Honestly, I think I’ve been in a state of longing since middle school for relationship with African Americans. I had a few dear friends in elementary school who were black, whose homes I was able to spend time in and I was fascinated. It felt good and cool and interesting and different.
I was in a white privilege study at church a few weeks ago and it was discussed that we as white Americans have been segregated from African Americans all along. Not just during “official” post-slavery segregation, but still today. We see it in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our schools. And what was mentioned was that not only did that segregation fail to be acknowledged but it was also never presented as a loss. White people have been missing out. We’ve been missing black stories, black leadership, black culture. We have co-opted pieces of it in music, dance and food (to name a few areas of which there are many) but we have not allowed black culture to be our culture. It has remained separate. And I tread lightly on this concept because I don’t belong to black culture and it does not belong to me. But black culture speaks to me. And I hope, if you get a chance to be exposed to it in relationship, it will speak to you.
One of the biggest gifts I received at this training was however many hours (about 40) spent in direct, connected relationship with African Americans. I was able to listen to stories. I was able to laugh at jokes. I was able to find commonality while also celebrating cultural difference. It’s not about erasing culture. It’s about rejoicing in the beauty of it. (Not seeing color is not my goal. That’s just ignorance and denial. You don’t have to listen to color if you “can’t” see it). I was able to grieve the state of this country, both in how it was founded and in how it continues to operate. I was able to find myself in every person I encountered and still saw the uniqueness and giftedness of the individual.
I’ve heard this said at a White Allies meeting (as part of #blacklivesmatter) that if you want to know black people, go where black people are. Of course, that sounds silly, like “I’m on a quest for black people!” My new friends shared a laugh with me when I embarassingly confessed to the group, “I’ve always wanted black friends!!!!” And it’s so important to not pursue relationship with people of color in order to prove something about yourself. I see this happen so often (and I’ve felt the impluse as many of us with worthiness issues strive so hard to prove our goodness). I’ve heard the argument “I have a black friend or family member so I can’t be racist” and then go on to hold or support racist ideals. That’s tokenism, as I mentioned above. Don’t use people for their color. We’ve had enough of that. Let me repeat that with all the feeling I have about that - WE’VE FUCKING DONE ENOUGH OF THAT. STOP IT NOW. This is not about exploitation. This is not about co-opting. This is not about sexualization. This is about the pursuit of relationship, true relationship. Not erasing color. But celebrating color. And all color, not just blackness (I kept thinking today Black is Beautiful and it so, so is) but brownness and whiteness. Not “white power” and Neo-Nazi bullshit. But figuring out your roots and honoring that history within your blood. That’s a good thing. Know your story. How else will you share it?
And if there is shame in your story, as I often wrestle with white guilt, acknowledge it. Grieve it. State it aloud to those your race has wronged. Not in a way where you’re looking for forgiveness (they don’t owe you that and that can be making slavery about your feelings. Don’t do that) but in relationship, in a moment where you feel sincere sorrow, take a moment and state that. I got a good sob out about that just this morning. That’s remorse and remorse for wrongdoing is ALWAYS right. But then take the remorse and DO SOMETHING. Come sit in circle. Come make peace. Do something. Be in relationship. Speak up. Show up. March. Vote. Call your Senator. Do you - armed with information. Read - for the love of God, read! There's so much out there. Ask questions! Learn and keep learning. Listen and keep listening. There is no wrong way to be an ally as long as you know you’re never, ever done learning.