When I was small, the most coveted crayon was the one we called “skin color.” We didn’t ask for it by name as we filled in our princesses; there was no mention of peach or tan, but somehow we still understood that the crayon in question wouldn’t be brown. Maybe because we were young and only thought of “skin color” as “our skin color,” or maybe, already, we thought that the default tone for skin should be white. Perhaps it was bias, already poison in our air, sinking into our hearts and lungs as insidiously as cancer.
Whenever it started, it remains true that biases, untruths and prejudices snuck into our minds and remained a poisonous undercurrent for years. We grew up, learned in school that the civil war was over ages ago, that segregation was gone. We wondered what the problem still was.
Of course, there were many problems, but we were blind. We were handed down privilege and twisted patriotism; a lethal combination when met with willful ignorance, refusal to face discomfort, laziness, and self centeredness. The cost was high. It still is, as evidenced by the continued injustice and wrongful murders of those in the black community.
Finally, today, we are late, but we are here. We are coming to terms with the reality that the problems we thought were gone never left- they only changed shape.
To the black community, I am sorry. I have failed you in my willful ignorance. I am sorry for the ways I’ve hurt you by my actions and inaction, the words I’ve spoken and the words I’ve failed to say. I am sorry for my bias. I’m sorry for not showing up sooner. You’ve deserved better.
To the white community, don’t start in my words. With all humility and all respect, turn to the black community first. Listen to their words. Read their books. See their films. Hear their stories. I’m here, not as a leader, but as a small voice in the background using the tools I’ve been given to point towards truth. Members of the black community know those truths better than anyone; they live it. Open your heart. Believe them. And, seriously, please stop getting lost in debates over whatever conspiracy you think has infected the media, the country, the church. Do not turn this movement into a platform to rail against. This is more than an agenda. This is about human lives.
Black persons deserve to live and do so abundantly; historically, they have not been afforded that freedom. They have been told, implicitly and explicitly, that they are not good, they are less-than, and they are not safe because of the color of their skin. They have been told this by governments, social structures, workplaces, judicial systems, healthcare providers, neighborhoods and friends. Centuries of these injustices have been inflicted on the black community with no promise of escape; the current system has had held the power to effectively traumatize an entire population, and to do so for generations. It must stop.
It is time for black individuals to live in the safety that has eluded them for generations. They must be secure in their right to breathe, followed by their right to live abundantly and joyfully. They deserve to become who they were made to be, authentically alive, beautifully whole, untangled from the lies and traumas that have been inflicted upon them. They deserve to be set free, truly free, in every sense of the word.
If you have begun your journey of learning and hoping for this freedom, as I have and continue to do, I’d like to offer my thesis for moving forward in the work for justice for our black sisters and brothers:
We must remain people of peace.
To be clear- peace is not the absence of discomfort or a return to a quiet status quo. Peace, in this context, is a sense of being and operating that is moved by the Spirit and acts with eyes trained towards the hope in a well ordered world. In this world, the kingdom of God come to earth, ills are healed, injustice rectified and people are seen, loved and well. I cannot call myself a Christian, a feminist, or even a person of goodwill if I am not working for a world established in loving harmony.
In pursuit of this harmony we must first be open to learning, then always open to learning more. In the learning, this spirit listens. It creates a space for taking in and then a time for pondering. Nothing of quality can come from what we see or hear if we don’t personally encounter and internalize what is being shared; peace will weave it together.
This peace will allow us to incorporate new thought and root out wrong. Where the spirit burrows into our hearts, we will be ready to follow it towards introspection and humility.
This peace will, at times, fuel anger; it will spark a heart that grows justly enraged at evil. This spark then follows through to movement- it doesn’t sulk, it doesn’t sit. It acts.
This spirit that moves to action is anchored, always, in goodness. It does not allow us to be self centered, working only to soothe our trouble consciences. It won’t allow us to walk away when the burdens are many. It does not tire.
This spirit of peace is thoughtful. It allows critical reflection and thorough engagement with injustice from a deeply rooted place. It is intentional, as well, with both skills and time.
This peace allows rest. If we are to prevent burn out, if we are to remain present and able to serve those who have been overloaded and overlooked for centuries, we must continue to restfully connect with the eternal source of our peace in prayer. Then, refreshed, we can show back up for more.
This peace will breed authenticity; when we do show up, we do so as integrated, whole humans, not half-selves participating for performance. It allows space to for mental, physical, spiritual and familial care, so that we may then serve thoroughly with our best selves and efforts. Our closest friends receive that effort, and it is time for our alienated black brothers and sisters to receive the same care.
Let this peace first form your own heart, then breathe life into your home, your workplace, and your world. Let this peace move you to service of God, especially in service of His black children.
It’s time we were people of His Kingdom. Passed time.
Let peace sustain the fight.