How do we respond to racism

June 8, 2020

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I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten in trouble for wanting to understand what was going on behind closed doors, tight lipped secrets, or silent systems. I also don’t know how many times I’ve been told to “mind my own business”, “stop being a sticky- beak”, or have been told, “don’t you know curiosity killed the cat”. Well guess what, I’m not a cat. Now I’m not condoning gossip, what I am condoning is the need for us to be radically and uncomfortably curious. 

In this current climate it is imperative for us to get radically curious. When something makes us uncomfortable, our natural reaction is to back away from it, however, right now is the time we should be leaning in close, real close. While these moments feel peculiar and unwanted, we need to get microscopically close to them.

As we lean into racism, our posture cannot be one of wanting to fix it. Instead we must enter into it with a desire to first understand it. The worst question we can ask is “How do I fix this”. We can’t start with fixing. We must start with understanding. We must start with Why. 

Why? is better then How?

One of my favourite questions is Why? The question “Why” is how we go about finding correlation, and correlation leads us to innovation. When we approach racism with the question “how do we fix this” we quickly fall down the rabbit hole of white saviourism. Instead when we approach racism with the question “Why is this happening” we move from judgement to curiosity. We become the student rather than the teacher. We become the listener instead of the speaker. Each time we ask why, we dig through layers and get ever increasingly closer to the heart of the matter. 

Instead of asking “How do we stop the rioting?”, instead we should be asking “why is the rioting happening?” Instead of asking “how do we stop police brutality?” we should be asking “Why is police brutality happening?” How questions can be inherently judgemental, while why questions are inherently curious. 

Rigid People Break

Rigid trees break in the storm. So do Rigid people. However, a tree that is flexible can bend and move against the storm, and when the storm passes, not only is it still standing, it is made stronger because of it. In the 90’s the scientific community set out on the great scientific experiment of the biosphere project. Inside several large enclosed domes, they created different environmental eco-systems. They then placed a group of scientists to live inside the dome for two years. One of the unexpected problems that they encountered was that the trees inside the dome would grow tall and strong to a certain height, and then suddenly without any cause or reason the whole tree would come down. 

What they realised is that the lack of wind within the sphere meant that the trees where never blown around. Normally when the wind blows, it causes small micro tears in trees branches, similar to what happens to human muscles when we lift weights. As those tears healed it caused the tree to become stronger and more flexible. With no wind the tree became so rigid and inflexible it eventually crumbled under its own weight.

The curiously flexible mind

Curiosity is the flexibility of our mind. The more curiosity we can endure the, stronger we become. If curiosity is flexibility, then morality is our bone structures. Strong moral codes paired with convictions informed by curiosity makes for a strong person. 

Winston Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”  As we curiously lean into racism and start the work of dismantling it within our self and our society, we are going to succeed and fail. But it is the courage to continue the work that will make the difference. Like so many people, I have asked myself the question “How should I respond.” Maybe the question we should be asking is “Why haven’t I responded sooner?” 

I challenge you to be curious with this question and give yourself the space to really process what comes up as you wrestle with it. It is only after we wrestle with our own responses, that we will find the answer to how to respond moving forward. For me, I wrote out a prayer of repentance, and as I wrote I found my answers to how. 

A liturgy of repentance

Lord I repent form my tendency to decentre the stories of the people around me. When I shift someone else’s opinions or life experiences onto my own, it is a small act of violence. By doing so I shut down their reality so I can live in the comfort of my own reality.

Lord how often do I hear the voice of the oppressed, and immediately think of my own life. My own family. My own safety and comfort. I repent Lord from my desires for my own life experiences and my lack of commitment to seeing others have basic needs and safety.

Lord I repent from my desire to be a saviour. That is your job not mine. I repent from my desire to ride in and fix what I see as broken in others, and yet I’m not willing to fix the very same brokenness within myself.

Lord I repent of my unwillingness to be quiet so I can listen and hear the voice of the oppressed. Help me to have ears to hear, and hands willing to do the work. I also repent of my silence when I ought to have spoken. Lord make my words a healing balm to the oppressed and a fiery arrow to the heart of the oppressor.

Lord I repent for the times when I was lured to the glittery stage of the powerful when I should have stayed standing next to those being silenced. May I amplify their voices more than my own.

Lord I repent of all the times my actions in my daily life do not reflect my public words. I repent of the meals I did not cook, the conversations I did not have, the invitations I did not give, and the money I did not share. 

Lord I repent for myself. My family. My nations. Lord I pray that you release me from the grips of shame, but not the burden of repentance. 

Lord have Mercy.

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