Could I Be Racist?

Updated: Jun 21, 2020

My white friends want to stop me when I say, I have racism to undo. They don't like it. They remind me that I taught diversity classes, that I've protested, that I've been one to speak out numerous times, that I'm married to David.

Me and David

Maybe now that so many of us are reading the New York Times top ten best-sellers for nonfiction— books like "White Fragility," "How to be an Anti-Racist"—more of my white friends will join me and say, yes, yes, I get it, I'm committed, too. I'm becoming more conscious of and weeding my heart of the various components of the system we were born into— the system of racism.

None of us is spared the effects of this system.

We can decide, however, what side of history we want to be on— the side of healing and promoting love, justice and inclusion or the side of maintaining the status quo and inequality.

My hope, as I see millions from around the world rise up to protest racial injustice, is that we will choose to do the work of dismantling systems of power and working hard to create justice and unity after the protests end. My prayer is that we, as white people, will begin or continue to examine and release the subconscious sense of superiority we've inherited.

This is a process, like many worthwhile processes, that is humbling, that forges character, and often involves failing forward. Most of us good-hearted people condemn white supremacy in its overt expression. We might be inclined to say, who me, if asked if we are working on eliminating attitudes of superiority.

We might see ourselves driving the super highway of the good lives we are living— lives of hard work, service and singing songs of love and unity in our faith communities with some people of color. We were taught by our families, good hard-working Americans, to drive this super highway.

I would like to invite those of us who are white to realize that racism is in the air we breathe. We have inhaled white supremacy and white power for centuries. To deny or minimize that reality will have us more likely perpetuating the racism we don't believe we could possibly possess.

The road to race unity is not a superhighway. In the book the "Advent of Divine Justice" this road is portrayed as long and thorny and "beset with pitfalls and setbacks." The work required will take generations. It will require more than lawn signs expressing fair-minded sentiments. It will require whacking away weeds and moving boulders in our various professions. It will require examining the books our children read and the curriculum in their schools. It will require speaking up when everyone else is pretending they didn't hear the racist comment that was just stated. It will require more than diversity trainings and changing laws. It will require unrelenting self-examination, healing, and relearning the inaccurate history we have been taught.

So what will we choose after the protests come to an end? Will we remain on the super highway we know so well and can drive without even thinking. Or will we show up to that long, unpaved, bramble-filled road, that will require lifetimes of work beyond our own life to clear?

Most of my road construction work throughout the years has been along cognitive and academic lines. I've read books. I've attended conferences. I've participated in and facilitated diversity trainings. I've been confronted at times by my friends of color who loved me enough to call me out. My husband has asked me questions to rethink some of the words that have come out of my mouth that reveal the more insidious and subtle ways I've been indoctrinated. I pray every failure has helped me to fail forward, to awaken me, to support me in releasing what needs to be released and creating the world anew.

I continue along this rocky and challenging path, not yet a road. I choose to expend my remaining breaths and heartbeats listening and learning, collaborating, and striving to create justice and unity. Hard as this work is, I would choose no other path and hope that when God takes me home that my children and grandchildren remember me for someone committed to healing, releasing dysfunctional beliefs and patterns, and mostly using my creative energy to contribute to the cause of creating a just and unified world for all people.

Currently, I'm reading, listening to and learning from Resmaa Menakem. His groundbreaking work on healing racial trauma in fully embodied ways speaks to me. I've come to adopt his ideas that our bodies carry ancestral trauma and memories. If we are to heal, we need to do more than change laws and attend diversity trainings. The new science on trauma in the field of epigenetic reveals that trauma and resilience can cross generations. We need to develop the capacity to observe our experiences and our tolerance for stress. We need to learn to read the reality of our bodies and heal at the cellular level. We need to heal the trauma in the body and engage in practices that foster resilience.

Resmaa Menakem

His book, "My Grandmother's Hands" provides exercises that help us heal at the level of the body. In my own healing process from violence, the 50-minute cognitive talk-session approach had its place to get me started on the path of healing. Those sessions provided a safe space for me to begin to give words to what I had trouble saying aloud, to all the ways I had been silenced. I needed more than talk therapy. The trauma was in my body. I found integrative approaches facilitated and continue to facilitate deeper and more lasting healing. Yoga, dance, prayer & meditation, energy work and healing, EMDR and Psych-K are among the many approaches that supported me to heal my body, mind and spirit.

Resmaa Menakem takes the healing work we need to do to a new level. The interviews I've heard and read, and his book, are fascinating. Don't hesitate. Click on the links below and engage with his work on healing from racism at the level of your body, mind and spirit. We can choose to be the change we wish to see. We need resources such as Menakem's work to assist us in forging along this path of healing. May our actions reflect our deep desire to create a more just and unified world, so that future generations continue the work on the road to unity, a road that is a well-worn path because we, that future generation's ancestors acted, and made a difference.

Check out this interview with Resmaa Menakem by Kristin Moe!

Kris Tippett interviews Resmaa Menakem for her show "On Being."

Order Resmaa Menakem's books.

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