To My White People
“You don’t hear me!” Nothing yields panic like realizing you have no voice.
Once every word has been spoken, shouted, and no one hears. The panic sets in.
I won’t claim to know much about the world, especially right now. The news feels like the worst kind of apocalyptic movie. And with almost all of it- there is nothing to do but stare and pray and hold our people tighter.
I am white. My son is black. If God wills, my son will soon be a black man. My hands tremble and my eyes are blurry with tears as I type. So today I will use my white self and all my privilege and all my voice to say some things.
Friends- Sometimes we do not hear. We do not listen. We do not understand. We often don’t even try.
I scroll the news feeds and see the black hands lifted high. “Hands up. Don’t shoot.” Their hands are raised in defense, in protest of injustice. But all I hear when I see their hands….
You don’t hear me.
A few months ago my friend, Kim Patton reached out to me with an idea. She and her husband, Sherwin are African-Americans and lead something they call “Reconciliation Circles” for law enforcement to unpack racial profiling. They are doing the work of reconciliation in Austin. Kim attended IF:Gathering and knew my desire to see a great wave of unity in the Church, she suggested we start a Reconciliation Circle with a handful of women in Austin.
Rather than deny the great divide- we wanted to do the work of building bridges across it. The room contained some of my favorite people- leaders in churches, businesses, non-profits.
Diverse and yet exactly the same in so many ways. We learned the rules. Don’t speak unless you have the “speaking piece” (on this day it’s a smooth rock). So with 10 people in the room- you listen. And as tears replace the nerves in the room- you start to hear.
“When have you experienced or observed racism?”
The question fell heavy and brave in the room as my white friends spoke of observations and my black friends of moments too awful to imagine.
Regina shared about her siblings taking the bus to an Austin mall with the money they saved to buy their mom a birthday present, only to be questioned about shop lifting and chased out of the mall with no gift. (with Regina's permission I share her story.)
I realize as they each share similar stories-
I have not heard. I have not listened. I have not understood. I haven’t often even tried to.
You know what I have done instead of listening- I have assumed. Assumed racism is dead. Assumed that we are all the same. Assumed color doesn’t matter. We assume everyone lines up at the same starting line in the American race.
We read the books, study the history, watch the movies and celebrate Martin Luther King Jr and we think we understand. We think it’s over.
It’s not over and we don’t understand.
There are multiple options when you come to a problem of this magnitude- a huge chasm:
Do we try to find a way around?
Do we sit down and pretend the chasm is not there?
Do we pray a bridge falls down from the sky?
Or do we build a bridge?
I say we be the generation who worked on the bridges. The bricks and mortar that the last generation labored and laid down their lives to build are in need of repair- the bridges lay unfinished. I think maybe we “assumed” the bridges were complete and strong but the hands high in Ferguson say otherwise.
So how do you build a bridge?
Gather 6 people. Different races. Eat together. Go there. And listen. Hear.
Jesus did this. He ate. He listened. He asked questions. He bridged chasms.
Our Reconciliation Circle is building some deep friendships. Tonight Kim and Sherwin and Zac and I are meeting to do some bridge work- and dream how we can help spread the work of Reconciliation Circles. If you may want to be part of that work- share your email below in the comments.
Are you ready for this? Leave us your email and we will be in touch with ways to start circles in your community.