Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Voice - Part 2

Last week I wrote Voice- Part 1 to share a pivotal point in my own understanding of the importance of using our voices. This is my follow-up.

"I can remember heading south on a road trip with my family and seeing, for the first time, "colored" water fountains. I was so confused."

"I don't think I've ever heard a sermon on race. I don't think I've even heard the word used at church."

"I was raised in the colorblind generation - if we don't talk about it, it will go away. I don't know how to teach my kids differently."

I glance around my living room at faces ranging from 30 to 65. Women raised in the south and the northeast and midwest. Catholic, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, Baptist. Some with grown children and grandchildren, some with very young ones, some newly married, some divorced.

All asking questions. All talking, sharing their stories. All believing that racism is real, that our country and our churches are deeply divided and broken and all wanting to see change.

And also, all white. But we'll get back to that.

Just this past fall, I began to feel an itch. The election was ramping up, tempers were running high. I had been having more and more conversations with white parents who didn't know where to start in educating their children about race. And more and more conversations with black friends who were absolutely exhausted with the current state of affairs.

I took a risk and posted on Facebook asking if anyone local might want to get together to talk about it all.

I thought maybe I would get a private message from one or two people interested, but I got a crowd.

You never really know who is reading your posts, do you?

In the meantime, a good friend and I began talking about what it would look like to host these conversations together as God was moving similarly in her life. To invite both our sets of friends and see what happened. To pray and dream and hope together for what God might do.

So we set a date. I invited those interested. And most of them came. We talked, we laughed, we mourned, we prayed.

We agreed to do it again. Regularly.

And friends, it's been awesome. To be real, to talk about race and racism without wondering if the person to whom you're speaking is going to jump down your throat or tell you it's not real. To have a safe space to air frustrations. To be able to ask and answer questions. To share resources. I am coming to love these women.

But yes, we are an all white group right now. We've acknowledged it to one another. We know that it isn't ideal. And we know that we can only meet for so long and grow so much without that needing to change. We NEED the voices of our sisters of color. We need their lived experiences, their anger, their hurt, their hope, their honesty. We need to look us in the face and TELL US. And we need to be able to listen and really hear.

And we've invited some of our friends of color to come. Knowing that they might be too tired for this. Knowing that they don't know this group. And, therefore, not necessarily expecting them to feel that we are a safe enough space for them.

One of these women, a newer friend of mine, had the boldness to be honest when she said she wouldn't be joining us. And with her permission, I'm sharing her response.

"As an early thirties, stay-at-home mom (to six), wife (to one), ministry leader, friend, etc., I often find that in some spaces there is one distinguishing characteristic that sometimes trumps them all: black woman. I have found that in many spaces that say they are places of safety and for honest dialogue, my race and gender don’t give me the chance to be completely honest and true to how I feel. Sometimes my presence in majority white spaces is solicited to be the “representative”, “token of diversity”,“spokesperson”. My face is valued so long as I hide my story behind its blackness.

My struggle is always that I don't want to posture myself in a way that comes across as entitled to be angry and forcing others, especially my white friends, to see my point of view. Having attended a predominantly white church for the last three years, I've found that there's an unseen line that must not be crossed when it comes to race. I've felt either I'm supposed to be the spokesperson for the whole black race or everyone's "one black friend" but when there need to be conversations, I must not speak lest I come across as "angry black woman." - Cassandra A.

Hear her. Listen. Especially if you are a white woman in the Christian church. Listen, friends.

How do her words make you feel?

Her words break my heart. Because I know they are true. I know I have been a perpetrator. And I know that without repentance, listening and intentional change, our churches will never be safe spaces. They will always feel like this.

And here's the other thing: I couldn't assure her about our group. I know our intentions are good and safe...but I know that impact weighs much more heavily than intentions and until we could be together a little more regularly, I wouldn't truly know how safe we really are. What our impact might be. Whether microagressions might happen. Whether she'd need to code switch to be comfortable. All the things I'm sure weigh on her mind but are usually absent from us as white women.

I hope with a deep yearning that our group will grow in racial diversity. But I also know that for that to happen a friend will need to take a huge risk.

I hope my new friend might come some day, I really do. But I don't blame her for not coming now. I am grateful for her honesty. And I respect her choice.

In the meantime, we are going to keep talking and meeting and praying. We are going to ask the Lord to transform our own hearts. To show us the places where we have failed and send his Spirit to help us do better. To enable us to speak life and truth. To be change in our churches and schools and neighborhoods and circles of friends.

This is, after all, not just about talking over coffee. This is about learning to find our voices and refusing to stay silent.

And you know what else? This is not about politics, friends. This is at the very heart of the gospel, a gospel where God himself reconciles us to him and breaks down the walls of division in our lives and our communities.

Maybe you think sitting around and talking about this and praying together with intention to act doesn't accomplish anything?

I disagree.

If something changes in just one of us, if even one church becomes a safer place, if one less white kid is raised as a racist...well, then, we'll have done something. And because I believe in a God who is exceedingly more passionate about all this than I can ever be, I also believe He is showing up and wants to do big things.

I will leave you with one last sentence from my friend to all of us to ponder:

"My dear sisters, please hear my heart. When you are tempted to ask, “Why is it always about race?” or “Can’t we just get past this?” please remember that your black friends don’t have the choice for it not to be about race. As much as we would like to move forward, we hit roadblocks time and time again when we turn on the news, when we scroll through social media, when we think we can have honest dialogue in predominantly white places, especially in our communities of faith. We want to think that the next time will be different, we want to be hopeful that our seat at the table will be one of welcoming and an opportunity for transparency. Just please know that for every step of progress that gives glimmers of hope we see our country, our friends, our church family regress decades in the past.

Please know, dear sisters and friends, we are hopeful and we will not quit, but we are tired. We need allies to shoulder our burdens, to weep when we weep, to speak when we have no words or when we have been silenced. We need you and in this journey of solidarity, you will learn that you need us too."

Amen, may it be so.

1 comment:

  1. Feel very lucky to be included in this group of extraordinary women. Hoping Cassandra will have a change of heart. We NEED to hear her voice, we need to figure this all out!