One of the teams I have the pleasure of being part of is an Art of Hosting team comprised of me, Jerry Nagel, Dave Ellis and Bob-e Simpson Epps. We most often have hosted open enrolment programs in the Twin Cities and we have worked together on a few other initiatives. One of the joys in working with this team is the rich and deep learning we are in with each other all the time. Our backgrounds are more varied than the colour of our skins as are our experiences.
When we check in together about hosting conversations, the topic often turns to difficult and challenging conversations, particularly around race, power and privilege, the need for which is growing more pressing every day. The essence of our many conversations is floating through my awareness as I read about the great unrest that is alive in the world today; so great it has its own pulse, its own life force and it will not stop until we turn to face it with courage, compassion and humility. All of us, not just some of us.
As Bob-e and Dave and my other African American or African Nova Scotian friends remind us regularly, this is not a problem people of colour can fix. Not alone for sure. It is not a problem of their making. And it is a complex problem that is an entangled, interconnected mess that fuels and feeds itself beyond what any one person or any one organization can do.
An article this morning in the Waging Non Violence newsletter pointed out that Policing Isn’t Working For Cops either. Kazu Haga wrote:
“This is not about being an apologist for the individuals responsible for the killing of black life. It is not about comparing the suffering of black communities to that of law enforcement. But in nonviolence, we know that if you don’t understand the perspective of those who you are in conflict with, you do not understand the conflict. You do not need to agree with, excuse or justify the other’s perspective, you simply need to understand it so you can see the complete picture.”
“Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote that “the white man’s personality is greatly distorted by segregation, and his soul is greatly scarred.” He said that the work of defeating segregation was for the “bodies of black folks and the souls of white folks.” He understood that to be a white supremacist, to hold hatred in your heart for so many and to inflict violence on others destroys your soul.”
People’s lives are at stake. As near as I understand it, this has always been the case. The unrest that is being stirred up – whether by presidential campaigns, referendum votes, violence and terrorism or the killing of unarmed black men or policemen in the line of duty is not going to go away. It will not be suppressed.
At the last AoH training in the Twin Cities, we were reminded by participants in the room, that many people – especially people of colour, people who are part of minority groups – walk in multiple worlds – the predominant culture that does not easily see its own worldview or predominance and the world of their reference groups be it their family, culture, colour of skin, way of being or lifestyle. Many who walk in multiple worlds do so with such grace that those in the dominant culture has been able to turn a blind eye to it, filter it out as if it does not exist. And they do so because it is a matter of survival. They do not have the luxury of turning a blind eye. It can too easily be a matter of life and death.
In that AoH training, I sat with a Hmong man in his forties who has lived in the US for most of his life. He, like at least one other person in the room, moved to the country that at the time was oppressing his own country and his culture. A large family of siblings, many did not survive. He shared with me the structure, ties and traditions of his culture which he feels bound to and in which he lives in community with his family and other community members. He shared how that world differs from the larger world he interacts with every single day. A world he has learned to navigate because he has to. He is aware of the differing worlds and differing cultures in a way that many who interact with him daily have no awareness.
A couple of months later, in Boston, sitting with a distinguished Black man in his 60’s who works with the Massachusetts’s Teachers’ Association, I am heartbroken as we speak about life in general and our children. He has two sons in their 20’s. I have two sons in their 20’s (and one in his early teens) and we have very different experiences of “educating” our children when they became of driving age. For me, it was to make sure they went to Driver’s Education so they knew the rules of the road and learned from someone who could teach them to drive without my or their dad’s bad habits. For him, it was teaching his sons, over and over again, what to do if/when they got stopped by the cops. Because they would sometime get stopped – as some of my friends point out – for “driving while black”. And now we know even that might not keep them safe.
There are many more stories I could tell, but I’ll stop here. What I know from the conversations I am able to have with the people I know and love, the people I come into contact with in heart filled spaces, is that we are longing for a different conversation, one that leads to different results, that transforms our differences into progress by acknowledging, seeing and validating others’ perspectives and experiences as real and true. We are yearning for a turning point. We’re not quite sure what this conversation or the “space” it needs to take place in looks like yet. But it cannot involve guns or jail. It needs to invite exploration, compassion, curiosity and understanding. And we need it now. It is already late. Too late for those whose lives are lost but not forgotten. Very late for many who are deeply traumatized. How do we confront ourselves and each other in such a way that we put an end to the violence? How do we do it across whole countries?
I saw a picture today that said something like don’t be overwhelmed, be true and you have an obligation to continue the journey. I didn’t repost it because I thought, Yes, be overwhelmed. It is overwhelming. And, even in the overwhelm you can look for things to help you remember who you are – watch the birds at the birdfeeders, listen to calming music, go for a walk, pet the cats, remember your purpose and your soul’s journey – then do what you can in the places that you can. I cannot, in this moment, affect a whole nation. But I can carry on my work, I can hold spaces for the pain and overwhelm, I can NOT turn away from all that troubles me in the posts rolling across my screen. I can stay in it, with it and with my friends who more than ever need me to be in it with them, who need me to be a disturbance in the world so we can all live in it in truth, beauty and grace. It is only together that we will find the turning point for which we yearn.