I felt compelled last week to write about the rise of Neo-Nazis and the damage they did in the streets of Charlottesville and to the heart of America recently. Many people liked my blogpost but one friend had this response.
She told me, ”You have white privilege, you don't ‘swim in the waters’ of prejudice in your daily life.” I asked her to tell me what that was like and she told me stories of daily stress, shame, humiliation and fear of annihilation growing up Jewish amongst the KKK in rural America. I had never seen it that way. She is correct, the lake I swim in has generally friendly waters except for the problems I cause myself. When I got off the phone with her all I could see was an image of a fish swimming on high alert in a lake full of unseen predators.
This led me to read more on this point of view. Courtney Ariel wrote an article for Sojourner called, “For our white friends desiring to be allies”. Her advice is to listen more and talk less, to sit with someone else’s experience, to educate yourself about systematic racism and to lead others to listen to dis-enfranchised or marginalized voices.
Many of those voices have risen in this past week. Many young children have been exposed to this darkness in a new way and for the first time have been told about genocide, the Holocaust and slavery. What message can parents give their children in these times? President Obama told his daughters,
"…you should anticipate that at any given moment, there’s going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside of you and you have to vanquish…don’t start worrying about the apocalypse. You say, okay, where can I push to keep it moving."
Each person has to examine that question and decide what moves to make. A volatile political divide like we have in the USA today has the potential for further splitting the psyches of individuals who are so distressed and/or traumatized, that they adopt increasingly rigid protectionist stances. This is how human beings react to fear. I felt defensive when my friend first accused me of acting from white privilege. I was taken aback but then realized I had to re-examine my assumptions. I learned that I needed to listen more carefully to those who feel oppressed. I now have more hope that the voices of those who have suffered can melt a heart of hate or inform the uninformed enough to heal some of these divisions in our country.
Tomorrow, a wave of people across America will step outside in the light of day, pause, look up and watch the moon slowly slide over the sun and plunge us into darkness. My dark shadow will only pass into light when I look up beyond my usual view, attend to others with my heart, and open to lessons of listening.