So, I have these questions….
And these are not new questions, or questions unique to me. I see my little sister struggle and explore these questions on her facebook almost daily, and I know my other sisters do as well, although they don’t facebook it as much. I know my grandfather and grandmother were responding to these questions when they started protesting, as white middle class protestants, in Brisbane in the 70s, against the endemic racism towards indigenous people (and many other things.) I know I, and the others I know who struggle with these questions, feel weighed down by the sheer hopeless depression. And the guilt. And, well, the bigness of the whole problem.
Social justice is a big issue. It’s so easy to get drawn into politics, and do-gooding, and self righteousness. It’s so easy to absorb ‘fixing things’ and ‘fixing people’ as part of your identity, and how you define yourself. But then you lose what you’re actually trying to do, and it stops being about changing the wrongs, and starts being about self promotion and making sure everyone agrees that you’re right. Then you become another Great White Saviour (in the best case scenario) or one of those white people who becomes outraged that the black people don’t appreciate your ‘help’ and you’ll start yelling ‘reverse racism’ and becoming even more offensive because those ungrateful black people didn’t hail you as a hero for speaking the obvious.
And what if you’re just an ordinary, quiet, mainstream sort of person, with a stable job, two kids in school, a fairly predictable life, and a nagging sense that things are really quite badly wrong, and no idea what to do about it? A lot of the time we just don’t know. And I think that’s really where we need to start.
The last thing any dispossessed, disenfranchised, hurt, angry & wounded person (withe generations and generations of unthinkable injustices behind them) is for their oppressor (don’t wince, be honest) to walk up to them with a beatific smile, and say ‘I know how you feel.’ We actually don’t. We actually have no idea. No matter how many black friends, family, lovers, children, bosses, politicians, teachers, or vague, shadowy ‘aquaintances’ I have, I will never know how it feels. It’s time we stop saying that. In fact, we need to stop talking altogether. We really have done enough of that. We actually need to sit down, not talk, and listen.
Unfortunately, this does mean we’re going to hear some stuff we won’t like. We are going to be told off. We’re going to have to look at some ‘normal’ and ‘ordinary’ things that we do that are really quite offensive.(The reason we don’t think of those things as being offensive is because they’re not happening to us.) We’re going to get called names quite a bit, probably for quite a while. (Don’t forget, we’ve been calling names for a lot longer, and those names have been much worse.) We’re going to have to cope with anger, fear, rage, shame, grief, and many other very powerful emotions being directed at us. And then, we’re probably going to have to say sorry.
Now, don’t get all cranky over this. You won’t exactly be apologising for what your great-great grandfather may or may not have done to someone else’s great-great grandmother. You can’t fix that, but you can acknowledge it was wrong. You’ll mostly be apologising for what you do. You won’t realise, until you actually ask those neighbours or friends or lovers, what you actually do, every day, without even noticing. Once you ask them, and actually listen, you’ll learn why you need to apologise. And you won’t be able to help yourself, you’ll apologise without hesitating, and you’ll mean it.
This still doesn’t answer my questions. If I found the answer, I’d know I was wrong. There isn’t really an answer, and there’s definitely no quick fix. It’s going to take generations of white people who try to listen, and try to change, and teach their kids the truth, and generations of black people who put up with us while we do this, and extend graciousness and forgiveness to us along the way. And apologies if I offended anyone, or didn’t quite get it right….I’m not trying to speak for anyone, just clumsily trying to figure out how I, as one person, can do a little better.