On Monday, I had the opportunity and privilege to attend the Sixth Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at Faith Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut. It was a moving and powerful experience with exceptional speakers and calls to action. The following are some of the topics that most touched me and my reflection on them.
Do NOT get defensive
I loved this, as hard as it was to swallow. Keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith begged those white allies in the congregation to promise her just this. I could not help but chuckle with awkwardness and understanding when she stated that when trying to have a “courageous conversation” about racism, our black brothers and sisters already knew that their white allies had not owned a slave nor participated in a lynching. Pat on the back, congratulations. But that does not mean that racism is dead. It does not mean that white privilege is not alive and well. And it does not mean we are off the hook.
When my protectors fail me
Dr. Smith stated that when something is supposed to protect you and it doesn’t, “you get mad!” When we are left oppressed and hopeless without consequences to those who do wrong, I hope you get pissed off. And I hope that anger motivates you to stand back up and fight another round.
The victims of racism
Who are the victims of racism today? The answer at first seems obvious, but the service’s litany provided some food for thought.
“…evildoers are also victims and are not evil people. The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil not people.”
Shit. It seems to be my nature and instinct to place blame where I see fit. If one commits evil deeds, one must be evil. But aren’t we are all products of our environment? I struggled for so long to internalize the concept that just because I, myself, did “bad” things did not mean that I was a “bad” person. So I must extend this to the rest of my experiences.
How do I make this personal to my experience as a white woman of privilege? I have experienced sexual and physical assault and abuse. Afterward I was filled with anger and hate (when my protectors fail me, perhaps?) only to very g r a d u a l l y come to the understanding that my perpetrators too were products of their environments and if they got off on violating and abusing me, what then must have been their past experience? I have since been able to forgive my oppressors through hard internal effort and a lot of therapy.
Let me be clear, THIS DOES NOT EXCUSE THE OPPRESSORS. THIS DOES NOT MAKE THE ACTS OF RACIST INDIVIDUALS OKAY. But it does make them victims of our racist, sexist, homophobic, you-are-different-from-me-ist society. Which means those individuals who have fought through this fog of hate and bias and come out on the other side are survivors of what our culture has taught so many.
The definition of peace
“Peace is not the absence of tension but the presence of justice.”
I really don’t think I can say it better than this.
Dr. Susan K. Smith encouraged us to “wrestle” for peace and justice. To wear down the oppressors with an active effort against intolerance, oppression and injustice. It takes a long, consistent fight. Get your wrestling gear on.