Having come of age in the 1960s, I must say that the events of the last week took me right back to that turbulent and shocking time of the Civil Rights movement – protests, marches, police brutality, terror and the unthinkable suffering of our Black citizens.
There I sat in our living room, staring at the TV as my parents tried their best to offer an explanation which would make sense to a fourteen year old white southern girl. Nothing they said worked.
I have not lived the fifty years since then under the illusion that our nation’s issues of race have been resolved, not even as I’ve seen people of color advance in every field and be elected to positions of power. Not even as I’ve seen a Black man be elected president.
The last few years have stripped away any veneer of racial equality which we may have wanted to believe we’ve achieved. The systemic racism which has existed for hundreds of years in this country is alive and well, and it continues to terrorize, enrage, breed despair and break hearts.
Have we come no further than this? As James Baldwin wrote, “There are too many things we do not wish to know about ourselves.” But something IS different this time. Maybe at last, we are willing to know some things about ourselves, painful as they may be, and to do things differently.
White people have taken to the streets in droves to protest alongside their black friends, most of them young. They too carry signs proclaiming, “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace.” They too are angry and willing to risk their safety to stand with people of color in their communities.
In Louisville, Kentucky, a line of white women, arms locked, stood between the police and black protesters. This is how they decided to turn their privilege into protectiveness.
In Michigan, a sheriff took off his helmet and walked with protesters. In other places, police officers have knelt with demonstrators. I saw a photo on Facebook of an officer giving a bottle of water to a young black man.
Here in Greensboro, the CEO of one of our largest employers issued a corporate memo with the subject line, “Taking a Stand for Racial Justice.” Groups are being formed by white people on Facebook to inspire activism, and white ministers are calling for their congregations to take a stand.
All of this gives me hope.
What heartens me the most however, because I believe it is the basis of the systemic change needed to really turn the tide, is this: White people, myself included, are finally willing to look in the mirror and see the subtle prejudice and racist thinking which exists in the recesses of our unconscious minds.
We are willing to admit that we don’t really know much about the black experience in America and that we have not challenged ourselves to learn. Not really.
We white folks, it seems to me, are willing now to fully take up the mantle of responsibility of ending racism and are coming to realize it starts within through uncomfortable inner examination and the commitment to grow in new and uncertain ways.
Over the last few years, I’ve come to realize that I don’t know much of anything about what black people really and truly have endured, what I call “the inside of the experience” because I’ve only witnessed it from the outside – maybe with a heart of compassion, but still on the outside of their experience, and also on the outside of my own.
Inner transformation is the foundation for any real change to come about in every area of life. It all starts as an inside job.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said. There is a universe out there, and there is a universe inside each of us. My hope lies in the fact that as we white people awaken more fully to our inner moral universe, we will ride its arc in permanent solidarity with our black brothers and sisters toward that long-awaited place of justice, equality, freedom and peace.