One of the biggest rules of white Christian America was “Don’t disturb the peace,” at all costs. As to exactly where this came from I have a few guesses, but the cost has been far too high to let it continue. I could go on about the very real and horrible ways it has victimized, harmed, and silenced Black and brown people, but for now, I want to discuss its implication for white people.
For white people, it has meant bottle your emotions and push them deep because no one will care for you if you’re vulnerable; that your greatest duty is to not be a total pain to deal with or make others have to see you for who you really are. So we cut off our hearts and push away from anything that threatens to expose the poison of our deeply indoctrinated need to be okay. We can’t be human so we don’t set boundaries, we stigmatize mental health and look to faith as a cure-all, waiting for the pain to go away on its own when it’s a bit more complex than that. We don’t show up for ourselves, and we stubbornly tell ourselves we don’t feel our life leaking away. We construct our walls and wither inside them.
Meanwhile, the cogs of power weaponized our own silenced pain and fear against innocent people, to the point where it threatens these people’s very lives on a daily basis.
We arm ourselves with guns and dogma and contempt and tell ourselves that’s safer, that’s enough. That nothing will change and we just have to hold our ground until we die.
It’s too late now, our brokenness whispers. Our bitter wounded hearts that were never heard, because human was just too bothersome. Too late now.
But it’s never too late. The voices of indoctrination and trauma are not truth. We have the power to claim better, for ourselves, for our neighbors.
In the social justice realm, the way things are, while we are hurting in our own ways, and however unfair it is, the color of our skin doesn’t make things harder for us. And that’s where our role comes in. The system was built to benefit us, and privilege doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Privilege is an edge on the status quo, and it’s a tool we can wield to protect others and enact change.
As white people, we are being asked right now to amplify and support the voices of the marginalized, those against whom our silence feeds into something far older and far more sinister than the number our questionable “don’t stir the pot” upbringing did on us. The voice of our indoctrination says “us vs them,” that stepping aside means “roll over and die,” but that isn’t the case. It feels threatening, because change is scary. Confronting pain and darkness in ourselves and the nonconsensual ways generational trauma has stained us is difficult and terrifying. We struggle so much to accept our own selves that most days we can’t stand one more person saying our struggle doesn’t mean anything. That our pain is wrong.
Race hasn’t been a source of this in my life because of my whiteness, but I have felt this narrative again and again in other areas. And I will do whatever I have to so that I never ever inflict this injustice on another person. When they tell me their experience, I will believe them. People need to be heard, and when they ask me to listen, I will set myself aside, and I will listen. Black and brown people are no strangers to the most insidious forms of gaslighting, and it doesn’t stop at gaslighting. They’re literally fighting for their lives.
With white people, feeling heard is a difficult nuance. Our own white culture has pushed us down so far we’re not sure what we need. We say one thing, but we’re really speaking to something else. I want you to feel like your pain is heard, but I hope you understand that in the realm of social justice, being heard is only the beginning. There is a call for a greater standard, a greater accountability at work here. I want you to be a part of it.
Growing up Christian, I was taught to think critically with compassion, and that compassion always has to have the last word. If that means I’ll have to dismantle the darkness in me, to do work that completely destroys my worldview and leaves me shaken, then bring it on. I have been doing this work for seven years now and I intend to continue it for the rest of my life. I’ll do it without expecting thanks or a pat on the back, because it is my duty as a citizen of the world. As a storyteller, as a human being. I am a part of this revolution, but it isn’t about me.
That’s not to say that I don’t mean anything. I’m working on my own internal revolutions too. If I don’t show up for myself, I can’t show up for others.
We white people hear “Black Lives Matter” and our programming and trauma hears, “Bury Yourself, Nullify Yourself. You are never good enough.” But that’s not what Black Lives Matter is about. The recent protests are a call to change the power structure. (By “defund the police,” the intent is to move to a community-based system of specialists that are better held accountable, not generalist soldiers on a power trip.) As much as we hate to admit it, racism has only helped fuel the corrupt systems in place, in overt and subtle ways that we have to dig up and eradicate in ourselves too. We were born into a racist society. That doesn’t make us bad people, it means we have work to do. This is about dismantling systems that hurt everybody. About giving people of color relief and justice for once.
For us to be functional allies we have to figure out why our hearts want to stay closed.
We can give ourselves the permission to do the work in ourselves we’ve needed to do for far too long, to identify and address our own trauma that often has nothing to do with racism but very much influences our response to it, to combat the lies we’ve picked up along the way, to be able to hear people for what they’re actually saying. But we can do that work while also amplifying the voices of Black and brown people and supporting them in dismantling a status quo that made us bitter but is actively violent and victimizing toward them.
The corrupted status quo benefits off our staying closed. Staying bitter. To fight it, we have to listen to the voices speaking against it. We have to let ourselves become human, to hold the capacity for empathy with people whose lived experiences are vastly different than our own but very, very real. To stand with these people and say, “I believe you. Enough is enough.”
Black Lives Matter says it has to stop. All of it. The cycle of trauma broken once and for all. This is very much about bringing justice to fruition for people who still have yet to see it in the modern era, but that doesn’t mean you as a white person no longer have a place in the world. You have more a place in the world than ever. You, too, get to be part of history in the making.
All this time we’ve been doing the best we could with the resources we had, but now with new resources, easier access to information, new voices standing on the shoulders of the voices of the past, it’s time to pivot. It’s time to change the game.
It is time to ask where our defensiveness, our hesitation, our condemnation comes from. Whose voice it is, and who it serves. It is time to ask whether we will join the fight to build a better world, or if we will continue to let our unresolved personal trauma keep us buried.
We have the power to reject things that no longer serve us, to listen and learn and confront things we don’t feel equipped to. We don’t have to bury our hearts anymore. We can come alive, we can absolutely stir the pot until it shatters, we can support and protect and listen to our Black and brown brothers and sisters. We can show up for them in a major ways, and at the same time we can learn how to show up for ourselves and each other in the ways our white sanitized cultural indoctrination always barred and demonized. It’s time to claim healing for ourselves as well as for our nation, if only we are willing to listen.
All lives cannot matter until Black lives matter. That doesn’t mean you and your pain don’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t seek healing for yourself as well in the midst of all this, but we need your heart and your privilege to push back against the insidious status quo. We’re in this for the long haul, and you’re absolutely welcome at the table.
Early, late, or right on time, you’re welcome to join the revolution.
A/N: I’ve been floored recently by the advancement in trauma awareness over the last several years, and as I’ve started wandering down that road in my own life, one aspect of the pushback I see from white people in my community against such good, necessary, and urgent societal change as the Black Lives Matter movement is starting to make more sense to me. Today I hoped to speak to that, to assuage some of those fears.