A friend wrote to me with some questions around inequality and racism. She described a feeling of powerlessness and was unsure about what she, as a white woman, could do to make things better. One of the questions she asked really resonated with me and I decided to jot down some thoughts on paper. She asked: how do you hold the weight of this without being crushed by it?
I think it is important to realise that we do not manage this at all. We are crushed by it on a daily basis. We are so crushed by it,… it is a deep pain and a source of trauma for many people from the Global Majority (GM) I encounter, even though they might not all speak up about their experience of racism or see things the same way. Also, we personally at home are crushed by it and it often takes its toll on us as a multi-ethnic family. This is not an easy work and I am afraid it might never be. In fact, we’ve found that faith has become our main recourse. We go back to God.
For me the image of the Black Madonna has been a helpful one. This mother holding her child, this constant gaze of unconditional love, away from the image of the white male God that so often is worshipped by the same people who keep telling me that what I am seeing, noticing and experiencing is not true. This mother holding her child, that’s where I find comfort…
I think we as white people need to be careful not to want to walk this journey too quickly and run to offering solutions. I love the age-old concept of equanimity, where we are choosing to sit with the discomfort without trying to explain it away or resolve it. It’s an invitation to imagine ourselves in the shoes of those experiencing the injustice. We need to keep feeling this discomfort, even if it is just a tiny proportion of what our GM sisters and brothers might be experiencing, to somehow start to understand a little bit of their experience… I have found the Welcoming Prayer a helpful tool to do this, where we Feel and sink into what we are experiencing this moment in our body, Welcome what we are experiencing as an opportunity to consent to the divine indwelling and only after this choose to Let Go (google Mary Mrozowski Welcoming Prayer).
It took me a long time to start speaking out publicly like I do now, and I know it is not the popular thing to do. But I realised in myself that I often prioritise white comfort over black pain and I just didn’t want to allow that to happen again (not that I am completely there yet, but it helps me when I wonder whether I need to share something to see whose needs I am prioritising in that moment). Also, I often notice biases and prejudice in myself, so in a way sharing things on public platforms like Facebook is all about me working on myself and how I respond and see things. Some of the responses I get are difficult and painful, but I try to see them as opportunities to learn more and speak out better. Also, I find it important to share in some of the burden GM people have to carry on a daily basis. They are expected to always be the ones doing the work, often at a high personal cost. Choosing to speak out on the issue, is my way of recognising that I don’t have to be the problem, I can be part of the solution.
Three other things I think we can do are:
1. REFLECT ON YOUR RELATIONSHIPS AND NETWORKS
It is important to critically reflect on the make-up of our personal relationships and networks. If we can’t live out diversity, inclusion and belonging within our own personal lives, there is no point trying to change the world around us. There’s this helpful exercise called the Trusted Ten where you are asked to see how your most important relationships compare to you in terms of ethnicity, gender, age, education, etc. When it comes to building relationships with those different than you it is all about making the effort. Ben Lindsay in his book ‘Let’s talk about race’ describes it nicely. He says, ‘You might have to invite someone over for dinner again and again until the atmosphere becomes less awkward… White people may ask, “Why must I make all the effort?” The answer is easy: you’re the majority culture and you are part of the power structure, whether you know it or not.’
2. INVEST YOUR MONEY AND TIME
Another thing you can do is make a conscious decision to invest in recourses written or produced by GM people, which will both enlarge your own horizon and support their work. It is important to pay GM people for their work as they are often expected to continuously offer their insights and experiences without getting anything in return (you can do this for instance by supporting their patreon page – I support www.patreon.com/cscleve but there are many other excellent pages run by our GM sister and brothers – or paying fair fees for the sessions you invite them to run). It could also include giving of your time generously (this might be as simple as helping out with childcare or other practical jobs, quite a few of my GM friends do shift work and might not have the same support networks around as many white British families).
3. LISTEN AND DO YOUR RESEARCH
Listening is so important, especially to those of the Global Majority. I am talking about listening without always offering solutions or making swift assumptions. Sometimes this might also mean stepping away and honour the need for spaces for our GM brothers and sisters where they can be together. To find some healing and be honest about their circumstances with those who really understand. It is important to remember that even though we want to listen, we also need to be doing our own research wherever we can and not always expect those in the minority to educate us, come up with resources, ideas, etc. Google is our friend! I have also written a post with some book recommendations!
I know I could say many more things on the issue, but I hope this has given you some food for thought. Let’s keep the conversation going.
5 thoughts on “The Weight of Fighting for Racial Justice and What I Can Do as a White Person”
Thank you Mirjam for the clarity with which you share your thinking, and for your honesty and wisdom. I’m struck by what you say about avoiding assumptions and dwelling with the pain without always feeling we have to have answers. I also hope that racial justice will increasingly become something that everyone talks about. Until it is owned by all – people of every race and culture – there is unlikely to be lasting change. Injustice and inequality for Global Majority and BAME people is not THEIR problem, it is OUR problem – a shared one that impacts on our humanity and on the shape of society. Lasting change will only come when those who do not feel directly impacted combine their power and influence with the voice of the Global Majority. I would like to see churches at the forefront, with Christians leading the way.
Thank you Bishop Guli for your encouraging words and describing your hope for the future. I very much agree that this needs to be owned by us all and I very much hope and pray our faith will bring the change we need to help us make a real difference.
My story and experience in this area are interesting, but I’d have to get approvals to write anything about our mixed-race adoptions and the happy outcomes.