"The Path to guidance is one of love and compassion, not of force and coercion." - The Báb
It is difficult to talk about things we don't know about, especially in the culture of the current climate of the era we live in. Making a mistake is not explored, rather it is denigrated. Not understanding something is ridiculed and you are accused of not doing your work. How then can we learn?
It is difficult to explore this area of not knowing, especially in the light of racism that has caused so much damage. A fear that can keep us from healing is simply this, What if I don't know how to talk about racism? And yet, if we do not learn more about how to engage in this conversation more effectively and ultimately dismantle its deep roots, we all lose.
I've had many opportunities to engage with diverse peoples around this conversation, in particular in settings where those present wanted to learn how to engage in addressing racial prejudice and not fall into camps of either or, right and wrong, good or bad. Here are some of the nuggets we are learning. I say learning, because everything is in transformation right now and what may work today in the near future may continue to be molded and remolded again and again. So what are we learning? Your posture in these conversations matters deeply and creates a strong impact on how the conversation continues and develops.
Of course, posture could also be called attitude - the attitude you carry when you do something. I like posture, because it assumes your whole being is walking into this conversation. This has always been important to examine when we do anything. We often examine our attitude when we do math, when we decide the pros and cons of a relationship, even when we decide if we will succeed at something or not. Why would we not examine our attitude when we address the most important issue of our era - the oneness of humanity.
A good place to start is with motivation: what is our motivation in engaging in this conversation? Do I want to convince others I am right? Do I think I know the truth and want to say it out loud? None of these or any others am I suggesting are bad motives. It is important to know what is driving you in this conversation. Here is a list of qualities I have found helpful to explore when looking at our posture in this conversation:
- Absolute love - This seems like a tough one, but I have found that if love is not present most conversations can go nowhere. Love makes room for forgiveness and the possibility of joy. We have to make room for everyone, it's the oneness of humanity we are seeking, and that means no one can be out - love can make this happen.
- Purity of motive - This goes back to why am I having this conversation. If I'm engaging in this conversation to convince others I am correct, then the assumption is I have the answer, and right now, I think we can assert no one has the answer. However, with purity of intention, I'm willing to learn with you to find the answer together.
- Detachment - If I don't have this, then it is difficult to find the answer together, because once again I think my answer is right and I don't want to let it go. Or I'm attached to my emotions and by not allowing them to process, they cannot transform and thus they can cloud my vision.
- Humility - This is a hard quality for us in the West, everything in our society teaches us to be first and to stand up and charge ahead. Again, these are not bad qualities. However, if we are not humble and do not make room for others and their experiences and ideas, then we are shutting out the possibility of finding truth and allowing the collective wisdom to shine through.
- Patience - This will take time, it took 400 years to settle this cancer of racism deep into our culture, it will take time to remove it. We can and we will succeed in removing it, there is no doubt that humanity is moving forward toward a global vision of itself. And yet, we can imagine, to remove this cancer, it will take diligence and love and that will take time and a willingness for all to participate.
Finally, we cannot look at things in a dichotomous way either. This is not an either or. This reflection merely tries to capture the qualities that would be helpful in learning how to talk about racism. This does not in any way dismiss the importance of knowing and understanding the history of institutionalized racism and its impact on the separation of people and its destructive nature on our psyche.
Is it important to know about the history of a nation and in particular about those on the bottom foot of oppression? Of course it is.
It is imperative we learn from those most severely affected by oppression - how did they survive and thrive despite their circumstances? They have much to teach us.
This also does not dismiss the current impact institutionalized racism has on the lives of people living under its boot. This is a complex issue and one that will most likely take centuries to completely unravel. I'd like to suggest, however long the road is that we must travel, it begin with love.