Like anyone, I have tried to wrap my emotions around the events of this week.
I would be lying if I failed to say it did not pain me to watch the forces of division exposed in the community that I love and grew up in.
As any seeker of justice, kindness and humility can attest, the unveiling of any inequality is a call to action—and in this case, one that is quite overdue. As white friends, who desire to be allies in such a time as this, however, may we be clear with ourselves where that motivation comes from and taper our response enough to hear what is being asked of us.
Allow me to explain.
In my own reckoning this week, I realized in my privileged call to action I was compelled first and foremost by my children’s reaction to the downtown police presence Sunday night. Our house is far enough away from the demonstrations to not be affected by tear gas, but close enough that the exhorting sounds of police vehicles and helicopters was disconcerting, especially when you have a child who is extra sensitive to noise. So much so, that when I awoke Monday morning, I was ready to rumble—ready to be a good justice seeker and speak the much-needed truth to power.
Then, a friend much wiser than I asked a simple question, “Are you responding at this moment because you want to feel better about yourself, or because you are ready to do the hard work of true racial reconciliation?”
It was then it occurred to me that my angst to do something was far more self-soothing than my justice mind could admit.
Police sirens, flashing lights and the sound of bullets that probably aren’t rubber have painted far too many narratives of the things every black mother must explain to her children. As mothers, our job is to distill fear, narrate the worldly things our children do not understand and instill the tools needed to navigate the challenges ahead of them. I, as a white woman, can tell my son that the sounds he is hearing just means there’s a lot going on downtown. To a black mother, it can mean explaining why a friend or family member may not be coming home.
I don’t like my powerlessness in this conversation. But it is nothing compared to the power stripped from black families by a 400-year-old debacle that our country has yet to fully make amends.
And yes, the healing starts by recognizing there are, in fact, reparations to be made. But we, my Caucasian brothers and sisters, cannot understand the steps that will truly heal our country, our community and the lives of our black neighbors if we respond before having hard conversations with ourselves about why we show up.
A presence that seeks to feel better about ourselves, to simply claim a place on the right side of history, will not withstand the test of time. It may even lead us to dominate, to control and manage situations that, simply, aren’t ours to begin with.
A presence that seeks to listen and learn works toward a much greater outcome. It recognizes that we don’t own the table and an invitation to participate is a privilege we may not yet have earned.
As I have talked with my son about the events of this week, the flaw in the ways we have told the story of black America have been abundantly clear. “Mommy, I thought Martin Luther King ended racism,” he asks.
From the mouths of babes we know how very far we have to go.
Such is true, of most great moments in our history. The work of MLK, the end of the Holocaust, the downfall of the Apartheid brought many shameful injustices to a close. But we cannot assume that justice has been done and all is well, particularly from a place of privilege, when the story of our humanity is grounded in patterns of exile and return.
As the book of Ephesians reminds us, even with the promises that came in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ it is no small task to keep the forces of evil from finding new and innovative ways to draw us away from God, creation and one another.
We will need the full armor of God to defeat this injustice and the next and the one after that, “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood…but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Ephesians 6:12).
For true reconciliation to take place, each and every one of God’s children needs to show up in the conversation of this time. Showing up does not always mean we have to have the loudest voice or “do” anything other than listen and wrestle with ourselves.
It will not be comfortable, but spiritual warfare with a kingdom vision never is.
Meghann Cotter is executive director of Micah Ecumenical Ministries, a faith-based nonprofit that offers holistic care to the Fredericksburg’s street homeless.