09 Jun Black Lives Matter Discussions
9 June 2020
By David Allen, Development for Conservation
I can’t write about fundraising this week – I – Just – Can’t. Fundraising will be back next week.
I have been interested in recent days and weeks to see all the companies and nonprofits – overwhelmingly white – lining up behind the Black Lives Matter movement. Interested not necessarily because of the words chosen, but because of the perceived importance of choosing them so publicly.
As if absolution were so simple!
Black Lives Matter. Together, we stand in solidarity with the Black community—our employees, customers, and partners—in the fight against systemic racism and injustice.
At Belardi Wong, we are fortunate to work with so many outstanding brands and non-profits, including our longstanding collaboration with the NAACP. During these turbulent times, Belardi Wong is standing in solidarity with those fighting for justice, diversity, and equality by making a charitable donation to our partners at the NAACP.
– Belardi Wong
My in box is filled with dozens of messages like these. And the land trust community is chiming with our own expressions of solidarity:
Conservation is crucial but not sufficient for ensuring that ALL people have the opportunity to live freely and prosper in healthy communities. It is deeply wrong that a Black person has to worry about being accosted and threatened while birdwatching in a park. It is evil that simply encountering law enforcement or jogging while Black can be the cause of death.
The board and staff of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association are horrified by the suffering of countless persons at the hands of systemic racism and injustice. We hope that our outrage and that of others brought on by the killing of George Floyd, coupled with action, can help propel system-level changes and within-system reforms to create a more just society. May we have the strength and wisdom to meaningfully contribute to creating healthy, prosperous, and secure communities for everyone.
– Pennsylvania Land Trust Association
We acknowledge that many of our neighbors and colleagues have known and lived generations of racial oppression – and have been vocally and bodily demanding change all along.
We acknowledge that, as a primarily white staff, our privilege, ignorance, and inaction are all part of the problem. To be an anti-racist organization, we must prioritize the needs and voices of our colleagues and partners of color – without layering the burden of our overdue education on top of their trauma.
– Sustainable Conservation
I can’t add much to this necessary dialogue. As a white male of considerable privilege, the very fact that I am able to earn a living working in the conservation space is testament to my place in our racist culture. I am at once grateful and discomfited.
So I sat down to write about it this morning and failed. Of course, I stand with the Black Lives Matter movement. To do otherwise would be unconscionable.
But I have no standing.
What I can do instead is pass along excerpts from two powerful writers I have found particularly motivating. I hope you will forgive my punting this week, and find these two pieces provocative.
Q: Why is it that at the beginning, America got the Puritans and Australians got the convicts?
A: Because Australia had first pick.
My experience has been that when there is a large gathering of people in Australia, it is a common practice to begin, not with their pledge of allegiance or their national anthem, but in what’s called an acknowledgement of country.
A leader addresses the gathered people by saying “I would like to acknowledge that this meeting is being held on the traditional lands of the (for instance, Ngarro) people, and pay my respect to their elders both past and present.”
I cannot imagine this happening with any regularity in America. Why? Because from the beginning of this country, Christians have done evil and called it good. We have used God’s name to commit horrible sins and rather than repenting, just repackaged the evil. (slavery -> Jim Crow -> voter suppression -> redlining -> police brutality -> school to prison pipeline)
I am persuaded that the venom of white supremacy runs deeply in us as a country and a people, for a very specific reason: because the fangs that delivered it were given not the devil’s name, but God’s. When slavery, genocide and land theft is established as “God’s will”, it delivers a poison that can infect the deepest parts of a country while exonerating evil. Because messages that are transmitted to us in God’s name imbed far beneath the surface, all the way down to our original place, our createdness, our source code. And that shit does not just go away because we read a Ta-Nehisi Coates book or happen to have a Black grandchild.
Wokeness and policy change and celebrating diversity are a start, but not nearly enough to dig out the full infection. We must repent of the original sins of this country. Christian sins. Because the toxic heresy of God-ordained domination is a spiritual malady, not a cosmetic one.
This is why when people ask me, “why are you still connected to the institution of the church?” I can only answer, “because I believe that scripture and theology and liturgy are too potent to be left in the hands of those who only use them to justify their dominance over another group of people.”
Nadia Bolz-Weber is an author, Lutheran minister and public theologian. She served as the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Denver, Colorado, until July 8, 2018.
When our fundamental understanding of racism is transformed, so are our assumptions and resultant behaviors. Imagine the difference in our environment, interactions, norms, and policies if the following list described our assumptions:
- Being good or bad is not relevant.
- Racism is multi-layered and embedded in our culture.
- All of us are socialized into the system of racism.
- Racism cannot be avoided.
- Whites have blind spots on racism. I have blind spots on racism.
- Whites are and I am invested in racism.
- Bias is implicit and unconscious. I don’t expect to be aware of mine without a lot of ongoing effort.
- Authentic antiracism is rarely comfortable. Discomfort is key to my growth and thus desirable.
- White comfort maintains the racial status quo, so discomfort is necessary and important.
- I must not confuse comfort with safety. As a white person, I am always safe in discussions of racism.
- Given my socialization, it is much more likely that I am the one who doesn’t understand the issue.
- Racism hurts (even kills) people of color 24-7. Interrupting it is more important than my feelings, ego, or self-image.
Interrupting racism takes courage and intentionality; the interruption is by definition not passive or complacent. So in answer to the question: “Where do we go from here?,” I offer that we must never consider ourselves finished with our learning. Even if challenging all the racism and superiority we have internalized was quick and easy to do, our racism would be reinforced all over again just by virtue of living in this culture.
Robin Diangelo is an academic, lecturer, and author and has been a consultant and trainer on issues of racial and social justice for more than twenty years. She formerly served as a tenured professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University. This excerpt is from her book White Fragility – Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. She also lectures from the book on a YouTube video here. (It’s an hour and a half, but well worth the time.)
I have not been really touched by much of this on a personal level. I am privileged. I am healthy. My wife and I are both employed and own our home. We have plenty to eat. And our kids are similarly blessed. All products of our racist society.
I have no standing.
What I can do, and pledge to do, is to become aware of how what I say, and how I act, contributes to the problem.
What I can do, and pledge to do, is to accept feedback whenever and however it comes – knowing that how it comes is not as relevant as the feedback itself.
What I can do, and pledge to do, is to understand that this work will never be finished.
As always, your comments, reflections, and stories are welcomed here.
Cheers, and have a great week!
Photo by Bonnie Moreland courtesy Stocksnap.io