Inspire! Topic: Racism

Inspire! Topic: Racism
January 12, 2019

We’ve been at this a long time haven’t we? Well we are not going to stop talking about it until we don’t need to talk about it any more. So here we go again! Today I’d like to talk about starting out like this mixing bowl. A blank slate – a clear bowl of water – untarnished and clean. This is us in our most ideal state. Open, flowing, nurturing, life giving. Before the world, our culture, our norms get to us.

We’ve been at this a long time haven’t we? Well we are not going to stop talking about it until we don’t need to talk about it any more. So here we go again! Today I’d like to talk about starting out like this mixing bowl. A blank slate – a clear bowl of water – untarnished and clean. This is us in our most ideal state. Open, flowing, nurturing, life giving. Before the world, our culture, our norms get to us.

This is where those cultural norms started to muddy my own water. This is me and my family. I grew up on the other side of the drawbridge in Fruitport. My mother grew up in Muskegon Heights and my father in Muskegon. Both of my parents’ families moved - intentionally. Any idea why? Yes. I am a child of white flight. I am a straight, cis-gendered women. Other than a bit of osteoporosis, I am healthy in my middle age. I was raised in the Christian church and am an ordained interfaith minister. In many ways, I am a child of privilege.

This is where those cultural norms started to muddy my own water. This is me and my family. I grew up on the other side of the drawbridge in Fruitport. My mother grew up in Muskegon Heights and my father in Muskegon. Both of my parents’ families moved - intentionally. Any idea why? Yes. I am a child of white flight. I am a straight, cis-gendered women. Other than a bit of osteoporosis, I am healthy in my middle age. I was raised in the Christian church and am an ordained interfaith minister. In many ways, I am a child of privilege.

So back to the clear Water - Privilege is usually invisible to the people who have it. People in dominant groups often believe that they have earned the privileges that they enjoy or that everyone can have these privileges if they work hard enough. But privilege is unearned and it is granted to people in dominant groups whether they want that privilege or not.

In the United States, privilege is granted to people who have membership in one or more of these social identity groups:    So here’s the deal. You can’t get rid of privilege. You can’t give it away and you can’t shame it away. You can’t. So don’t bother feeling bad about having it. Have it. Own it. And do something with it.  Because privilege gives us power.

In the United States, privilege is granted to people who have membership in one or more of these social identity groups:

So here’s the deal. You can’t get rid of privilege. You can’t give it away and you can’t shame it away. You can’t. So don’t bother feeling bad about having it. Have it. Own it. And do something with it.

Because privilege gives us power.

Power is the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. It’s the ability to make things happen. Power makes decisions – like who gets access to resources. Most often the people with the power are the people in society who enjoy certain privileges.

Power is the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events. It’s the ability to make things happen. Power makes decisions – like who gets access to resources. Most often the people with the power are the people in society who enjoy certain privileges.

Last month I was in Egypt leading a Cultural Immersion Experience for Extended Grace. These trips are not vacations or mission trips. They are about spending time with and getting to know people from a different culture who have an entirely different way of viewing the world. They are life changing experiences because they help us see the lens through which we see the world – and when you see the lens itself, it changes everything. We can do the same thing without ever boarding a plane. We only need to be willing to truly listen to people who do not belong in the same dominant or non-dominant group that we belong in to understand that we really experience the world differently. That our life experiences are genuinely different and as a result we see the world through a different lens.

Last month I was in Egypt leading a Cultural Immersion Experience for Extended Grace. These trips are not vacations or mission trips. They are about spending time with and getting to know people from a different culture who have an entirely different way of viewing the world. They are life changing experiences because they help us see the lens through which we see the world – and when you see the lens itself, it changes everything. We can do the same thing without ever boarding a plane. We only need to be willing to truly listen to people who do not belong in the same dominant or non-dominant group that we belong in to understand that we really experience the world differently. That our life experiences are genuinely different and as a result we see the world through a different lens.

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When we understand that, we stop being defensive. And we start to understand that we all play a role in maintaining the systems that were put in place generations ago. We have to begin unpacking the role we play in sustaining those systems – consciously and unconsciously. If you are like me, you don’t like to see yourself as part of the problem. I would rather be the exception. You, too?
But the fact is that very few people are magically exempt from a lifetime of social conditioning.

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When talking about the specific bias of race, white educator and academic, Dr. Robin Diangelo, calls us out for our White Fragility. The disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged. White fragility is a powerful force for holding racism in place because it keeps white people like me from acknowledging our own participation in racist systems. The all too common expression “I don’t see color” is a perfect example. When we make the argument that race doesn’t or shouldn’t matter, we avoid having to wrestle with how much it does matter.

The first challenge then is to accept the idea that racism/sexism/homophobia/islamophobia isn’t just about dealing with conscious biases held by mean people.

In fact, whenever we belong to a group of privilege, we need to be alert to our immediate desire to not be like other people of our privilege and to adopt instead an attitude of humility and vigilance. Because we are part of the problem. Which means we ARE part of the solution.

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.Today there are a lot of ugly things being said. My hope is that in saying those things out loud, we will be able to begin a true conversation about the stereotypes and misperceptions we continue to carry with us through the generations. Because the sentiments aren’t new. They have been there all along, just lying under the surface.

I think liberals like me are partly to blame for that. With our desire to create diversity and inclusion, I think we have sometimes made the mistake of trying to use shame and embarrassment to affect change. But when use guilt and shame as a tool, we only add toxicity to the process and make change even more unlikely. 

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So what can we do instead? We can harness the power of Yes!

This is what we’ve done at the Momentum Center. We have and continue to work very diligently to identify who in our society is without power and how we can change that dynamic. We wrestle with creating a community that is safe and diverse and utterly inclusive. We know that we are a work in progress but we started by believing it’s possible.

To harness the power of Yes, we need to begin by believing we can fix this! And by understanding that those solutions aren’t easy. They are as complex as the problems they seek to solve.

This implies a process, an unfolding, a progression. This is not a single game of chess that you win or lose. And it’s certainly not one Rotary Meeting. It’s a strategic assessment of relationships and inter-dependencies. If we’re going to find the answers, we have to stay in the game. It will test our resiliency. It will test our resolve. It’s easier, especially for those of us with privilege, to give in to “that’s the way it’s always been,” to give up, to let go. If we are going to find solutions, we need to find the energy and the tenacity to hold onto the rope in a game of tug and war with forces around us and within us that seek to maintain the status quo. We have to remember it isn’t up to us to solve the whole problem. It is our job to do something. To care enough to figure out that one thing we can do and then do it.

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Second, solutions are going to require that we be authentic and vulnerable. We need to drop the charade and admit that we really don’t have all the answers, that we struggle with our own demons, that we are all products of an imperfect environment. We have to be authentic and vulnerable because it’s the only way we can invite others to be authentic and vulnerable with us.

 When we start to humbly admit our own shortcomings, we develop compassion toward the shortcomings of others and we seek to preserve each person’s sense of dignity and self-respect while offering healthier alternatives for working together in this world.

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This is the kind of environment we want to operate in today. We want this to be a safe place to have a difficult conversation.

We all need to find people in our lives whom we can trust with ourselves. People who can listen to us share our biases and our prejudices and still accept and love us, even as they respectfully challenge us to be our best self. Today we get the opportunity to listen to a black man, a Latina women and a white mother of black children as they share their lived experiences.

Finally, we need to engage our creative imagination.

Just because something is entrenched doesn’t mean it can’t be overcome. We need to see society like we see ourselves - not as a something that has been established, but as something that is still in process, evolving, changing, learning and growing as it goes.

So for our reflective exercise today, I want to invite you to claim your bias. We all have bias. It’s part of being human. But when we start to recognize and own our bias, we can control it instead of letting it control us. You have a piece of paper in front on you. On that paper I want you to write a bias or a stereotype you carry with you. Don’t waste your time feeling guilt or shame about it, just own it. Then come up to this clear bowl of water and at least symbolically let it go. Watch it dissolve and then sit back down.

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We had our mixing bowl filled with invisible privilege and then we added our last ingredient – our biases, prejudices, false believes and opinions – all based on a lack of information.


I want you to notice something important. Is the water clear anymore? No, it’s not. And it will never be clear again. Once you recognize your own privilege, you can’t ignore it any longer. Whether it is being male or being white or being straight or being Christian, or being able bodied or being able minded or being middle class or being middle aged – whatever privilege you have remains but now the residue of the biases that have been part of the experience of invisible privilege make it visible – something you can no longer ignore but instead are responsible to use for making a better world for all of us.

Next, we are prompted to further consider these questions:

1. Find one person and unpack something. It might be the bias you wrote down. It might be something about you or your family or your background that speaks to privilege. It could be a hurt you are carrying. I want you to share something meaningful – but something that you feel safe sharing. Vulnerability is a great act of courage, but we should only give the amount of trust to a relationship that it deserves.

1. Find one person and unpack something. It might be the bias you wrote down. It might be something about you or your family or your background that speaks to privilege. It could be a hurt you are carrying. I want you to share something meaningful – but something that you feel safe sharing. Vulnerability is a great act of courage, but we should only give the amount of trust to a relationship that it deserves.

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Many thanks to Wes, Amy, and Sonya for being open to sharing their personal experiences regarding Racism!

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We are thankful for Marco’s Pizza of Spring Lake for being this season’s Inspire! Food Sponsor!

And, thank you to David Lewis for being the Underwriter for this month’s Inspire! Event.

And, thank you to David Lewis for being the Underwriter for this month’s Inspire! Event.