I watched a video on talking to kids about racism, which so plainly called it what it is: a manifestation of sin.
Like all sins that separate us from Christ, to fully address it, we are required to understand our inherited inequities, as well as our known and unknown participation in trespasses against God and our neighbor. It requires confession, repentance, and reconciliation.
Throughout my interactions with race, I always tick through my “not a racist” checklist. Mostly good person, check. Friends and coworkers with people of color, check. Respect them, check. Fear them, no. Worked to fight the education and health systems that have inadequately served them, check. Give of myself and my resources, check.
But, today as I write this, I better understand that it’s not enough to consider myself not racist. I must understand the history of racism and my role in it, challenge it, and work against it. That mental checklist I held onto isn't enough. That passive, self promotion gets us no where. It's like trying to prove to God that I'm an okay person and occasionally did a good deed - without the repentance, reconciliation, and relationship that are required.
Since the day I learned about George Floyd's murder, I've pledged to finally make my way through the anti-racism literature, podcasts, and documentaries that so many have shared after each one of these horrific incidents. (Thank you for taking the time to share, even in your grief.) My “not-racist” declarations had been left unexamined for far too long.
With the sun setting so late recently, I've used that extra daylight to pull weeds in my garden, while listening to these vulnerable books, podcasts, and discussions. Pulling weeds has given me such a physical and visual representation of the hard heart work necessary to fight racism. I know it is simplistic to think of racism as weeds. And probably offensive to even compare the generations of systemic oppression of black people to the minor effects weeds have on my backyard tomatoes. So - with that totally understood, I ask you to bear with me.
When I stand back, from the safety of my kitchen window, looking at my garden - I only see the beauty of my blackberries, the flowering hollyhocks, and growing tomatoes. But, as I walk closer, the forest of weeds becomes more evident.
I'm not a bad gardener because I have weeds. I didn't plant them intentionally. They are there because they were there the season before, and the one before that - and their roots or seeds have survived. They are brought in or blown in by other animals or forces. I introduced them unintentionally when I seeded my grass.
Even though I didn't put weeds in my garden purposely, they are there. And they would take over if I let them.
Indeed, what would make me a bad gardener is to allow them to flourish.
As a white person, I am the beneficiary of a system that has allowed me and my family advancement, comfort, and safety - while not affording the same privilege to people of color. I'm not a bad person because of that; I'm a bad person when I don't try to change it.
That privilege and implicit bias are the legacy of racism, and at the same time, the cause of it's continuance today. The system has roots in days of yore, that have seeded out, perpetuating a cycle of racism.
It took me years to look deeper into my role in that system - yet another privilege I am afforded - resting instead in the beauty and comfort of feeling like a decent, not racist person. Even though I believe that I don't have hate in my heart nor ill intentions, I have implicitly furthered a system, a government, a culture, a country that has harmed my neighbor. Therefore, I have participated in racism.
Racism, much like the weeds in my garden, manifests itself in so many different ways. There are the prickly weeds that hurt on contact - like watching George Floyd die on camera, as police officers acted as judge, jury, and executioner. There are weeds that are easily seen, like dandelions - like racial slurs. Weeds can also pretend to be pretty, like these wildflowers growing in my asparagus patch - much like saying "I'm colorblind and all lives matter!"
And - what's hardest to grasp - is they can be like this blackberry bush trying to grow in my flower bed. My blackberries are one of the highlights of my garden, intentionally grown and lovingly cultivated. But, in my flower bed, it's invasive. It's a weed. Likewise, the people, projects, organizations, and party platforms that seemingly are meant to cultivate fruit for communities of color, can have the most adverse, albeit unintended, effects - like housing policies or a war on drugs.
Without our specific attention and backbreaking work to pull these weeds - they will take over.
So many conversations about racism seem to lead to one loaded question: what's the solution? Much like weed control, there doesn't seem to be one answer. And, it requires all efforts, working in tandem.
There's prevention - laying down weed paper, and teaching our kids to be and do better.
There's finding the single weeds when they are small and plucking them without hesitation. When those feelings of guilt or shame or fear or confusion or bias bubble up - don't ignore them. Pull their roots.
There are instances, like this bed of pollinator flowers, where so much good is growing - but so many weeds are too. I think this is probably the most analogous to many of our hearts. It's a tangled mess, with no easy way forward. We don't want to see the racism in our history, our religion, our politics, our families, ourselves - but it is there. It takes hours (and hours and hours) of diligent work to separate the weeds from the flowers. But, the result is worth it.
Perhaps, other times, it's like this flower bed. There was almost no good growing - only weeds. So, we completely turned over the soil, removed the weeds, and planted something else entirely. As horrible as these riots are, is this a chance to grow something new?
But most of all, it requires confession, repentance, and reconciliation.
I say all of this, not as a master gardener, nor as an enlightened white person who has arrived in a place of anti-racist unity, and definitely not as a perfect Christian. I recognize fully that I might read this in a year, as I pull weeds from next year’s garden, and be utterly horrified at my blatant and obvious lack of understanding.
Indeed, I will fight weeds, my sinful nature, and racism my entire life. They will find new places and new ways to grow, requiring new ways to fight them. But the fight is worth it, for the sake of my flowers, my fruit, my fellow man, myself.
I end this - not asking whether there are weeds in your garden. I know there are. Instead, I ask: how and when are you going to recognize them, pull them, and work to prevent them?
There are so many voices much stronger, more eloquent, more informed than mine. Indeed, I share this, not as an expert - but instead offer it up as a confessor on a path toward reconciliation.
I sincerely hope you find the voices that can guide you. Some that I have let into my psyche:
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
Ibrahim X. Kendi - he was on Brene Brown’s podcast for a quick discussion on being an anti-racist. Or for a much longer, harder, deeper exploration, his book How to Be an Anti-Racist.
So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Be the Bridge - Latasha Morrison
If you know me, you know I love Peloton. Their instructors have shared amazingly powerful videos and rides, both on the platform and their personal IG accounts.
Ava DuVernay - 13th and Selma
I’m making my way through Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad, which is a workbook with journal prompts for introspection, reflection, and growth.
Jen Hatmaker and Lisa Sharon Harper hosted a really great Facebook discussion on White Women’s Toxic Tears
More here: bit.ly/ANTIRACISMRESOURCES