In the United States it is the Martin Luther King, Jr. commemoration and one of three hundred and sixty-six days this year to think about race. We sing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” the poem by James Weldon Johnson set to music by John Rosamond Johnson, but I’m not sure it is good today to lift every voice because the voices of white folks in this country get a free Lyft all the time. So today two African American voices and two comments by me.
In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo writes this:
Say you get drunk in a bar and punch a stranger in the face, spend the night in jail, realize that your life has taken a turn for the worse, get treatment, stop drinking, and dedicate your life to anti-violence work. To the person that you punched that night, you may forever be the person who assaulted them. The person who made them scared to go into bars for a while. The person who made them feel violated. To the people you have helped since, you may always be a hero. The person who made them feel safer in the world.
These are both who you are, they are both valid and do not cancel each other out. If you run into the person you punched years later, they may well still be afraid of you, they may react with anger. They will treat you like someone who punched them, because you are. And even if you respond to that anger and fear like someone who abhors violence, because that is also who you are, you have no right to demand that they see you differently.
As a person in recovery, this illustration speaks to me where I live, because I know all too well on the personal level that making amends can be beautiful or self-serving and usually needs a trigger warning, but before this I never applied this to my whiteness. Now I do.
For the Living Psalms Project of the United Church of Christ Worshipways, Vahisha Hasan writes:
To a Leader. Of Civil Rights. A Psalm.
A Prayer for Freedom
1I patiently waited on that balcony Lord,
For you to hear my cry. You leaned in when I was murdered.
2And pulled me from this sunken place
full of segregated lunch counters and water hoses
You let me stand on the mountain top
With my marching feet firm
3And you gave Mahalia a new song,
“Take My Hand Precious Lord.”
Many saw the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,
And they honor and trust you, the liberating God.
4You bless all bodies who trust you, Lord,
And refuse to bow down to the idol of whiteness
Or follow manipulated whitewashed theologies.
5You, Lord God, have already brought our ancestors thus far on the way,
And you have the wildest dreams of our ancestors shadowed beneath your hand.
We let our rejoicing rise, high as the listening skies.
6Capitalistic production and nationalism are not what please you,
The blood of black bodies and the criminalization of poverty are not what you require.
7And so, I said, “We are God’s children. Our cry is the same, we want to be free.
Survival demands that we grapple…I have a dream.”
8Our freedom pleases you. We are going to march again.
Jim Crow laws are not your will. Your law is in my heart.
9When we worshipped together in Memphis,
You were there and heard me say,
“There is a certain kind of fire no amount of water can put out.”
10When your people gathered together and marched out of Clayborn Temple,
We did not remain silent in our message.
We said, “I Am A Man.”
11Do not, O Lord, withhold liberation from us in our lifetime;
Because you are faithful and merciful and your steadfast love keeps us
We know deep in our hearts, we believe deep in our hearts,
That We Shall Overcome. We Shall Overcome. We Shall Overcome Someday.
I hear this as the truth in psalm for today.
Maren C. Tirabassi is white. Her most recent book is A Child Laughs – Prayers for Justice and Hope, an anthology with seventy-seven writers from eleven countries. She is a guest preacher, new author mentor, and workshop facilitator with prison inmates, new English speakers, and cancer and dementia patients. Maren blogs at http://firstname.lastname@example.org/
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