Was Blind but Now...

I consider my friend Dan and my son Santiago to be among my biggest teachers, and they did not fail me in their feedback on my recent missive, "Black" Matters, in which I compare Black Lives Matter with All Lives Matter.
Dan, who is white, felt that my missive served to "afflict the comfortable," but did not fully close the gap. "Just why," he posited as devil's advocate, "do we (as persons of privilege) need to shut up and get it?" Santi stated it more directly - "You're not African-American. So why are you writing about Black Lives Matter?"

In their book, "Counseling the Culturally Diverse: Theory and Practice," psychologists Derald and David Sue describe four steps toward building cultural capacity: 1) Awareness of your own behaviors, values, biases and beliefs; 2) Knowledge and understanding of the worldview of other cultures; 3) Skills in practicing appropriate, relevant and sensitive strategies; and 4) Advocacy in creating a culture of respect and equity.
As one who seeks to promote racial and cultural healing, and as a citizen of this increasingly smaller world, I do seek to foster my own awareness and knowledge so I can become a skillful and strong advocate. For me, understanding the world through the African-American perspective has been a guiding light in that journey.
Biases transmitted through common sayings (in Chinese) like, "Stay out of the sun, or you'll become a Black person," speak to where my journey began. I look now at the books on my desk (see list below), and these reflect my current quest for knowledge on the African-American experience. Through self-study,  reflection, and conversation with my Black friends, I hope that the skills I have developed reflect my advocacy and passion for justice, equity and healing.
We all have our own lenses by which we navigate the world. They include social constructs for gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ability, religion, family context and nationality. For us with less rank and status, these lenses serve to impede our journeys and limit our range of possibilities. Such lenses are permanent. Even if one could "pass" in the greater society, the worldview from the inside out as a woman, a gay man, a poor person or an African-American remains.  
Those with more rank and status find few things to impede them. By intention and deliberate discomfort, an individual with higher rank can see life through the worldview of an individual of lesser rank. I found discomfort in exploring my own biases and lack of knowledge regarding African-Americans. Now, I can't imagine seeing the world without these perspectives and understanding in my role as an advocate.
"But why do we need to get it?" Dan's and Santi's voices kept ringing in my head.
My husband Greg answered that question. "Every day, I ask myself as a school principal, 'how can I make my school better for Black kids?'" He explained that in his thirty years as an educator, he knows that if the school is better for the African-American students, it's better for all students.  His answer to Dan and Santi might be a pragmatic one. What is the best means by which to achieve the desired end.
Years ago, my pastor, Rev. Jim Mitulski, said, "Black people have been karmicly chosen to be a guiding light for justice and equity on this planet.  The fact that we don't do enough to achieve justice and equity for Black folks is an indicator that we (especially those of us who are not Black) need to do more work." His offering to Dan and Santi might speak to fate and destiny and guiding elements within our souls.
For John Newton (1725-1807) the words "was blind but now I see" speak to an epiphany he had as a slave trader. While captaining a slave ship, he saw himself as "one of Satan's undertemptors." Once blind and now given new sight, Mr. Newton penned "Amazing Grace," claiming that it was his spiritual autobiography in verse. He later championed the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, which abolished the slave trade in the British Empire.
President Obama invoked these lyrics in his eulogy of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney as well:
"For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens...the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now."
For many of us, the tragic events of the past year have opened our eyes to the insidious and systemic nature of racism in our society. The events have come to light at such a pace that we have not been able to turn a blind eye and pretend it away. It's uncomfortable, but necessary, to keep our eyes open, see what is happening and get about the business of building awareness, knowledge, and skills to become the advocates we need to be.   


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Four books I recommend on the African-American narrative in the are -
The Half Has Never Been Told:Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism by Edward E. Baptist
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
The New Jim Crow:Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Freedom's Daughters by Lynne Olson

You can view President Obama's eulogy of Rev. Clementa Pinckney here

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