The heart (not just the head) of anti-racism

I was reminded today about why I do anti-racism work.

By way of background, I am in the redwoods, at an AMAZING retreat with twenty other “young” changemakers. (The age range is 20-40ish.) It has been a phenomenal week grounded in how we can support each other to strengthen our work and how we can create a world where every person’s gifts are valued and every person’s needs are met. Some of us are radical activists (and no, I’m not on the radical end of the spectrum – well, not at the END of the end of the spectrum), some of us are artists, some of us are social service providers, and on and on. Every person has been a gift to know, and every activity has helped me look at my work in a new, more sustainable way. One of the themes of the week is around being seen.

The premise (and I agree) is that every person, deep down, wants to be known in the fullness of their complexity. We live in a world that moves so fast some of us don’t know what that complexity is and some of us think we have to mask it and almost all of us are too rushed to fully acknowledge and see and truly listen to those in our lives. We’ve done some good work at practicing that this week, and I think we will carry it back into our communities across North America in ways that will help us build up dignity and love in our communities.

We’ve done a couple of sessions this week that have been tricky for me – one on race and one on gender/sexuality. So in the spirit of seeking to be seen, I mentioned this in our group circle last night, sharing that these sessions had been hard for me because without bringing some systemic analysis of race and gender into the conversation, it was hard for me to be seen. What I meant by that was that a person can love me deeply and still not see all of me if they don’t see that sexism (and heterosexism and racism and classism) affect the way we are experienced in the world and how we interact with each other and how we thrive or don’t. And I can’t see all of another person when those –ism’s are invisible to me, too. It was really interesting, because I felt really supported by the group, and a couple of people expressed to me that they resonated with what I said, but it was disturbing to others, who shared the ways they experienced systemic analysis as a cudgel to shut down their stories and experiences or how it moved them out of their heart and into their head. And it took a while and some off-to-the-sides conversations, but I realized the great gift and privilege I have had in that I have gotten to do the work of anti-oppression in the church.

See, many of my circle mates have gone to WAY more progressive colleges than I did, or they have been in WAY more intellectually rigorous (Marxist/anarchist) movements than I have and their exposure to this work has been academic and disembodied. There is nothing life-giving about anti-racism or systemic analysis the way they have engaged it. They have only experienced it as a heady and abstract thing (unless it directly affects their community) and it does nothing to bring people together.

I hadn’t realized before how life-giving it is to do anti-racism work in the church, with the assumption that our goal is to be in full relationship with one another, and that God dreams for us a beloved community in which we know one another and are fully known. And that is WHY we engage in these conversations about systems and power – because those systems seek to separate us and misshape our God-given identities.

And if we truly crave to be equally beloved children, we need to take down the barriers and level the land that keeps us from one another no matter how badly we want to know each other.

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