Author Robin DiAngelo in her best selling book, White Fragility, describes white people’s complicity in the societal structures of racism as an inescapable consequence of our being silent. This silence provides us the cover to deny we have any responsibility to make right an unjust system that in its undeniable effects favors ‘us’ and punishes ‘them.’ Ms. DiAngelo explains this denial does not necessarily make a person ‘bad,’ that that is actually irrelevant, but, that denial sanctions those racist structures. To deny this reality is to sustain it, and that is not what we want to do.
“I’m not racist,” or “I’m not prejudiced against anyone” does not fly anymore, for it lets us white folk off the hook. Unless we in this moment are actively doing something about the advantages accrued to ‘us’ that are precluded to ‘them,’ we are perpetuating injustice, where nothing changes and we enable systemic discrimination and violence to persist. It is too easy to write of these things in the abstract, but we are talking about human lives, sisters and brothers of ours, children, and seniors who are forced to climb mountains we are mindlessly oblivious of.
Each of us has to reckon with the evil that infects our country. Racist structures do not just happen, but are the consequence of fear, which quickly morphs into hatred, of imposing our dis-ease onto another human being solely because whom we have marked them ‘not one of us.’ But it is a fundamental misapprehension of what it is to be human to believe that there is a ‘them’ and an ‘us.’
Ibram X. Kendi distills this down to its essence, writing in How To Be An Antiracist, “. . . the basic struggle we’re all in, the struggle to be fully human and to see that others are fully human. ” To see that others are fully human acknowledges all we share in that humanity; we all love, we all stagger through loss and celebrate in joy, we all are bound by our fears, our aspirations, our mortality, together. We are bound to each other.
“I believe that the key to creating society that is nourishing, empowering and healing for everyone lies in how we relate to one another.”
So, just how are we to relate to one another? Father Gregory Boyle, S.J., a priest in Los Angeles who with community members founded Homeboy Industries in 1988, has created a vision of relating that is actually possible. Homeboy Industries has grown to become the largest gang-intervention program in the world, providing job training, counseling, tattoo removal, employment opportunities, and most importantly, a portal to a community where a ‘them’ does not exist, only ‘us.’
Thousands of women and men have chosen to renounce their gang affiliation and make a change in their lives at Homeboy. Former enemies work side by side, proving that it is possible to come to respect and love someone you formerly were at war with. Fr. Boyle writes, “You want to imagine a community of kinship such that God in fact might recognize it.”
Describing kinship in his 2017 book, Barking To The Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship, Greg asks:
“How do we awaken from the dream of separateness, from an abiding sense that the chasm that exists between us cannot be reconciled? For it would seem that the gulf in our present age could not be wider between Us and Them. How do we tame this status quo that lulls us into blindly accepting the things that divide us and keep us from our own holy longing for the mutuality of kinship –– a sure and certain sense that we belong to each other?
’. . .that we belong to each other.’ In light of the wounds racism has left on the body of our nation, is a sense of our belonging to each other even possible? Do we have it in us to admit that we have deluded ourselves by refusing to see, by choosing to ‘sit this one out’ when members of our human family are suffering? To seek forgiveness and to allow a change of heart? It is a lie that buys in to the notion that we are separate little universes, safely isolated in our bitter little orbits. Separating ourselves from each other is an act against what it is to be human. Martin Luther King wrote,
“‘I’ cannot reach fulfillment without ‘thou.’ The self cannot be self without other selves. Self-concern without other-concern is like a tributary that has no outward flow to the ocean.”
I will never be my ‘fully human’ self until the blossoming of your ‘fully human’ self. Our healing and thriving as a nation, as communities, and as individuals will only begin the moment each of us recognizes that it is only in ‘your’ flourishing that ‘my’ fulfillment will be possible.