I’m feeling a deep sadness this morning. And uncertain about what to do about it. This is one of the times I’m perhaps writing mainly for myself.
I don’t believe we can make any progress on justice issues until we confront the enslavement of black peoples, the genocide of native peoples, and the ongoing oppression and racism.
These days of rage triggered by the public execution of George Floyd are an eruption of the anger from centuries of the continued enslavement of people of color in this country. Iron shackles have been replaced with political and economic systems designed to continue enslavement by these means.
Following is a story I wrote yesterday.
I would really rather stay out of this but that would be the kind of silence that is complicit with not confronting racism. I will only speak from my own experience. I sought out, and built relationships with my friends at the Kheprw Institute when in Indianapolis. Those relationships involved spiritual connections from the first meeting.
I would spend at least one Sunday a week there for several years. The first time I began to really get even a tiny insight into what it is like to live as a black person in the U.S. white society was when I was in a discussion with a woman who broke down in tears and could barely speak about how terrified she was every time a child of hers left the house. How terrified she was until they returned. And it was obvious that every single person of color in that group knew exactly what she was saying/feeling, shared that terror themselves.
That was a visceral blow to me. Even from my privilege as a white person, I never felt the same after that experience.
White people get upset about violence in terms of rioting, etc, but that is mainly about physical violence to material objects.
But that relentless, second by second terror for the safety of your loved ones is a terrible thing to bear. A terrible violence.
ALL THAT WE ARE IS STORYRichard Wagamese (October 14, 1955-March 10, 2017) Ojibwe from Wabeseemoong Independent Nations, Canada
From the moment we are born to the time we continue on our spirit journey, we are involved in the creation of the story of our time here. It is what we arrive with. It is all we leave behind. We are not the things we accumulate. We are not the things we deem important. We are story. All of us. What comes to matter then is the creation of the best possible story we can while we’re here; you, me, us, together. When we can do that and we take the time to share those stories with each other, we get bigger inside, we see each other, we recognize our kinship — we change the world one story at a time.
The fundamental question is, how to we create these stories of change? The only way is to move outside our comfort zone, and build relationships, friendships, with people whose experience is different from our own. Stories of change don’t come from your status quo.
As my friend Ronnie James writes:
I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.
So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”Ronnie James
What follows is written by my friend Imhotep Adisa.
Is equity possible in a world after COVID-19? By IMHOTEP ADISA, Indianapolis Recorder, May 15, 2020
Over the last couple of years, the word equity has become more and more prominent in discussions of how to address growing poverty and inequality along lines of race, class and gender. In light of the coronavirus, equity for those in impoverished communities, mainly those of color, is almost unattainable.
America’s preexisting conditions
In my view, there are three preexisting conditions that already had a large number of people questioning the morality and sustainability of our social order:
1. The resurgence of racist ideologies which has made possible the current presidency, which in turn has refueled the resurgence.
2. The resurgence has re-awakened a segment of society that felt the fight for civil rights had already been won.
3. The concern that growing wealth disparities will eventually lead to social instability and put the entire social order at risk.
Faced with unemployment that is probably close to 20%, levels not seen since the Great Depression, the push to make our society more equitable has transcended identity politics and been brought into the mainstream.
Resistance to change
Though there may be a lot of energy and interest in changing our society, in truth, any critical look at past efforts to make America a more equitable society will show that the challenges of doing so are often met with lots of resistance, trickery and violence. Inequitable structural conditions simply change their clothes, as folks attempt to create a more equitable society.
If we’re honest about it, this country has never been equitable. In fact, it was built on inequity and it continues to be fueled by inequitable structures.
Continue to push for something different
How can we create some processes and procedures to mitigate inequity in our social, legal and economic structures? How can we begin some conversations about creating a system that is equitable? What can each of us do in the present to advance equity in our society? And how do we continue to fight for equity during these difficult times?
First and foremost, all of us, every last one of us, must engage others in our work, home and play spaces to have honest, open and authentic conversations around the issue of inequity. Some of us, particularly those in positions of power, must have the courage and strength to look more deeply at the inequitable structures that exist within their own organizations and institutions.
As layoffs and lockdowns free up our time and mental energy, we can put energy daily into building relationships that can birth more equitable ways of being through genuine human connection and opportunities for empowerment, agency, self-determination and rebirth. The old structures and false solutions do not provide the promise of equity. At this moment, we need brave new connections that begin to pave the way for a better path forward.
Imhotep Adisa is the executive director and co-founder of the Kheprw Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering youth and building community wealth in Indianapolis.
I believe Imhotep is correct. “Every one of us must engage with others to have honest, open and authentic conversations around the issue of inequity.” Imhotep and the Kheprw Institute community did that by inviting the public to monthly book discussions of books that were about inequities.
A number of Quakers from North Meadow Circle of Friends came to these discussions and engaged. Often we were the majority of the white people who came.
At one of those discussions I remember Imhotep saying “having these discussions is revolutionary.” And I saw he was right.
Creating these opportunities takes a lot of time and work. There are no quick fixes. But out of those stories we did begin to change the world. I’m not sure there is any other way.