“What’s the next step?” she asked. After a pause, one of them finally spoke.
“Calling all white people.” Everyone nodded. The project of dismantling racism must begin within the dominant culture that perpetuates it – including in subtle ways not always recognized. That’s why this is white people’s work to do.
We came to Unity for healing. We thought that we might find something to assuage our wounds, and we did. We found fellow travelers and learned new principles and practices. However, something was missing. We thought love was enough, but it wasn’t. Unfinished business and untreated trauma were hidden in plain sight. In any relationship or spiritual community, there can be no intimacy without honesty.
When Rev. Craig-Purcell announced from the pulpit that she was forming a white allies group, my wife Lori and I jumped at the chance. We read Debby Irving’s book Waking Up White. We watched Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th. And we studied The White Ally Toolkit, written by David W. Campt, Ph.D., which teaches anti-racism allies how to have more effective conversations with white people who think racism is not real.
We shared our decades-long confusion and ignorance around the vexing question of race. It was life-changing, and it was difficult. We lost some folks along the way, and facing our own unwitting complicity in a system that has harmed so many wasn’t easy. But we persisted, encouraged each other, and kept our eyes on the prize.
One of the most bracing things we learned was that as white people we had the option of checking out. Whenever it became uncomfortable we could retreat to the safety of denial and avoidance. African Americans don’t have this privilege – they live in this work 24/7. Feeling uncomfortable, we decided, is a small price to pay compared to enduring daily harm from racism.
The next step was to bring the black and white groups together to merge our converging journeys. Through the weave of our shared endeavor, and through our willingness and vulnerability, Dr. Martin Luther King’s “beloved community” began to rise from aspiration to realization.
If we are serious about our commitment to awaken universal compassion and co-create a world that works for everyone, then challenging structural racism and unconscious bias within our midst is job number one. It is not political work at root – it is spiritual work, because it is about transforming consciousness, not systems. When consciousness changes, systems will change.
We named our combined group Braver Conversations Together. Through the focused actions of our subcommittees we built a calendar of events to broaden our outreach and influence throughout the congregation, and God willing, the world beyond.
It isn’t enough to take refuge in vague principles like love, diversity, and unity. We have to find the courage to look each other in the eye and admit we don’t know everything. We can’t do better until we know better. Action is the antidote to apathy, and there are people all around you who will help. They are only waiting for you to take the first step. Inspire one another with your boldness. Trust, show up, do the work, and allow the beloved community to emerge right where you are.
[This article first appeared in my column "A to Zen" in the July/August 2020 edition of Unity Magazine, and is reproduced here with permission.]