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Humility, Courage and Confronting Racism


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By Paul Graves

When it comes to the hot and hostile topic of racism, how can I talk so another person will listen? Maybe more importantly, how can I listen so another person will talk?        

A month ago, I joined a virtual group of other pastors to study the self-challenging book “White Fragility.” Author Robin Diangelo has a very welcome skill to confront racism in white people in ways that reduce our defensiveness about being defensive about racism.         

One of the central truths Dr. Diangelo identifies in her book is found in how she describes the racial “Good-Bad Binary” in moral terms:  racist=bad, not racist=good.  But it’s a false choice!        

We All Hold Prejudices

All of us, regardless of color (including white) — and moral character — hold prejudices of one kind or another. We are all affected by living in a society when our history has been so deeply impacted, even grounded, by racism. To transform our roles in that history, we need humility to admit our roles, and courage to change our roles.        

Some of us pastors ask this:  How do we engage in thoughtful, helpful, conversation with persons who are determined to deny they are – in any way – racist right along with the rest of us?        

Recently, I stood on the edge of overhearing a man make two dismissive, mocking remarks about his having “white privilege.” I said nothing. I disappointed myself in my silence.        

Talking Non-Defensively

I want to ask him a question I don’t mean to be hostile: “Why is it important to you that you mock the white privilege you have?” Perhaps someday we can talk non-defensively enough so we are both willing to listen below each other’s verbal surface.        

One of the louder controversial slogans today that divides people is “Black Lives Matter.”  Watching the news or hearing people wherever throwing that phrase around makes me want to shout:  “You scream so loudly I can’t hear your heart!”         

And isn’t it what’s moves our heart that most often drives our mouths? For some years, I’ve seen Richard Rohr’s wisdom in a simple declaration: “When you don’t transform your pain, you will always transmit it.” Think about that if you’re humble enough and courageous enough to confront your own place in the complexities of racism.        

Emotional Responses

Some kind of pain (or fear?) triggers our more obvious emotional responses to racism.  But whatever the words, my/your place in racism can quickly devolve into our mocking denial of having any part in the systemic morass we label racism.        

Consider a few more wisdom-nuggets from Richard Rohr if you’re still up to exploring your heart in regard to racism.  These are two of the eight core principles from Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation.         

My added comments might help me reflect on these principles. But you do best to reflect on your own, or with someone you trust to be honest with you:        

Principle # 3“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”  (Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.  You really know this if you’re a parent!)        

Principle # 8“We do not think our way into a new way of living; but we live our way into a new way of thinking.” (Practice over theory, doing over talking, etc.)         

Yet thinking has its place.  Please don’t speak your talking points about BLM and racism until you can humbly, courageously confront your self-examined thinking points about racism.         

With that in mind, please ponder this question before you react emotionally to it:  If you can’t easily consider that ‘Black Lives Matter’, are you really able to say that ‘All Lives Matter’?

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Paul Graves
Paul Graves
Paul Graves is a retired and re-focused United Methodist pastor and a long-time resident of Sandpoint, Idaho, where he formerly served on city council and mayor. His second career is in geriatric social work, and since 2005 he's been the Lead Geezer-in-Training of Elder Advocates, a consulting and teaching ministry on aging issues. Since 1992, Graves has been a volunteer chaplain for Bonner Community Hospice. His columns regularly appear in The Spokesman-Review's Faith and Values section, and he also writes the Dear Geezer column for the Bonner County Daily Bee and is the host of the bi-weekly Geezer Forum on aging issues in Sandpoint.

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