In these days we are witnessing the ultimate behavior modifying endeavor: those of us in the initial stages of our racial identity consciousness can be perceived like those of us who have been owning and dismantling our whiteness for years. Social media has given us the opportunity to be educated, yes, but it has also provided us the temptation to hide under a cloak of reposting, like whitewashed tombs (I’ll say it like that). It appears like something on the outside; it stinks like something on the inside, still lingering like life-decay always does.
Speaking with a dear friend last night, she was mentioning the complexity of reposting on Instagram to keep the Black Lives Matter movement alive and amplifying Black voices, because it also feels like it can turn into a competition for White folks, like watching a group of children batting a balloon into the air to keep it off the ground (Don’t forget me! Don’t accuse me of not showing up – my IG story tells me so).
Of course, we must ask the question – who’s in the room when I write such a paragraph? Are not our social media postings always aimed at a particular group of White folks (the White women trying to lead, the silent White men, the White American Church, the 45th, etc)? We’re always targeting someone, or someones (“she really needs to see this,” “my family should read this” – I could go on). Some of those posts try to take on the whole system – don’t get me wrong, there’s also plenty of that. If I’ve learned anything over the last two weeks, it is that an awakened and animated social media campaign can change the course of human history, so be not silent.
Here’s the tension:
Anyone who is sincerely trying to do this work is doing some serious self-examination right now – the kind we’ve never done before (and it’s really humiliating to acknowledge that). We’re turning things over. We’re ruminating on how complicit our ancestors were, maybe seeing if their names show up on the Slave Schedules in 1850 – we’re measuring the complicity of our ancestors just so we’re on the same page about how extensive the reparations will be for as long as we live. We’re reflecting on all of the ways we have done harm with our whiteness, whether by commission or omission. We’re thinking about how to get the hell out of the way, how to be strategically absent if it means our friends of color have opportunity to be heard and seen, how to throw our affirmation into the circle after our colleague of color pitches a brilliant idea, for the thousandth time unnoticed by those holding power. We’re reevaluating the ways we’ve distributed resources, the priorities that have carried forward our programs, the way we speak and the way we hold our bodies in racialized spaces (which, as we now know, is every space). We’re rethinking the church we go to, we’re evaluating the pastor’s every word, we’re sending emails to school districts, writing letters to local law enforcement. We’re confronting every passing thought that crosses our brain that wants to pat ourselves on the back for doing something that should have been done a long time ago. We’re looking for that racist demon behind every door because we know we’ll find it, because our whiteness is invisible, “not because it cannot be seen, but because the point was never to see it” (Willie James Jennings, Can White People Be Saved?)
We’ve finally begun to see it – finally, and it’s too damn late, and now that we see it, we can’t unsee it, and we don’t want to. We are late to this conversation and we know it. No amount of reposting on Instagram is going to fix that. No amount of donating to Black organizations or signing petitions can absolve that guilt. That’s not what it’s about.
Our way forward is to keep turning over stones in the context of our communities. Our way forward presents itself whenever another White person does or says something so racist and everyone knows it, and to resist that temptation to lightning rod our White shame onto that person by praying a prayer like, “Lord, thank you that I’m not as racist as him” (and now I’ll go post about it). I am that person. I am that person who would rather pad white fragility than be the person constantly smashing it, because I know internally that I don’t know better than them. I am them.
I write this not to suggest that White shame is the way forward; I am saying the opposite. When we find someone more racist than we think we are – as though we (once again) get to define the measurement for such a thing – give pause. We might be implicated, too.
It’s only the 1/10th of the iceberg that we can see with our eyes. And it’s the 9/10ths below the surface that cannot be posted about easily on Instagram. If the work is real, its impact will be felt in local communities everywhere – in friendships and staff teams and local businesses and families and organizations and institutions and yes – even in churches. Because True Justice became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.