This video by black author and activist Kimberly Latrice Jones has been making the rounds on the interwebs. It’s entitled “How can we win?”, and it’s worth watching.
I’m sure white people are saying all sorts of things about it, and it probably doesn’t need any more white person commentary.
On the other hand, if I can help fellow white people see this video and learn from Jones’ perspective, that seems like a good thing.
So here are some thoughts―about black rage, and white discomfort, and what building a healthier kind of community together actually entails.
Jones expresses her anger, and there is a part of me that feels uncomfortable with that. There is a part of me that asks the questions white people often tend to ask: is this the most helpful and effective way for Jones to express the ideas she wants to express? Wouldn’t she be better off making her language and tone more palatable to white people, so that we would feel less attacked and defensive and be more open to listening to her?
I realize that the fact that these sorts of questions form in my mind exposes in me the stubbornness of my tendency as a white person to center my own experience―which is a big part of what white supremacy is in the first place.
Black people are systematically targeted, humiliated, terrorized, and killed by state-sanctioned violence. There’s clearly something very wrong here if I’m more concerned about white people’s feelings of discomfort when black people speak up about these death-dealing systems than I am about the death-dealing systems themselves. I realize there are things I need to reflect on here, and things I would invite fellow white people to reflect on as well.
I also realize that the bigger-picture goal in all of this, as far as I see things, is Dr. Martin Luther King’s vision of beloved community, the kinship of all humankind.
For those who put stake in the Christian scriptures, the end goal is the vision of Revelation 7:9, where people of all nations, tribes, peoples, and languages come together before God as equals, honored and received by God in the specificity of their ethnicities, cultures, and experiences.
In light of these kinds of visions of loving, multiethnic community, it feels worth saying that the community that would rather appear to be at peace than actually be at peace is a sham community. The community in which some people consistently inflict gaping wounds on others and then tell the wounded to speak more nicely about these wounds so that the inflictors will not feel uncomfortable is no community at all.
In the kind of community that I long for―on every level, from church, to city, to region, to nation, to world―no one is willing to settle for the kind of false peace that depends on some people keeping silent about the wrongs being done to them. No one is interested in coercing anyone else into downplaying or minimizing the things that keep them up at night and make them angry every day.
Injustices are addressed honestly and openly, not swept under the rug to keep some people comfortable. Angry voices speak up and are heard, because this kind of honesty is the only way to healing; because everybody recognizes that people on the receiving end of injustice are the ones best equipped to speak about it, to see it clearly, to name it for what it is.
In the kind of community I want to be a part of, anger itself is seen as a normal, legitimate, important human emotion. It is something to pay attention to―both in ourselves and in others―as a sign that all is not how it should be, an invitation to reflect more deeply and to be open to change. It may be uncomfortable, but it is also crucial.
I do not want to be part of a community that is not willing to see, embrace, and receive all of who I am―my full, authentic self, including my sorrow, anger, and rage. And I do not want to be part of a community that does not offer this same seeing, embracing, and receiving to others, especially those who are hurting most, who have been most abused and terrorized.
The point is not for myself or other white people to feel comfortable. It’s to learn to see injustices that we have been blind to, and to learn to long for justice. It’s to learn how to build more equitable and healthy communities together. I am grateful for the gift of Kimberly Latrice Jones’ words as part of this process.