Everyday I strive to make my community better. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be racist and it’s necessary for me to acknowledge my own culpability in the evil of racism. How I’ve been complicit in it. Like the officers standing by.
I can clearly think of moments in the not too distant past where I didn’t stand up against racist comments, racist insults or how I’ve brushed off racist commentary as “that’s how they are”, “it’s just how it is” or “harmless in a small setting”.
That’s privilege. To not have to risk anything to make it in this country. Not even something so minute as minor confrontations.
I’m tweaking Wendell Berry’s words here to reference racism:
“Most of us are not directly responsible for [police officers killing black men and women] and other forms of [racial] abuse. But we are guilty nevertheless, for we connive in them by our ignorance. We are ignorantly dependent on them. We do not know enough about them; we do not have a particular enough sense of their danger.”
I remember driving around in taxis in Managua and the taxi drivers rivaling me in knowledge about the politics and history of the U.S. Im talking about more than just who our President was. They knew the politics, the parties, and the subtleties of our legislation and media.
By contrast, until I started reading in depth about Nicaragua right before I left to study there for five months, I knew practically nothing about the place and it’s people nor did anyone else in my life up to that point.
I learned how it’s impossible to live in Nicaragua without knowing about the U.S. because you can’t learn about Nicaraguan history without learning about the U.S. and it’s consistent intrusions there. Did you know we had an American citizen run their country for almost a year? Or how that’s connected to Texas history or the Panama canal? Or Hondurans calling themselves los Catrachos?
It was in Nicaragua that I slowly started to learn that in so many ways privilege is a personal and communal crippling. A barrier to our wholeness. It’s a bubble of ignorance that leaves one able to make it through their day to day lives without ever having to know how things ACTUALLY are, how they REALLY work and how WE are connected to that.
Because for us privileged to know those things involves risking our privilege even in the most basic and uncourageous of ways. For everyone else, it’s their day to day lives.
Privilege means I don’t need to know anything about Nicaragua to be satisfactorily American nor to the experiences of African-Americans or other peoples of color in our communities.
And that’s not just our personal and communal loss, it’s our trauma, our tragedy and possibly our ultimate downfall as a country.
Those of us that come from privilege need to acknowledge our place in this problem not as a point of shaming but as an action to get beyond it. So we can take the next steps in facing this disease directly.
The last thirteen years of my life has been a slow effort to step beyond my privilege and ignorance into a world of how things work. Our food system. Our languages. Our environment. Our communities of color. Our countries of color. Our rural economies and culture. Our urban economies and culture. Our institutions. Patterns began to emerge.
If you think I’m a farmer because I like growing vegetables then I haven’t properly explained why I do this.
I want to be a part of a different story.
I don’t know if I’d say I’ve learned more about my country in the last three weeks but I feel like I’m being challenged to learn more about myself in this context.
I’m being challenged to continue to unpack my privilege because I can admit that while I risk certain parts of it, I still cling on to others.
My guilty plea is not one of submission but of repentance. That I can be a part of a community that can risk ourselves on behalf of each other.
I wouldn’t consider myself an anti-racist yet because there’s more I can do.
But no one can help me get there without me taking a step.