By Becky Grisell
On Thursday, June 4, 2020—ten days after the murder of George Floyd—I awoke to both a social truth and a spiritual truth, part social conviction and part spiritual conviction, precipitated by a social tragedy and awakened through a personal experience.
As a spiritual director, I have met monthly with Anne, for the past year. She is White. During our sessions, Anne periodically wove stories of working with and loving a dad and his two boys through a church-sponsored and state-sanctioned program at her church. The program is designed for children to live with a host family from the church, while either of their parents works through their legal, financial, or emotional difficulties.
Before I met Anne, the two boys lived with her and her family (They live with their dad now). Like a second family, there has been continued contact among Anne, her family, the dad and his two boys.
Weeks before one of our sessions, Anne’s church made a four-minute promotional video featuring her family, the dad and his two boys. She sent it to me, and of course, I watched it.
I could not figure out what I was watching. I saw a dad and two boys. They were not Anne’s family, nor was it the family Anne was involved with. Or, so I thought.
I was confused as to why they were in the video. I fast-forwarded looking for what I thought I would see. I concluded it was a video that included a number of different families and their experiences.
I went through it again looking for what I thought I should see. A third time. I listened and still could not figure it out. There was Anne, but who were the two boys and dad?
I went back a fourth time.
I heard the father’s name and I realized this man was the dad—and he was White. His children were White. Listening to the experiences and stories my client had told me, I had assumed they were Black. They had to be Black. White people don’t live “like that.” They don’t name their children “those names.”
The realization took hold: They were White, not Black.
I was stunned as I came face-to-face with a hidden part of myself: whether it was racial bias, racism, white privilege, white supremacy, a combination of these things, or something else, I do not know. Something shifted in me.
I was undone. Exposed. A deep well of grief and lament flowed from within, as I became aware of my cultural and socioeconomic assumptions, racial perfectionism and defensiveness, apathy and indifference towards racial policies and practices, power hoarding and privilege protecting, and ignorance regarding economic inequalities and institutional injustice.
I was awakened to see in a new and overwhelming manner, the reality of my erroneous assumptions and empty understandings. I had an experience that challenged my assumptions, which in turn opened my eyes to marginalization in a way they hadn’t been before.
I am here to confess and bear witness to my awakening to the social truth of marginalization and racism in the United States. I am owning the harm I have done to others by my muted voice and inactivity regarding social justice. The harm I have done to myself through ignorance, complicity, and apathy. The harm I have done by marring the justice and righteousness of God and my faithfulness as one of his children.
At the heart of my experience is that people have assumptions about how others live (White, Black, Brown, Yellow, or otherwise), and often those assumptions are wrong. Assumptions can marginalize “the other,” no matter which “other” is being talked about (race, color, nationality, socioeconomic status, culture, etc.). Assumptions that lead to marginalization act like manure fertilizing the soil for racism to thrive and grow.
My awakening is a call to action and a form of repentance. I want to recognize and examine my assumptions. I need to learn what I do not know and listen to others who are not like me. I have much work to do, but I am starting.
So dear readers, my prayer is that we would be enabled to see the reality of racism and then be freed to challenge and uproot it from our society, our world, and ourselves. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Will you join me?
1 Anne's name has been changed.
2 Gloria Atanmo, 30 Days & 30 Ways to be a Better Ally, www.yoitsglo.com, 2020, 28.
Becky is a trained Spiritual Director, writer, and founder and curator of Cascade Ministries. She places high value on being a safe person and creating a safe and sacred space to explore and connect with God’s activity in all of life. Her approach is holistic, addressing the brokenness of life while focusing on the hope of the Gospel. She received a Master of Divinity with a concentration in spiritual formation. and Doctor of Ministry in Leadership and Spiritual Formation. You can find more out about Becky at https://cascadeministries.org/, on Facebook under Becky Grisell, IG at @becky_grisell. She can be contacted directly at email@example.com.