Admitting when we’ve made a mistake can be hard. We can feel such shame and guilt and embarrassment. It can be hard to say “I’m sorry,” “I was wrong,” “Please forgive me”. Especially because parts of us may not want to apologize. Because parts of ourselves still rally behind the original opinion.
A few years ago–perhaps 2013– I wrote a blog insisting “All Lives Matter” soon after the “Black Lives Matter” movement birthed. In my mind the heart went out to all involved in the terrible tragedy of racism: to both sides of this horrible and painful issue. My heart embraced the oppressor and victim from the largest view possible. It felt horrified for those experiencing racial persecution and the policemen on the front lines. It felt broken for a system that refuses to celebrate color and diversity in all people–but also compassion for the other parts of humanity that haven’t come into the light of love. For the parts of our human selves that experience so much fear (much of it perhaps unconscious) towards those who are different.
Parts of myself have felt fear walking on dark city streets as a black person approached. This person may have emanated ill intent, or perhaps he might have been a father rushing to the local 7-11 to buy milk for his toddler. We might have talked spirituality, or blogging, or paused to smile. But unconscious racist fear rose in me and I felt fear.
This unconscious fear births so much reactive hatred if left unnoticed. But I believe there is something larger in us–something good–which can recognize these seeds of inner racism and embrace compassion and empathy. We may need help of an inner compass which can recognize the difference between fear of difference and fear of imminent danger. If it’s fear of difference which is arising we can notice that clearly, and make our next action (perhaps a smile, perhaps a kind word that recognizes our common humanity) the predominant response. If it’s a legitimate fear of danger percolating in the system: run.
I grew up in the Thumb of Michigan knowing one black person during my childhood. His name was Gilbert. He laughed easily and had many friends. Looking back now, it feels like part of his energy was outgoing in an effort to fit in. It also feels like so many of us white kids stared in fascination because of his skin color, his difference. Racism existed: subtle, covert, but still rising its head as difference showed itself in our small town.
It embarrases me to write this. It’s hard to talk about inner or outer racism. It’s challenging to put the nuances in the written word. I talked about racism with a dear mixed race friend. It felt scary and wonderful. Scary, because I didn’t know how to frame the questions in a way which honored her experiences of racism. Scary, because I felt stupid and naive. Wonderful, because it felt like opening doors into the unknown, unlatching windows into enlarging my worldview and acknowledging the realities of our complex world.
After writing the blog declaring “All lives matter” I began to read how this viewpoint minimizes the pain of the hurting part of humanity. It slowly dawned on me that the largest possible vision isn’t always the truth which needs expressing.
If a part of humanity bleeds, hurts, falls, despairs…then that’s the part of humanity which needs our love and attention.
Saying “All lives matters” has the effect (intended or not) of minimizing that divisive pain. It’s like telling a hurting cancer patient, “Yes, dear, I know you’re suffering, but all diseases are awful.” It discounts the immediacy of the pain, the need to honor what is broken and requires repair. The need to look at the specifics rather than the grand panorama.
I deleted the blog post soon after writing it.
It proved a good lesson, albeit an embarrassing one. It’s still a lesson I need to learn, perhaps. Not just about racism. I tend to swoop to the largest possible viewpoint that this mind can imagine. To gain an eagle’s eye embrace of the world. But sometimes the “answer” is just to be with what is arising.
The hurting parts of ourselves. The sad parts of life. The pain and darkness.
To turn attention to the immediacy, the rawness of the moment, and say “here, here, dear one, I am with you, too…” and I will NOT fly to the largest possible picture with eagle’s wings. You and I will sit together and you will tell your story and I will not turn away.
I made a mistake, dear reader. Please forgive me.