No Losers

No one loses when we undo racist policies and practices that target black people in America.

As we learn to reject our exclusionary habits and attitudes towards black people, we actually qualify ourselves to create a more just society. We pave the way for fairer treatment of all marginalized classes of people—Asians, the Indigenous peoples, women, and even poor and working class whites, who are steady getting pushed out here to the margins with the rest of us.

Fun fact: the total value of all goods and services worldwide is expected to double over the next 10 years, as global wealth continues to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands (as discussed in this article from The Brookings Institute). Our social, political, and economic systems, along with our shared cultural wisdom, are our best (only?) protections against the tyranny of the wealth which has been a central influence in our attempts at civilization for as long as we can stand to remember.

When you work right now on behalf of your black brothers and sisters (Sally Hemings, folks), fellow citizens, co-creative spiritual beings sharing this human experience—however you see it—what you’re actually doing is rooting our culture in the high-minded rights and responsibilities we have been so proud of.

No one loses (well, no one except the folks invested in the practice of systematically excluding people from fully equitable participation in this culture).

Do Our Non-Profits Realize #BlackLivesMatter?

Change is a process. Having experienced the protest gatherings downtown this past Sunday (5/31/20), it seems our Muskegon community has had an essential moment of initial catharsis in response to the recent flare-up of racist policing (whether by officers or our fellow community members). What’s next?

Since we’re all here and have each other’s attention, I believe now is the time to begin taking stock of our situation together, before we resolve back into our respective silos of well-meant, but disjointed, change-making on our own old familiar terms.

I came across this article, from Vu Le at nonprofitaf.com, in the comment thread of a post which called out Grand Rapids non-profits—in general, not by name—for substantially missing the mark in their support of the black and brown communities they mean to serve. The post challenged folks to pay attention to what these organizations are doing, and what they’re not doing, right now.

It also included a list of local GR non-profits that the OP was more comfortable working with.

This is Muskegon, not Grand Rapids. I don’t want anyone to be confused on that point. There are significant differences in the actors and the circumstances of our respective situations. Still, the following article, presented as part of that GR conversation, resonates with me as I consider our conditions here in Muskegon.

I see the major theme of the article as well worth considering as we make our moves to respond to the present crises and the systems that engendered them. That doesn’t mean I know exactly the extent to which it pertains to each person or each organization that serves Muskegon. I do know it pertains to each of us in different ways and to different degrees; we will each have to make our own determinations.

I know many people in the local non-profit community who are doing commendable work. I have worked with some of them on occasion, and I have witnessed phenomenal sensitivity, creativity, intelligence, and simple kindness again and again. I consider many my friends.

Please understand I am in no position to judge those who have committed their daily energy and attention to this work of making our community a better place for all of us. I don’t present this article as a judgement, but as a question. Are we doing enough? Are we really getting to the heart of it? Can we be sure?

I’m asking for a very simple reason: we need your help.

We need your help coordinating conversations with the law enforcement community and policy makers. We need your help protecting our place in a community where we are not universally welcome, and not always able to withstand the forces that work to put us down and push us out. We need your help locating, accessing, and developing data to inform a more equitable reality. We could also use your help developing systems of our own for employing, educating, and nurturing the many talented people we bring as gifts to this world.

Lastly, I’d like to clear up two points I think the article obscures. First, black people can embody that “white moderate” archetype as well. As an example, in my own life I have been at odds with myself over how I show up in and for the black community, and especially how I don’t. How much of my life is spent working (and playing, for that matter) with non-black people? When I am doing work on behalf of black people, or even directly with black people, it’s often under the auspices of organizations run by people who are not black.

And I know the fact that I chose a white woman to marry is received as a slap in the face by many sisters and a shame by many brothers; and I do have some idea why. In considering the road that got me here—and I have had to review and reassess my journey from time to time—I am just so sure she’s a gift tailored for my growth, my work, and my vision…

What can I say? Love is love. 🤷🏾‍♂️

Examining the cultural landscape (perhaps you haven’t realized), it often feels like we may have escaped the plantation, but the plantation’s culture has spread its reach beyond the land where it was born. And it spreads as much in our own minds and hearts as in any police force, municipal system, or business (for-profit or non-profit).

The second thing is that churches are definitely part of the non-profit community too. Churches and church-sponsored organizations are often right on the front line of the service providers in marginalized communities, which is so often where you find us.

So if you’re a church goer or donate to a church, however sporadically, this message is for you too.

And with that, you can follow the link below to see the article for yourself. I hope you enjoy the read. And if you lose track of your joy somewhere along the way, please read on regardless.

Turning the Soil of Race and Racism

It’s not just the times that are changing.

Understanding racism and its impact first became important for me when I was about fourteen. I was riding in the car with my father, who had been playing a taped lecture by Yosef ben-Jochannan—a prolific author and teacher in African history.

I think he was curious about how I was interpreting what I was hearing when he stopped the tape to chat a little. In that conversation he asked me a question that made racism real for me. 

We were a seriously Christian family, and Poppa hit me with an arresting little factoid, “You know Jesus was black, right?” (That wasn’t the big question, btw.)

I most certainly did not know that, and I probably wondered if it was blasphemous to say so. I had only ever seen images of Jesus in his traditional long wavy hair, neatly cropped beard, mournfully resolute eyes—as if praying for all us sinners who know not what we do.

I had never seen nor heard of a black Jesus, but I was not about to directly contradict my father. Besides, he made a good case, quoting the bible and pointing out how many white guys were likely to be hanging around that side of the Mediterranean in those days (not many). Instead I turned the tables and asked—oh, so carefully—why it even matters, since Jesus came to save everybody.

I imagine we are at our cleverest when trying to preserve our view of how we think the world is. To grow in wisdom we must often be outsmarted, and our deepest convictions must be uprooted.

He asked, in return, “If it didn’t matter, why would they change it in the first place?”

🤯

This is the first time I remember recognizing racism was more than just stories from the past, but was actively affecting me personally—and I hadn’t even noticed.

In that moment, I changed. I didn’t yet learn the term, but I understood what it meant to be gaslighted. It took a few years and a few more plot twists, but that was the beginning of my walk away from the religion of my youth.

I got really good at doubting and questioning the sources of what I knew about the world and my place in it. For about ten years, my interest in race and racism was rooted in my need to know myself.

In fact, every interest I pursued was rooted in my need to know myself until, in my middle twenties, I came to realize my self-absorption was complete. Simultaneously, I also realized I needed to understand everyone else better if I wanted to fathom my next depths of satisfaction.

This changed my outlook, including how I looked at racism. I wanted to know how other people saw themselves—whether black, white, or whatever else. And I wanted to know how they saw me.

I think it was in this period that it really hit home that “white” and “black” people were largely invented as corollaries to colonialism. Those labels basically serve to justify European global conquest, and the inherent evils of that process, on the basis of the inherent superiority of white people (definitions of which are adapted to suit the context).

This orientation toward learning how others’ racial lenses work lasted until around the time of Obama’s ascent to the presidency, when my emphasis shifted again to considering how we might resolve this drama of racism. I took some time to consider the “post-racial” narrative that was popular around that time, but dismissed it as being more of a aspirational value some people might choose than a valid description of our shared reality.

I have continued to learn about race with an emphasis on finding our way to a collective resolution. While you’d have no trouble finding folks today who will tell you racism has already been resolved, they certainly don’t represent a consensus. Achieving a true resolution would mean knowing that our individual views on race and racism are like vignettes in a commonly shared story, each shedding its light on all the rest, so that we each could know that appreciating each other’s chapters helps us comprehend our own.

Times change, but not just the times. Our needs change, and so does our understanding. As we embrace this intentional look at issues of race and racism—some of us for the first time—I think we may have reached a tipping point. We may be cascading toward that resolution of all these centuries of strangeness.

Whatever ideas you have about this worldwide anti-racism moment, whatever motivates your present engagement (or disengagement), whatever sense it all makes sense to you now (maybe none), one thing is certain… change is coming.

The Superpower of Forgiveness

It was late—early, really—maybe around 3 am. I was leaving a new friend’s apartment, which was like a mother-in-law’s suite in the back of another house.

As I stepped into the alley a police car shone it’s headlights on me and two cops jumped out of the car. I have to imagine they were waiting for me, since I didn’t see them drive up the alley from any appreciable distance, and it would be an odd time and place for a chance meeting.

After the typical initial interrogative pleasantries, the detainment phase began in earnest with a demand that I turn around and put my hands on my head. I paused just long enough to reveal that I was considering my options, instead of being obsequiously acquiescent.

“You don’t wanna fight me!” I was informed by the chatty one. His partner had taken his post about ten feet away with a hand on his weapon. (I don’t think he actually drew it.) Up to that point I think I was doing my best to be careful and to be calm, but as I was told what I didn’t want to do, it became clear to me that I was also being annoyed… because I was being harassed. I did wanna fight him.

I also wanted to extract myself from this interaction as quickly and gracefully as possible. I also wanted to bed down for the night in a place of my choosing, not a cell these two would escort me to. I wanted to live to see another sunrise. I chose to comply.

After a pat down and a few minutes of lecturing on the inappropriateness of my behavior—essentially, leaving a Santa Monica residence from the back on foot in the wee hours (while black?)—I was left to proceed with my exodus.

I have yet to reach the promised land.

Forgive and Forget

This cliche has been heard so many times! People tend to take it one of two ways.

On the one hand, they might conflate forgiveness with forgetfulness, as if they were two sides of the same coin. When they forgive, you can count on them never to bring it up again. Or they might be unwilling to forgive, because the memory of the hurt is just too strong or too important; maybe it’s still present.

And on the other hand are the revisionists who decide the saying got it wrong. They have there counter-cliche—forgive, but never forget. They would have us believe the old proverbial wisdom is a holdover from a time, when people were kinder or more reasonable; or worse, that the suggestion to “forgive and forget” was devised, or at least popularized, as a trick by powerful transgressors to encourage the masses around them to be more pliable.

Then there’s what the saying actually says: forgive and forget. Two actions, which are really decisions to commit to, which could be done together or separately, but are offered in combination as a prescription for…

For what? What outcome can we expect if we follow this advice?

Powers and Superpowers

Forgiving and forgetting are each great powers that we all have at our disposal.

Now, the idea of the power of forgiveness is familiar enough, but I know it might seem strange to some folk to talk about the “power” to forget. After all, most of the occasions when we consider our capacity to forget come about because either we’re trying to remember something, or we’re wishing someone else would remember something. Forgetting is generally perceived as a fault to overcome, not a power to deploy.

Maybe you’ve heard that the body responds to mental images just the same as it does to events in the physical environment. And maybe that’s a little oversimplified or exaggerated, but the fact remains that for decades visualization practices have been a popular tool for enhancing real-world performance used by world class athletes, super-successful entrepreneurs, therapists, and self-help guides of every type. You may have even used some kind of visualization to impact your own real life. Have you? Clearly what the mind perceives matters.

Forgetting offsets the powers of memory and imagination and enhances our ability to be selective about which of our past experiences we use to build our future. (Did you know you’re building your future? Did you know you build it out of your past and, especially, your present experiences?)

Anyway, like forgetting, forgiving is this great human power, but what turns it into a super-power is learning the formula for how to use forgiveness to do the miraculous. Properly applied, the power of forgiveness works miracles.

And this formula is super-simple—all you need is to know who to forgive, and for what. (Can you say “who for what”?)

Now I know there’s already someone saying, “It’s ‘whom’! You have to know whom to forgive. The verb is transitive, in this case…” yada, yada, yada. And I’m just gonna ask you to forgive me… because it’s beside the point, and more importantly, I don’t want you to miss the magic because you got caught up in minutiae. 

I almost called it a “secret” formula, just because I have so many cliches embedded in my mind—they’re like power tools we can use to make building our lives easier—but it’s really no secret. This formula has been around at least a couple thousand years.

That cat Yeshua (“Jesus”) makes it clear, a number of times, that our task, if we would follow his example, is to be forgiving. And not just on special occasions, but as a lifestyle.

Somebody asked him once, “Hey, I read somewhere I have to forgive folks seven times, before I can get back at ‘em. Is that right? How many times do you say I have to forgive?” This questioner was conveniently forgetting to consider the symbolism of the number seven (but we ain’t gonna get into that today).

So Yeshua says—and I imagine he looked at him funny first like, “Are you kidding me?”—he says, “Dude, seventy times seven,” which is to say, JUST FORGIVE! I assure you that if your version of “forgiveness” is a countdown to retribution, it’s not really forgiveness at all.

And we gotta do it, if we’re into following the example of a truly miraculous life. I don’t know a better word for it when a man gives a message that he never records into anything but the ears and hearts of other people—who don’t even really understand it, for the most part—and that same, fringe, revolutionary message is still being shared around the whole world 2000 years later. That’s a miracle!

The Formula

It couldn’t be simpler: just forgive. Who? Everyone. For what? Everything.

Everyone, for everything. Every little thing, every big thing. If it upsets, annoys, or otherwise disturbs you, forgive it.

And then don’t forget to include yourself. I don’t know of anyplace where Yeshua is on the record saying to forgive yourself, but you don’t need me to tell you that you have offended yourself, probably on many occasions, and probably in ways no one else ever could. What you may need to hear from me is that you are just as worthy of your mercy as anyone else.

You are somebody. Forgive everyone.

And I don’t know that there’s anything else to say on the subject. Just forgive.

What I’m Not Saying

I’m not saying to forget everyone and everything in order to transform your forgetfulness into a superpower. I think that may be what people are trying to do, sometimes, when they drown their lives in alcohol or drugs or when they uproot themselves from their circumstances and run away, only to regenerate the same circumstances they ran from, again and again. Forgiving and forgetting are not two sides of the same coin.

And I’m not saying never to forget. It is certainly possible to hold on to old grievances long after the memory serves any sort of resolution. Maybe you can remember when someone kept reminding you of that wound from all those years ago that would have long since healed, except for it being reopened again and again for a fresh examination.

I asked before what outcome awaits us if we can manage to, both, forgive and forget. What happens when we forgive, then do whatever work is required to restore our relationship to a point where the memory of the harm we experienced (and/or perpetrated) is no longer helpful, no longer necessary? What happens when we forgive, then qualify ourselves to forget?

What happens? Miracles.

Black lives matter. (Can you say, “Black lives matter”?)

We have a lot of work ahead of us to restore some seriously busted relationships. We’re gonna get that work done a lot faster, a lot better, and lot more gracefully if we can forgive first.

But even that first forgiveness might rightly be considered a miracle…