Recently, I took a seven-week course on Racial Resilience. The course marries the Compassion Practice (which I teach) with learning about Critical Race Theory (CRT). With all the hoopla about CRT, I wanted to deepen my knowledge and understanding of it. Despite all my anti-racism training, despite all the reading I’ve done and conversations I’ve had, I still found myself triggered. The Compassion Practice helped me ground/center myself more deeply in the Sacred so I could deeply hear the cries of suffering that continue to reverberate in our country.
It is difficult to listen to someone else’s lament. It requires significant spiritual maturity and humility; clearly, I am still growing. There are a number of schools of thought that are part of Critical Race Theory. It is not a monolith of propaganda. It includes multiple approaches to address the fact that slavery in the United States created generational legacies of trauma, as well as intentional laws and policies that perpetuated economic and social disparities to this day. Systemic racism did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation or Juneteenth. And systemic racism traumatizes all people regardless of their skin color.
What I am learning is how as a white woman, I am also traumatized by racism and so lack the capacity to listen and learn and act from my compassionate core. If I lost you at “systemic racism,” know this: There was a law in Georgia that was repealed just last year. The “citizen’s arrest” law of 1863, “gave citizens the right to arrest someone they believe committed a crime. Since Black Americans were not considered citizens back then, Georgia basically took time off from losing the Civil War to give armed racist white folks permission to arrest Black people for being in the wrong neighborhood.” (LZ Granderson, LA Times, Oct. 20, 2021)
The three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery in February of 2020 are using this law as their defense. Mr. Arbery was jogging and was unarmed. If they indeed suspect this jogger of some malfeasance, the appropriate action is to call 911 and stay out of the way. Instead, they literally followed their “gut feeling”. What made it possible for them to consider this to be a viable or even sane option? Systemic racism. And for too long, many of us, many of us who are white, have not listened to the lament of a community long under siege. These cases were and are too often still treated differently than if a white person was killed.
If you find yourself saying “No,” or “It’s gotten better,” or “But I’m not racist,” as you read this, please understand that these are reactions that are rooted in trauma and do not come from our compassionate core. We all have a compassionate core for we are created in the likeness of God who is infinitely compassionate. Jesus invites his followers to grow more and more our own interior compassionate core where God resides. In other words, make more room for God in us to be more Christ-like toward ourselves and others.
Sometimes the most loving action that can be taken when in the presence of lament is to listen, without comment, without assessing, without placing ourselves in the lament. When Mary and Martha lost Lazarus to death, Jesus didn’t chide them for being upset with him or ask them if they’d done everything they could. Jesus wept WITH them. We have brothers and sisters who for generations have and continue to lament, to cry out for healing and justice. Can we listen deeply enough so we can, like Jesus, cry with them?