My wife and I asked ourselves what we could do to visibly stand in alliance with the diverse crowds worldwide that called for justice, first sparked by George Floyd’s death and continuing with the persistent instances of the police’s brutal treatment of Black people.
A way to the answer comes from our long experience of working with people of different cultures. We learned that issues of social justice look different when they are grounded in personal relationships, relationships established based on where we worked and lived. They built trust so that we could serve as cultural interpreters for each other. We could ask those friends and colleagues about the meaning of the experiences we had, things seen and heard. Each was confident of the other’s sincerity in seeking understanding and willingness to learn from mistakes. Each was willing to reciprocate, to give and receive cultural insights to help the other understand behavior, motivations, intentions, and feelings: what do our actions and words look and sound like to others? It is crucial to ask with an open mind and to listen to the responses.
Therefore, we approached colleagues and friends of color and asked them to be interpreters with us. The goal was to better understand the motivations and feelings of those seeking racial justice and to learn things we can say and do to be effective allies.
Of course, that is not all we did. Our friends of color cannot be responsible for our education. We self-educate by reading and watching videos, attending webinars, and supporting organizations that promote social justice and mutual understanding. Our friends recommended some of the resources we are accessed. Our church began to provide racial justice resources. However, it is important to ground our education in personal relationships, and so we seek permission from friends to engage in dialog. The problem of racism can be solved by Blacks and whites working together, sharing experiences, and knowing one another.
Our efforts to educate ourselves to be better social justice advocates and allies prompted me to write short Reflections on what I learned and experienced. Each is about 500 words and includes references to help and will be released on a weekly basis, commencing with our first essay below.
Resource: find Highland Park United Methodist Church’s racial justice resources HERE. The Conversation in Black and White and the Podcast with Tamika Perry are especially recommended.
An African-American woman who taught for me at SMU shared a six and one-half-minute video speech by another African American woman. I now refer to it as the “Monopoly” video. It is powerful and moving.
The speaker begins calmly, and she becomes angrier and angrier as she speaks. At the end of the video, she collapses into the arms of a bystander. Her message begins in history. Her people were brought here to labor in fields and factories, as slaves and in bondage to landlords and factory owners as sharecroppers and the industrial equivalents. Burnings and violence, such as Tulsa and Rosewood, undertaken by whites as disproportionate vengeance and intimidation, destroyed entire black communities, relatively self-sufficient and prosperous. The result of this history is desperation—people are driven to looting to obtain what they need and want. When people lose trust in institutions that are stacked against them the social contract is broken. Rioting and anarchy follow.
The speaker proposes that listeners consider a game of monopoly in which for 400 rounds you have no money. Then fifty more rounds are played in which you have money but what you acquire is taken from you.
No one would want to play by those rules. If I did, I would certainly feel the same kind of desperation and betrayal she described.
The speaker is one person, an individual. She is not identified by name or institutional affiliation. I tried to imagine how I might respond to such an individual. To understand her message, I used a three-part structure that I learned from another of my SMU instructors: What, So What, Now What. The What was the history and her anger. The So What was the result: desperation, betrayal, a broken social contract, looting, rioting, and anarchy. The Now What is undefined in the video but it must be: where do we go from here; what help is needed from people like me?
I tried to imagine how I might respond to such an individual in person. I would want to let her know that I hear her anger and acknowledge that it is understandable, justifiable. I would use “I” messages to let her know how I feel hearing her anger: “I feel afraid, not of you but of your anger and that it must be shared by others,” and “I feel despondent when I hear the betrayal behind your anger and the broken social contract you experience.” If she feels listened to and empathized with, perhaps we could get to the Now What. Where do we go from here, and what help does she need from someone like me?
Resource: The Monopoly video can be viewed HERE (Profanity alert)