Thursday, January 16, 2014

Missing the Mark

Day 16 of Fun-a-Day. I missed a day, but am still committed!

In seminary, when I took one long drawn out non-intensive biblical Hebrew course over the span of my last year of my M. Div., I learned that one of the words for sin was less about participating in evil, and more about making a wrong turn, or aiming poorly in one's actions. The results, though certainly not motivated by evil, end up being, well, wrong. And the consequences of these missed marks, as the arrow of intention hits some far off, unintended target, can be evil.

I bring this up because I am thinking a lot about something I learned, and re-learned, and learned again in a workshop about diversity, inclusion, and privilege. The Beyond Diversity 101 workshops, started and led by Niyonu Spann, have been powerful spaces of healing, challenge and growth for me over the years. Most recently, I had the opportunity to participate as an intern this past fall in Chester, CT, at the Guest House Retreat Center.

I learned about, and experienced really clearly, something that is really imbedded in the sinfulness of white privilege. We talked a
lot about the difference between intention and impact. The main point being that regardless of the intention of an action, communication, structure, if the impact is racist, then it is, in fact racist. One of the things that I witnessed, and participated in, was that of hearing someone's story of experiencing racism as a black person, and then a white person telling a story right on the heels of it that may have had the same emotional quality, but completely missed the mark of what was being said-- therefore recapitulating the racism. We miss the truth when it is crowded, and the story is re-centered to the next person who speaks.

One aspect of whatI see racism doing is the work of invisible-izing. And a part of white privilege is centering all story, all sharing, all truth around one's own story. The myth and reality of white people's tears is that they can change everything-- from stopping white folks from being held accountable to motivating lynch mobs. Telling a personal story on top of a witness about racism, though a small thing, is the seed of these larger evils.

Luckily for me, in the context of the workshop, I (and others) got the chance to stop and really listen to being confronted with the problem of doing this. I was able to really get that regardless of my conscious intention to connect, my unconscious discomfort with the truth of racism and the impact of making it invisible and more comfortable for white folks is sinful.

I cried a lot at this workshop, as I mourned the loss of my baby, and got deep into the sense of my own brokenness. And I recognized in myself the difference between this authentic mourning, and the tears (or jokes, or intellectualism) born of discomfort and some fantasy of my importance in the work I witnessed.

I am not saying that I am unimportant in a cosmic sense, or even in terms of my need to ante up and change my behaviors, my heart, my life. What is unimportant is my feelings about the experience of racism, as the locus of healing. There needs to be so much SPACE made for healing and growth, and white folks need to get themselves out of the way of this work.

And not by leaving. White flight is another aspect of white privilege. We can contribute to creating the space by witnessing, by listening, and by not trying to have answers. This list of 8 Ways Not to Be an Ally is really spot on, and I am grateful I found it. The time I spent in this workshop felt like a further step in showing up and getting out of the way.

There are a number of really great posts elsewhere about these issues, as well. Here are two:
It's Not All About Feelings
White Women's Tears

As a progressive/radical leaning person, I think I have always been willing to believe in systemic evil, meaning I could get my mind around it, accept it as real. In seminary, I was part of a group of four folks who wrote theses on structural evil. Katie Cannon sat in on a panel presentation we gave and it is one of the highlights from that time. But this personal level of work, looking through the lens of our identities, has helped me to see the evil and sinfulness in my life, and helps me know these connection to the sick systems I seek to resist. It has taken me many years to get here. I am grateful I have gotten here, and grateful for the many teachers that I have met and will meet on this journey.


  1. Thank you for sharing your insights and your links. The definition you begin with is a tough one, but one that opens the doors for personal transformation.

  2. Hey Victoria! Glad to see this post. I am planning to do a video interview with Niyonu soon and would love to hear more about BD101's teachings and impact. Maybe we could chat sometime?

    1. glad to chat, jon, and glad you are going to include niyonu and this work on your amazing new youtube venture (at least i am assuming this is where this will show up). fb msg me and we can connect on fb or over the phone.