I would have called Bana. My college roommate from 1995-1999. We lived in a small dorm room, for all four years. She now lives in Cali with her husband and baby. Bana is from Cherry Hill, NJ. A suburb of Philly and NYC. I am from Fairfax, VA, a suburb of D.C. Two city gals that ended up at a small private school settled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of WV. I guess they thought we would be good dorm room mates. And, we were.
Bana taught me a lot about what it was like as a black young women. Though none of it was explicit teachings. Only experienced as we did college together. Things like Tae Bo classes, late night hot cocoa runs, Chinese restaurant dives and the local town bars. We were in our early twenties and we did not know about the words or terms, systemic/institutional racism and white privilege. Bana still taught me about her world, what it had been like before college and what it was like in college. The word ally wasn't used either. I was her friend and she was mine. Perhaps I was her white partner on a particular part of her journey as she was my partner too. How fortunate. For years after college, Bana called me every month. I was having babies then and was underwater with exhaustion.
Instead I called Beth. She put me on speaker phone while she did the dishes. Her college-age daughter Amelia held court on the speaker phone, while her husband Bill chimed in. I have talked to Beth multiple times a day for many years. She too, has taught me about her world. Her world of being a white mama and raising bi-racial children. Three girls. We talked for about an hour as I drove home from Denver after a workshop called Sacred Conversations on Racism this past Friday.
Mostly I talked about the video we watched on the origins of homo sapiens. Science tells us that modern humans originated on the Continent of Africa and it is where humans became civilized. I also told her about conversations I had that day. One Jamaican women suggested within the context of a larger conversation "black people are getting tired of teaching white people how to do this." Meaning, how to diversify, how to welcome, how to undo systemic racism in this country. I was jarred by this. And, have sat with it for the past twenty-four hours.
I also told Amelia about the author we listened to that wrote the book White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo. DiAngelo was hilarious and made jokes about white progressive people. She did this because it gave levity to the crowd of white progressive people as she talked about racism. I will be downloading this book next.
We were all reminded (the white progressives in the room) that we are all racist. Multiple times, in fact. It was hard. It still is hard. Step 1 of a 12 step program: Who cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea of personal powerlessness. It is truly awful to admit. Even the most well-meaning white people are drunk on racism. It is our countries addiction and illness. We are so drunk and sick. Even, when we try, we can't see it. This is what addiction looks like.
And, then I talked to Stephany. Just for a minute. With whisky in hand, I said, I have got to talk to you about this workshop I did with the racial justice minister of the UCC. It was hard, because I, too, have white fragility. Because, I am Marta, and I am racist. Stephany is a lovely, powerful, educated and a political black women. Most of all, she is faithful. She said something like, I guess it was not about white-people's feelings. And, then I took another sip of whiskey.
Step 2 of the 12 step program: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Sacred conversations happen when we acknowledge God at the center and all the love that God brings. Sacred conversations happen when we not only acknowledge God's love but then recognize that love as safe. I remembered my friend Bana and then talked with my people. I am deeply grateful for Bana and Beth (and all her people) and Stephany. People I trust and see and then hear. It is in those moments that there is a Power greater than all of us working to restore our racist insanity.