By David Scherer
My hands were sweaty. My chest was constricting. My heart was racing. My stomach was sinking. I wanted to run away as fast as I could. But instead, I sat paralyzed as one of my friends of color expressed to me how something I had done was racially insensitive. I didn’t know what to do. A thousand thoughts swirled in my mind. “But I’m one of the good ones!”, “I didn’t mean it!”, “Maybe you’re just reading into it”, etc. All I could do is just sit like a deer in the headlights. I felt so much shame. This was shame rooted in family of origin and even previous generations. It felt like there was nothing I could do to resolve it. I had to just sit with it and be present. Once I was able to settle my body from its initial “freak out”, I began to realize that I was receiving a gift from him. My friends’ willingness to risk and provide feedback became an opportunity for us to grow closer, and for me to learn about how to show up better in the relationship. But it was not easy! Most of us have not developed the skills to handle such a difficult conversation, and I was no exception.
In his book “My Grandmother’s Hands”, racialized trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem talks about how our body (created “good”) can sense danger and bypass the rational part of the brain to protect itself when we are in these types of tense moments. Our bodies have been trained over the generations about which bodies are safe, and which bodies are not. We carry these messages around in our bodies and can go into a reflexive response, in spite of our best intentions. This system of “white body supremacy” does harm to all of us, and we need to keep working hard to stand in the discomfort and metabolize our trauma.
What if the church took this work of confession, repentance, correction, and reparation seriously? What if we identified the fact that our suffering is bound up in one another’s? In Isaiah 58 the writer says, “Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations.” Many of our historical institutions have been ravaged by the blight of systemic racism and genocide. If we say we have no racism, we deceive ourselves. God, however, is calling us to “Be Still” and listen to the voice of the one who is healing this racialized trauma across the generations. Will we have the courage to sit in the discomfort of these conversations, knowing that God is sitting with us? Can we receive the type of feedback that my friend provided for me and see it as a call into deeper relationship and more prudent action? I pray that it is so. Blessings to you as you continue to dive deeper into this work of being a repairer of the breach.