Race Equity: What’s Love Got to Do with It?
I have come to believe that we have a deep and immediate need for race equity – and that love is the way to get there. This belief has led me to incorporate my learning into both my profession and my purpose in this world. It is the truest truth of my life journey that race equity and love must be aligned.
But how is it that Black and brown people still suffer so many obstacles? And why did it take me so long to see it?
In Love in Action, Chapter 4 of Strength to Love, Dr. King speaks of the lessons in Jesus’ words on the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. [Luke 23:34].” Dr. King asserts that the second lesson “was Jesus’ awareness of man’s intellectual and spiritual blindness.”
Dr. King says, “Blindness was their trouble; enlightenment was their need. We must recognize that Jesus was nailed to the cross not simply by sin but also by blindness.”
Dr. King’s assertion is both deeply sad and also a balm to me. It helps me let go of the shame I hold as I consider that the unseen hate that lies in my heart, and the unseen hate that others have in theirs, doesn’t come from being a bad person, but from being deprived of deeper understanding. “They know not what they do.”
Through my connection, love, and deep, abiding affection for first one Black woman, then a larger group of Black people who have become colleagues and friends, I began to understand what I could not see myself.
They had the courage to trust me enough to share their personal experiences of racism, both open and horrific as well as the more insidious ones. My eyes were opened to the serious and wide-spread horror of everyday racism that Black people live with. Everywhere. Every. Day.
I am writing on this not to shame or condemn white people.
I am writing with the hope that my story of love may enlighten and allow others that look like me to see other people and the world more fully.
Bible verses and hymns, along with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech and the words of hate and derision against Black people fill the memories of my entire life. Denial was there, too, including my own denials of racist thoughts.
It was love that taught me that I had inherited subconscious beliefs and narratives as part of a script that has been passed down for generations in the South, in the US, and around the world. That script undergirds my thoughts and beliefs, a script full of racism and lies about Black and brown people’s very nature.
As Dr. King wrote, “Blindness was their trouble; enlightenment was their need.”
I know now that I have more knowledge and understanding because of love. My humanity was expanded as an unintended consequence of simple human connection, the love of a friend.
Her name is Dorian Spears, and we met in 2009. We shared a common love of music, we had breakfast, we found commonalities in each other’s lived experiences and we began to love each other. That love allowed us to be brave and vulnerable. Dorian is a Black woman from one of the majority Black, federally redlined, and disinvested neighborhoods of South Memphis. I am a white woman from one of the majority white and highly invested in suburbs of Memphis.
Dorian opened up to me and shared her experiences. I made many missteps and surely caused her unintended harm because I just couldn’t imagine. Much of her truth I had never experienced, never been taught, or was outright denied in my own majority white community.
I know now that love in action looks like wanting the absolute best life for her and has enlightened me to want that for all humans. To want and expect respect for their humanity, abundant economic opportunities, and a refusal to stand by and be silent when others are denied anything based on a lie about their nature because of their race, gender, sexuality, gender identity, country of origin, or for any reason at all.
After 14 years of friendship, her love and forgiveness of my lack of understanding has been transformational. I am able to love more because by understanding the nuance of everyone’s life experience, I am open and curious to get to know more people. My life is richer because of my deep friendships with people who don’t look like me, love like me, or experience the world like me. It all began with Dorian’s friendship. The enlightenment that has come from it continues to change the very fabric of my life.
Today, I work with Dr. Adriane Johnson-Williams, a Black woman whom I met through Dorian. Over the years, Adriane has extended me a high level of love and trust, first as a friend and now as a colleague. She single-handedly built this thriving business in Memphis during a global pandemic. Trusting me is love in action, and I am deeply grateful.
It is not lost on me the history of white and Black women in the South that has led to true and lasting harm for Black women. And yet, Adriane has provided me with my right livelihood, aligning my purpose with my profession. Her courage to trust me gives me the courage to say what needs to be said.
And what needs to be said is this: White people, our trouble is that we are not experiencing things, so we think they couldn’t possibly be happening, and too many of us refuse to be enlightened.
There is no condemnation for not knowing.
There are and have been powerful, wealthy people that have a vested interest in us remaining unknowing and unenlightened. They also have a vested interest in keeping too many of us, particularly Black and brown people, poor and desperate enough to work for subpar wages, and too poor and sick to fight back.
There is no condemnation for not having seen something, but I cannot say the same for refusing to see.
Too many white people proclaim we know the injustices in our society have nothing to do with race. That we have been miraculously healed from the anti-black sentiments that began at the start of the trans-Atlantic slave trade from Africa to the Americas and continued in the US South in defense of slavery. Healed without any effort on the part of our society to truly see and come to terms with our abhorrent past.
When white people hear the word white supremacy, we bristle, and yet, European moral superiority, which in the US became known as white moral superiority, is the foundation of all our systems. Systems that still keep too many Black and brown people hungry, thirsty, unwelcome, poor, sick, and in prison, and being murdered by the government.
We don’t experience it, so we cannot believe it.
I am not a theologian, but growing up in the South, the words of Jesus have been an ever-present moral compass for my life.
“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” [Matthew 35: 42-46, ESV]
Love connects us. Love lets us acknowledge each other as fellow human beings.
Love allows us to see inequitable conditions are not only inhumane, but immoral.
Love enlightens us.
Connect with people who do not look like you, who do not live the way you live, love the way you love, who make you uncomfortable. Start slowly, spend time together, break bread together, celebrate together. Truly connect by sharing your experiences and asking about and listening to others’.
Once you begin to love someone, you believe them. You want the best for them and their families, friends, and communities. And you will fight to make sure that they get treated with equity.