Ta-Nehisi Coates Challenges Me

I have been contemplating Ta-Nehisi Coates book, Between the World and
Me
, his perspectives on racism and how they relate to a few
books/scholarly articles I’ve been reading for school this semester by Steven
O. Roberts & Michael T. Rizzo (The Psychology of American Racism),
Helene Shulman & Mary Watkins (Towards Psychologies of Liberation),
and Robin Wall Kimmerer (Braiding Sweetgrass).

For me, the struggle goes way beyond a black and white world as I believe
Coates’ book applies to our polar extremes regarding politics and religion, and
our fear that we might wake up one day and realize we were dead wrong. Even
Jesus warned of this speaking to a crowd of people at the final judgment who
states, “Lord, Lord, we prophesied and did this and that in your
name!” To which His response is, “Depart from me; I NEVER knew
you!” That’s sobering. Both sides think they’re right and come across as
arrogant and scathing in their judgments of each other. I keep wondering, what
if I’m wrong in my assessment? Then what?

Coates goes on to say that he’s “wounded, marked by old codes,
which shielded [him] in one world and then chained [him] in the next…because
[his] eyes were made in Baltimore…blindfolded by fear…to be distanced from
fear is not a passport of the struggle…the Dreamers will have to learn to
struggle themselves, to understand that the field for their Dream, the stage
where they have painted themselves white [or right], is the deathbed of us all
.”

Roberts and Rizzo discuss factors that contribute to American racism, one of
which are categories that promote a belief that we can all somehow
gain our identity in said categories when in reality it just sets us up for
“racial stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination.” Couple that
with another factor – factions – which are competitive and loyalty driven,
it’s no wonder we end up segregating ourselves without even realizing it. We
can see this in the political parties of 2020, the world religions that cling
ever so tightly to their dogma and ideology, and I dare say the normal company
we keep. Go through your Facebook “friends” and what does the sea of
faces look like? Do they believe as you believe? Do they tend to always agree
with your posts and ideas and discussions? Do we feel safe in that?

And then as we move throughout our social media and physical spaces, and as
we witness humanity at odds with itself, have we fallen prey to being the bystanders
that Watkins & Shulman flesh out? I must admit I’ve been a bystander –
mainly because I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what has happened to the
America I grew up in. Another reason is I just haven’t known what to say, and
frankly, I haven’t known where exactly I do stand on certain issues because
there’s too much conflicting information.

After all, both sides claim to have “the truth;” both sides
vehemently curse and call the other side delusional; both sides will unfriend
and disassociate themselves from lifelong friends and family members because
they disagree with their point of view or someone has harmed them or won’t
apologize for their part. I suppose I have been keeping myself in a cocoon of
sorts, unwilling to emerge because I’m forever exhausted with the
us-versus-them mentality and argument. When Joe Biden told the president to
“shut up” during the 2020 Presidential Debate, I had flashbacks of
hearing heated arguments and deadlock conversations because no one was willing
to just hear the other person. I feel the same way Mr. Biden must have felt – please
just stop talking so I can think clearly.

As I continue to read, research, and have discussions with friends, family,
and social media connections, I am drawn to being a peacemaker, a moderator
that is leaning toward the instructions provided by Watkins & Shulman,
In order to break out of the rigid boundary building of ‘us-versus-them’
polarized thinking and the destructive actions it yields, we must create spaces
for encountering difference without dominance. In such spaces, we need to be
able to take two kinds of risks that are uncommon and difficult – to differ
from those we identify with and to listen to those we do not understand.

I have been practicing this for several years now, and while I still
sometimes feel the urge to prove my “rightness” or knowledge, I pause
much more often and just listen – seeking to understand; seeking to hear;
seeking for peace; seeking for kindness; seeking for grace. And in reflecting
on Kimmerer’s Grammar of Animacy chapter, I wonder what would happen
if we applied this gift of animacy to human beings as well as inanimate objects
and saw each person as a human who is created in the image of God, loved by
someone, loves someone, makes mistakes just like we do, can be arrogant and
cruel just like we can, and that perhaps we have more in common than what we
think?

We must remember as Watkins & Shulman pointed out, “community
members on opposite sides of a violent struggle have to face each other daily
while reconstructing their worlds
” and the person we think is so
atrocious has a perspective and a worldview that we can’t possibly understand
because we weren’t there. We are not commodities to each other as we have
learned through the atrocities of the Indians, slavery, and war. We are gifts
to each other with so much to give and so much to learn. May God forgive us for
seeing anyone as anything less.

 

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