Concrete actions for racial justice: self-examination

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Editor’s Note: Last week I invited emails about resources you are finding helpful and lessons learned about being anti-racist and advancing racial justice. I made a typo in my email. The correct email is tom@thadams.com. Thanks for sharing what you have found helpful!

In last week’s post, I invited readers to share what they have learned about working for racial justice in the nearly two years since George Floyd was murdered.  I shared some resources which I have found helpful, including an NPR podcast/article by Eric Deggans. In his article, “Not Racist is not Enough: Putting in the Work to be Anti-Racist,” Deggans is very concrete. He offers four practical tips below that I’ll explore in this and future posts:

Tip #1: Accept that we’ve all been raised in a society that elevates white culture over others. Being anti-racist will mean first challenging those notions inside yourself.

Tip #2: Learn the history of racism and anti-racism, especially in America, to educate yourself about the complexities of the issues you’ll be confronting.

Tip #3: Seek out films and TV shows which will challenge your notions of race and culture and dive in deeply, learning to see anti-racism in new ways.

Tip #4: Find local organizations involved in anti-racism efforts – preferably led by people of color – and help uplift their voices and ideas.

Let’s start with Tip 1 – how do we honestly examine the notions that get in the way of accepting everyone as equal? I find this hard to do because it makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like to face how deeply white superiority has been embedded in me. The predominant white culture has trained us well to deny and ignore those parts of ourselves. Therein lies the challenge. What I can’t or won’t admit or accept as part of me continues to harm me and others.

I don’t think I am unique in avoiding moments of self-reflection that don’t line up with my idealized self-image. Fortunately, most of the institutions and practices that support our spiritual and emotional growth encourage self-examination.

Many faith communities have deep traditions that honor the practice of self-examination. Christians are just completing Lent in anticipation of Easter. People of the Jewish faith observe Yom Kippur, a Day of Atonement each fall along with other days of self-reflection that prepare for the spring remembrance of Passover. Those in the Muslim faith are in the middle of their thirty days of fasting, introspection and charitable activities.  Buddhists pay attention to where attachments block good.

I am most familiar with Catholic traditions in which “confession” is a sign of our desire to grow in love. Self-examination and confession are intended to bring us closer to God, others and ourselves. The Jesuits, founded by St. Ignatius in 1540, took this idea and made it into a daily practice of spiritual examen. In this daily review, the individual looks at his relationship with God and others and reflects on where Love was present and where missing. (For more details see What Is Ignatian Spirituality? by David Fleming, p. 21, where he outlines five points for the daily examen.)

In looking to learn from what others are doing to advance racial justice, a friend in Atlanta shared with me a set of questions used by individuals and groups looking to become anti-racist. They are called “Noticing Questions.” They were initially used for reflections as part of a weekly workshop series. These questions got me wondering what might happen if we applied the culture of self-examination in a consistent way to the question of how are we doing in working to advance racial equity?  

Reflective questions can cover a broad range of topics. Here are a few examples:

  1. What is your earliest memory of being aware of racial differences? How did your growing-up years shape your beliefs about race and racism?
  2. When you hear the term “white privilege” what comes to mind?
  3. Can you share a recent example of where internalized bias or prejudice influenced your judgment about a person or situation?
  4. Has your own formal education offered a truthful accounting of history? What do you know now that you wished you had learned in school?

What might a regular self-examination of your perceptions and actions about race reveal to you? Is this a practice you might consider weekly? Daily? I look forward to exploring this idea myself and hearing from readers about it.

Author

  • Tom Adams writes and speaks on topics vital to the intersection of our personal lives with our community and global lives. He has for decades been engaged in and written about nonprofit leadership and transitions, spirituality and spiritual growth, how we each contribute to a more just and equitable world and recovery from addictions and the Twelve Step recovery movement.

4 Comments

  1. sally mac

    Yikes, Tom. You’re making me think today…
    Earliest memory-fire hoses being turned on the Selma protesters
    White privilege: self examination brought about with D’Angelo’s book, White Fragility
    recent example : believing the police version of a neighborhood squatter situation; now we learn that there was one Anglo squatter
    I wish it didn’t take me until 1992 to learn of the racial component of C. Columbus’s “discovery”
    I’m still on my journey….

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Sally, appreciate your refelctions and desire to keep exploring and learning and sharing so we all learn. Be well!

  2. Mary

    Growing up years: I rarely saw people of color in the white neighborhood I lived in except for a few children in the school I went to through 4th grade and then none in the rest of grade school or high school and only a few people of color in college but more in the NYC College I attended to get a teaching certificate. However, the college I attended taught a strong sense of justice, and as a result I went to DC for the March for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 — and again to the 50th anniversary in 2013.

    for 30 years, I worked for an order of priests and brothers which has as its main concern the welfare of the poorest of the poor, living with them bringing consolation, faith and hope to people on the margins of society — and thus my heart and mind were opened wider to many new kinds of suffering that people endure and the causes.

    After George Floyd was killed, I was opened further to the inequities in society and first learned the term “white privilege”. With articles like yours I continue to become more and more aware of how my life has been built on privileges that I was unaware of.

    I am grateful for all these opportunities that have prick my complacency — including things you write about each week.

    Thanks for your ongoing interest in bringing awareness and hope to us!

    • Tom Adams

      Thanks Mary for your thoughtful reflectiuons. We all have different paths on our life journey and leanr didfferent things at different times. This exporation of our whiteness and what it means in terms of working against racism is an important lesson for all whites. Best, Tom