I mastered the art of skipping stones when I was 10 years old. I learned how to select the right stone (smooth and flat), and how to achieve just the right angle and spin. The flatter the angle and the faster the spin, the more times your stone will bounce off the water’s surface before sinking into the murky depths. As we wrapped up our 10 sessions of Sacred Ground, and I was reflecting on all that I had learned about our country’s slow, uneven reckoning with the cruel parts of our history, it occurred to me that I have been like a stone skipping across the surface of a deep lake. It’s not that I am not aware or concerned about racial inequality – I am, and deeply. But as a privileged white person, I have been able to skip along the surface of it, occasionally choosing to dip beneath the waves to observe our nation’s painful history of racial inequality and it’s present-day ramifications from a safe distance.
The events of this past summer forced an awareness that I needed to fundamentally alter the spin and angle of my understanding of race. The Sacred Ground sessions provided the perfect opportunity to do just that. Through reading, videos and meaningful conversation, we embarked on a thorough exploration on the role race has played in the development of our nation. What is the saying, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes?” Time and again, across several hundred years, our aim to form a more perfect union has fallen far short of being the Beloved Community envisioned by Howard Thurman and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Looking back at the history was a critical part of the journey, and laid the groundwork for the more significant (and challenging) process of looking inward.
What does it mean to have white privilege? What opportunities have I enjoyed that I took for granted? What implicit biases do I have, and how have they altered my perceptions of others? While there has been progress in racial equality, what are the present-day consequences of centuries of systemic racism – inequalities that are so imbedded in our society that most white people (myself included) are unaware that they even exist? I think sometimes we avoid these difficult questions because they require us to confront feelings of guilt. However, guilt is not the destination – it is a necessary step on the path to reconciliation and forward progress.
The Sacred Ground journey has deepened my perception of the world in unexpected ways. Nearly every day I experience something in a way that I know is different because of lessons I carry with me from our sessions. I hope that is a good sign that I have slowed the spin and trajectory of my understanding of race, and that I am no longer skipping across the surface, oblivious to the currents swirling below. There is important, uncomfortable work ahead as we strive to become the Beloved Community, and I am grateful to have the foundation of the Sacred Ground curriculum beneath me.
Can you think of a time when implicit bias affected your perception of another person? What information was missing that caused you to form a false impression? Have you ever been misunderstood because of someone else’s implicit bias? How did that feel?