Annette Smith was the speaker at semi-programmed meeting for worship on April 17, 2016.
“What is the absence of humanity inside of me created by whiteness?
And what would it mean to fully grieve that absence?”
– Abe Lateiner
I have had some difficult “awakenings” this past year.
I pieced together two stories:
Story one: Two sets of my great-grandparents immigrated from Europe in the late 1800s and homesteaded in Eastern South Dakota. They were successful farmers and managed well. Some of their children, my grandfather for one, went to college.
I knew my one set of German great-grandparents. I pictured their lives similar to the Little House on the Prairie series I loved so well.
Story two: Europeans came to this country, settled in the East Coast and through what they called “manifest destiny” took over the land and killed and pushed the native people further and further west. Manifest destiny was a code word for genocide.
The stories were there to link all along, but I romantically, understandably perhaps given the world view I was trained to see, did not make the link. It seems so obvious now. It’s like I held the stories in two separate parts of my brain.
My family directly benefited from a free government program that gave them land at the
devastating expense of the people who were inhabiting that land.
This is just one piece, one link of my story that I have been disconnected from. I’m aware of more stories and some of them are about present time (white privilege) and the awareness knocks my socks off. Part of the horror is realizing how much must be still hidden from my view. I’ve mostly thought I could get a partial pass around racism. Now this does not seem so.
A question I’ve been asking for a while is what is the cost of white supremacy, whiteness and white privilege to white people? To me. Especially the spiritual costs.
I read an article online titled “Grieving the White Void” by Abe Lateiner.
The author asks two questions:
“What is the absence of humanity inside of me created by whiteness?”
“What would it mean to fully grieve that absence?”
He talks about how the grief we white people have is unusual because it isn’t about something we lost. Because we were born into white supremacy, we whites were born into that loss. It’s not something to feel guilty about. It’s something to face.
The article was hard to read. I recommend it. It brought up lots of feelings and thoughts but also a sense of freedom.
The freedom comes from considering being open to clearer and deeper truth.
We get trapped by our cultural understandings and lenses. We think we know what is there to see, but like the man who wrote Amazing Grace, we are blind and and cannot see.
What about white Quakers?
I go back to the US white Quaker, John Woolman, who recognized this loss in his world around him. Here’s a quote from his journal:
“Where unrighteousness is justified from one age to another, it is like dark matter gathering into clouds over us. We may know that this gloom will remain till the cause be removed by a reformation or change of times and may feel a desire, from love of equity to speak on the occasion, yet where error is so strong that it may not be spoken against without some prospect of inconvenience to the speaker, this difficulty is likely to operate on our weakness and quench the good desires in us, except we dwell so steadily under the weight of it as to be made willing to endure hardness on that account.”
(from The Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman, p 212)
He spent much of his life traveling in the ministry bringing witness to the cost of slavery to the enslaved people, the slaveholders; to the whole society.
How did he do that? How was he able to “see” as much of the damage as he did?
Reading his journal, I would say that he did it in part by being faithful to Quaker practice of silent waiting upon the spirit.
We have this practice in our lives too. When we come to worship, we agree to lay down our worldly thoughts, desires, understandings. Our culture. Getting quiet inside and empty, we listen to something much deeper than our thoughts. We listen together, not alone. We agree that the deep Love underneath all will move us not only individually but collectively.
And of course it’s not like we get a big map that outlines everything. Often it’s a still small voice. And maybe it is a nudge to get outside our comfort zone and listen to what is happening outside our usual world we are accustomed to. We aren’t asked to just understand more but to do more. To read more. To pray more. To listen to those that can see clearer. To act, sometimes boldly and against our own “worldly” interests.
And we keep asking and listening over and over and over. And sharing with each other to help us grope through the dark. And we stumble, we feel uncomfortable or even wretched.
And if it is like George Fox said: that there is an ocean of light and an ocean of darkness and the light will always overcome the dark, then we find a way together to victory and freedom and joy.
We keep our Eyes on the Prize. And as Woolman said, “…if we continue in patience and meekness, heavenly peace is the reward of our labors.”