Racism Test, Unity ChallengeMay 07, 2021
June greetings. I intended to write to you today with news about a new course, but today is a somber day in the life of our shared political community, the United States. Today is a day in the shadow of death.
As a student of the life and work of Martin Luther King, I feel compelled by the ongoing killing of Black men and women to say a word about racism.
We see racism in our community because it lives in our minds and hearts. Of course structural injustices are involved, but unjust structures are designed, built, and supported by minds and hearts.
To eradicate racism from our shared life, we have to pull it out, roots and all, from our hearts and minds. Mindfulness is an important part of this process.
Mindfulness involves the supervision of attention and the investigation of consciousness. In this question posed by Jane Elliott, we see how to use our attention to investigate our consciousness for unacknowledged bias, complicity, or inaction.
I want every white person in this room, who would be happy to be treated as this society in general treats our citizens, our black citizens. If you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment that our black citizens do in this society - please stand! - You didn't understand the directions. If you white folks want to be treated the way blacks are in this society. Stand! … Nobody is standing here. That says very plainly that you know what's happening. You know you don't want it for you. I want to know why you are so willing to accept it or to allow it to happen for others. (Documentary transcript)
So Jane Elliott’s question is the Racism Test and most of us are guilty of it — we don't want to stand in the place of Black people. Failing the test is an invitation to embrace the Unity Challenge.
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” —Leo Tolstoy
A simple, individual Unity Challenge is this: How can I enter into the pain and suffering of Black people in way that is respectful, welcome, and helpful? That will look different for different people, but one way to do it is to support a local Black public school (yes, many schools are still very segregated) or some other Black institution, e.g., business, church, nonprofit organization, etc. Another way to do it is to join a Black church or move into a Black neighborhood (see guidelines for this action here).
Individual steps are a start but they will not solve the problem of collective racism. Today I don’t know exactly what steps are necessary to eradicate collective racism in the United States. If the steps were clear, many people would take them. But I do know that without mindfulness and its willingness to investigate consciousness and respond to injustice, neither the presence of racism nor the steps for eliminating it will become clear in our lifetime.
“Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.