Journey Toward Empathy, Self-Learning and Compassionate Support
I find it so hard to know what to do to support Black people in this time when they are truly and deeply suffering - feeling so “tired, scared, grieving, pissed off" (Layla F. Saad). Their feelings are not just about a tragic incident (or many), but about a lifetime, a way of life, generations of discrimination that I can’t even begin to get my head around.
“After every police killing of a Black man or woman or child — and there have been many — White people are told to be good allies, to be empathetic, to check their privilege, to listen and, above all else, to “do the work” of getting to know Black people and understanding racism. And people are genuinely trying. I don’t want to knock that,…” (from Erika D. Smith, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times).
I struggle with what to write in Signs of Hope about this turmoil, because I feel pulled to want to try to express hope and positivity. That’s more who I am. But I am learning that in so doing I would really be (without meaning to) dismissing the very real and powerful hurt. I do not want to diminish the reality of the suffering experienced by Black people, today in their daily lives, and throughout history. Painfully, I must acknowledge their suffering, know that there is nothing I can say that will make their lives better, and pray to our infinitely loving God for guidance on how to actively not contribute to racism, even unknowingly. This, for me, is a search for empathy – trying to feel what Black people are feeling, to the extent that I can, so that by beginning to understand their perspective, I might no longer be able to ignore, choose not see, or feel too comfortable in the privileged life I enjoy and others do not.
But I also can find hope in people trying to understand, not down-playing the suffering, and wanting to stand in solidarity and as much empathy as possible with those who suffer racial discrimination. Here is a desire and effort to change our own attitudes and behaviors.
I read a number of articles referring to the postings of support on social media, viewed from the perspective of Black people. Is it harmful or helpful? Most said that: posting is fine, but rarely hits home with Black people; what is said will most likely never be exactly right or well-received, but that’s okay, as long as people posting are ready for feedback and willing to engage in dialogue that might ensue. Good intentions are not lost on readers, but motives are what’s really important – assuage my guilt? Look “good” or socially conscious? Willingness to follow words with actions?
Erika Evans wrote a piece for Deseret News out of Salt Lake City, on June 3, that said many good things.
“The journey to learning another person’s perspective, especially when that person or population or community is disenfranchised, marginalized or oppressed, is a lifelong journey. Nobody’s good at it.” (quoting Jonathan Jackson, executive director of the Community Access, Recruitment, & Engagement Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School)
Jackson’s advice for people who feel like they don’t know what to say or do is to start with Google, study the history of racial injustice and read articles and books written by Black people.
“I do hope that people do some reading and they feel really uncomfortable and maybe they continue to feel like they don’t know what to say,” said Jackson. “Because that will encourage them to listen.”
Jackson explained that non-Black people can learn from and listen to Black voices without creating emotional labor for them in a time of grief. It’s not appropriate to bombard Black acquaintances with questions right now.
They can engage with those who have already volunteered to speak on the subject, said Jackson.
Jackson says the number one thing she recommends is that White people talk to other White people about racism.
“If there is a sense of frustration, a sense of hopelessness, a sense that the problem is too overwhelming, and you don’t know what to do, then congratulations. You’ve just spent five seconds feeling like a Black person,” Jackson said.
There are a number of small groups of friends and neighbors here at Guardian Angels who have taken it upon themselves to read some good articles or books, or watch some appropriate films, and discuss them with one another, often via Zoom, for this just purpose – to learn, to try to understand from the perspective of Black people, to try to be able to empathize. They do this from a place of compassion and gospel call.
These recommendations are from our Health and Wellness Committee.
Craig Svendsen recommends:
Stamped from the Beginning (History of racism in the world over hundreds of years with focus on past 600 years)
How to be an Antiracist (The opposite of being racist isn't being not racist, it's being antiracist, explores his own past and outline many facets of racism and how he himself is racist)
A Good Time for the Truth (an anthology of Minnesota writers experience of racism in our state)
The Assumptions of White Privilege and What We Can Do About It by Bryan Massingale; (Excellent and revealing insight into white privilege White folks have!)
Vicky Eberhardt recommends:
- My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resma Menakem
Jennifer Svendsen recommends:
- White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
- The Atlantic and The New York Times have also published anti-racist reading lists
Finally, there are (other) ways non-Black people can act now.
- For $30, anyone can become a member of the NAACP. People can also choose to contribute to the organization’s scholarship fund.
- Others may choose to support social justice organizations, donate to legal funds or relief efforts, join a protest or contact legislators.
Erika Smith’s L.A. Times article also suggests these actions:
- Think about how you vote, not just for president, but for ballot propositions and candidates who want to make things more equitable, especially for district attorney.
- Shop at Black-owned businesses.
- Don’t be so quick to say no to that affordable housing complex in your neighborhood.
- Encourage your kids to speak up about racism.
- In short, do the work — every day, not just when a Black man dies and there’s a protest — of dismantling a system that, for too long, has benefited too few Americans.
I invite you to join me on a hope-filled journey toward empathy and solidarity with the suffering of Black people and those experiencing discrimination, to feel less comfortable by learning about them from their own voices, and to find ways to talk openly about what words, actions, attitudes perpetuate racial discrimination, so we may have a better chance of avoiding them. May we together see Black people as fellow children of God, and learn from their strength, endurance, determination, creativity, intelligence, wisdom, anger and joy. May we work together to live together, truly seeing one another.