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Dear Ta-Nehisi…

I read your words… a lot. I hear your wisdom, feel your pain. You understand the systems of a powerful dominant culture. Those that do not honor all of America’s humanity.

Your words make me grieve. Grieve how I’ve been raised to assume my country’s systems were okay… even to believe they were the best. Wow. My white-skinned naivety has allowed me to be absorbed in this dominant culture without grasping my created privilege.

You are succinctly articulate. Able to clearly express your heritage-rooted pain and that of others. You are contemplative and emotive, thoughtfully describing the injustice that people of color continue to suffer within systemically racialized white and black ways.

You drive me to look deep. At my own heritage with it’s garbage stuff, part of the madness… it’s painful. I don’t like much of what I see.

How I knew no person of color growing up. How I developed racial fear as a child watching the Chicago race riots on TV, listening to the adults talk. How I heard my grandma call those dark Brazil nuts nig’rs toes at Christmas. Those things shaped my mind and behavior. I know.

I’m trying to come to terms with this fear-formed racialized stuff. To uncover, uproot it… it’s hard. Hard to both own and write about it. Hard to untwist my very normalized white-skinned cultural reality. One where I’ve had systemic privilege as routine for decades, multiple family generations. It takes time to uncover… to find the depths of justified normalized ways. How my mind has been formed.

Yet, I’m persevering. I know that change starts with individuals… someone has to start. I can’t long for America to deconstruct her racialized stories and write the future in a more fully humane way without owning my story and stuff.

So, I contemplate. I ponder the possibilities of us all, owning and sharing our heritage stories. Could a movement begin? Could we finally own and talk about our ugly heritage without justifying unjust American roots? A heritage of conquest, slavery, oppression…

In my very segregated city, relationships with friends of color encourage me to go deep on this journey. My friends are gracious and loving… we share laughter. We argue, debate and push into the reality of each of our truths. I could not journey without them. We all see skin color and we talk about that reality. They help me acknowledge my own white-skinned privilege of access as my unrecognized cultural norm.

And Ta-Nehisi, your writing pushes me deeper… so, thank you.

Thank you for writing The Case for Reparations. It gives background to lament my city’s deep discrimination heritage. For the Black Family article. That gave me understanding around middle class individualism and our blindness of pinning blame on those with more wealth, maybe a tad more blind. And, your latest, Considering Reparations, where you talk about how 78% of white Americans think that the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow is no longer a big deal… Wow, really? I’m thinking that 78% probably doesn’t have reality chats with any friend of color.

And last, thanks for your little book gem, Between the World. Those conversations with your son. They’re so very different than the chats I have with my teen. Your words give me insight. To ask my teen deeper questions. For her and I to both ponder a very different world…

Questions to ponder and/or take action:

  1. Have you read any books or major articles on African American history; or, if you’re a person of faith, have you read African-American contextualized theology? All theology is contextualized; so, if you’ve only read Eurocentric-focused work, you won’t have other views. A book suggestion: Aliens in the Promised Land by Anthony Bradley.

  2. Would you consider reading Ta-Nehisi Coates “Between the World and Me” with a family member or friend… maybe even a community group (here’s one)? Then, commit to deep conversation around the book? (It’s only 150 pages)

  3. Could you watch/listen to this Christena Cleveland message on “Who Is Part of Your Family?” and deeply think about whom is your “us & them” and how you might overcome your biases?

  4. Would you commit to walk in solidarity with a person of color in some way, as an act of deep love in 2016? (To clarify, this does not mean participating in any service/betterment events or giving to a cause… this means sacrificing time, committing to a relationship journey, broadening your personal perspective on America’s racial divide.)

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