HOW SHALL WE TALK ABOUT RACISM?


Race, Racism, White Privilege, Guilt

Freedom, Justice, Peace, Equal opportunity

Negroes, African-Americans, Blacks, BIPOC community


So many words, so little time.

How do we talk about these topics that fill our current news cycle? They are not new at all, yet, rather than take the chance that we may inadvertently offend, or expose our ignorance, or (heavens!) feel uncomfortable, we stay silent. And haven’t we stayed silent too long?

If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor. Desmond Tutu

For most of my life, writing has given me the opportunity to clarify my thoughts, sort out my emotions, or understand better my dreams. Does writing work that way for you too?

Our mind is a rather remarkable self-protection app. A topic gets too serious, too heavy, too close? No problem, our mind bounces us off to another (safer) topic. I fall victim to this often and find that when I take the time to commit my thoughts to paper, I find a clarity I often wasn’t even aware I needed.

Talking serves a similar purpose. When I share in a group where vulnerability is welcome, when I hear myself putting words together that I may have never combined before, I also learn. The words don’t necessarily come out elegantly. Sometimes they come out jumbled or even just wrong. So it is with most anything new. We fall alot when we’re learning to walk; we are jerky and weird looking when learning to dance.

So too will we stumble when talking about a topic we’ve never really explored before. And that takes a certain amount of courage. Are you up for it?


A Metaphor Might Help

People Get Ready, there’s a train a coming,” sang the Chambers Brothers not so long ago. Their recording is my wake up music when I need to set my cell phone’s alarm and, as I write this today, I recognize it was just this morning that this song once again, woke me up. I find it a fitting metaphor for my life in this era when the idea of becoming “awakened” to new ways of seeing is omnipresent.

From the mid ’60s when this musical reflection of that “growing sense of social and political awareness” first hit the radio waves, the lyrics grabbed me and haven’t let go. As I’m writing this essay, I hear the strains once again. Here’s the opening chorus.

People get ready, there’s a train a coming.
You don’t need to no baggage, you just get on board.
All you need is faith, to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

Generally though, waking up to this haunting melody, I see the time, hit the STOP button, and get on into my day. The second verse generally escapes me. It’s a good one.

People get ready, for the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board ’em
There’s hope for all, among those loved the most
.

Like the chorus, this verse pleads an appealing all-inclusiveness. We climb on board from “coast to coast,” all we need is the “faith” that a better world is possible. It also seems to me this train is pulling through the station and it won’t be here for long. We live in a brief moment in time before this particular train pulls away once again. Do we really want our lives to go back to how they once were?

Jordan is that promised land where, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, “content of their character” rules over “color of their skin.” And, as this train to Jordan moves along the track, I’m gratified to see the passenger list grow. I have been on this train for a very long time, since college, though I recognize stepped off for many years. Others I know are relatively new. It doesn’t matter when we each got on. What’s important is that we’re on it now, together. For “Together, we can do what we cannot do alone.”



The Chambers Brothers sing another verse before ending with the chorus. Oh, to deconstruct this next verse.

There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind, just to save his own, (believe me now)
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there is no hiding place, against the kingdom’s throne

Who are those who “would hurt all mankind?” Is “pity” accurate? Perhaps that’s as good a place as any to begin to talk about racism. We will stumble, we may offend, and we’ll certainly feel uncomfortable. But we begin by being our authentic selves, for, I believe, we cannot afford to stay silent any longer.

I wouldn’t leave you without a link to the Chambers Brothers rendition of the Curtis Mayfield song. Here’s People Get Ready.



HOW ABOUT YOU? Are you on board yet? Do share your story with us.

6 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    Good one, Janet!

    I come from a long line of family inclusive of all races and creeds. This post sums up specifically the actions of my grandmother and aunt, who taught by example: https://marianbeaman.com/2017/12/13/grandma-bedroom-holy-family-refugees/
    Marian Beaman recently posted…Wordless Wednesday: Reading LessonMy Profile

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Marian. Your comment reminds me of a phrase I’ve been chewing on of late: our racism resume. I do it too: count all the proof that “I’m not racist”. I should blog about this more. It’s subtle the many ways racism colors our perspective.
      Janet Givens recently posted…HOW SHALL WE TALK ABOUT RACISM?My Profile

  2. Joan Rough
    | Reply

    I was brought up by a WWII war hero who hated everyone who was different than he was, including Jews. I always wondered how he got that way, but it may have had something to do with growing up in NYC to immigrant parents, in a Polish neighborhood where everyone outside of the neighborhood was the enemy. I was kept from playing with a girl friend down the street who was a Jew and told never to talk to one of my best friends in 4th grade who was black. I hated my father.

    Having lived here in Virgina since 1979, after 20 years of living in Vermont, where racism wasn’t much observed, I’ve been witness to a lot of bigotry and it hurts my heart. I live in Charlottesville, where not too long ago (2017), the religious right brought their hatred to my city. We lost a young woman to one of them after he drove his car into a crowd of people trying to defend their black neighbors. Thankfully he is in jail and will be for a very long time. We have another trial set here in October, for 3 more men, one a graduate of UVA. I know this will not be the last time we will see these hateful people on our streets.

    I can talk about racism, but it breaks my heart that it is taking so long for some of us to believe in equality and justice for those who continue to be filled with hate.

  3. susan scott
    | Reply

    The video is not playing Janet – sometimes this happens. I may try to access it on another ‘platform’ and jump on the moving train. Though I’m already on it 🙂 Here in my country race is used as a dividing tactic by those in power and sadly it has worked to an extent. I sense though that the times they are a’changing and we’re not being taken in by this anymore. What we do to another we do to ourselves and I suspect that there’s an awareness of this too .. nevertheless, we can never lose sight of our past and hopefully learn from the wrongs of it so that the future is fully inclusive of all. Always a danger of the oppressed becoming the oppressor. I remember Desmond Tutu’s words well …

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      “The times they are a changing,” oh how I hope you are right. We sang that song in the ‘sixties only to have it silenced by Reaganomics and the power of money. We whites get tired and can so easily turn away, run to the beach if need be and take a break. We can get off the train whenever we want, if it becomes too much or we get bored. We’ve become attached to feeling comfortable, thinking we’re entitled. And I don’t see how it will resolve. I’ve also just finished watching a 40-minute video from the NYTimes on out January 6 Capital insurrection so I’m a bit disenchanted with my fellow man at the moment. Sigh
      Janet Givens recently posted…HOW SHALL WE TALK ABOUT RACISM?My Profile

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