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Racial Justice and Equity: What is Mine to Do?

by Tom Adams

Recently I was at a dinner with a mix of friends and acquaintances. In the midst of the discussion, someone was talking about how to get into Canada without going through Customs. Once you make it, you are a refugee and given all kinds of support and benefits. A friend I didn’t know well observed how he wished that some of the many illegal immigrants from Central America who ended up in Washington, DC, would keep going and settle in Canada instead of the United States. I was shocked and for the moment speechless. While I was grasping for what to say and facing my fear of saying it, another friend skillfully and without malice spoke up and explained how our economy relies on immigrants. She further explained how US cuts in aid to the Caribbean was fueling the flight to the United States.

Later that evening, I reflected on what stopped me from speaking up. My silence seemed inexplicable. Over the past two weeks I had had a number of reminders of how challenging racial justice and equity is for our country. And I was actively asking myself one more time, what is my work as a white man to advance racial justice and equity.

Over a three-week period, I had multiple reminders of past and present inequities in our world. I had acknowledged Martin Luther King’s birthday by a visit to his memorial and watching an excerpt from King’s speech against the Vietnam War. Dr. King minced no words describing the unfairness to the North Vietnamese and the senseless murder of so many thousands of people.

I had seen Harriet, a recent movie about Harriet Tubman and her brave and faith-filled leadership to free slaves before the Civil War through the Underground Railroad. The inhumanity of every aspect of slavery is vividly portrayed—the violent selling of humans, the inhumane crossing packed like animals or worse, the beatings and violence against people of all ages and the total disregard of family ties and connections as families are torn apart for economic gain. I also visited the new Harriet Tubman Museum and Visitors’ Center in Cambridge, Maryland.

Harriet Tubman was born and worked as a slave in Dorchester County not far from Cambridge. The museum and visitors’ center increase awareness of this inhumane part of our history. The museum’s highlight is on a wall out back—a mural of a bigger than life portrait of Harriet Tubman with a big and powerful hand extended in love to anyone seeking help. (Visit https://harriettubmanbyway.org/harriet-tubman-museum/ to see the mural.)

These experiences reminded me we each have our calling in our work for racial justice and equity. So what is mine? Like my faith and my capacity to love, my understanding is evolving. For today, my calling includes:

  • Practicing speaking up against racist, sexist or hateful comments or opinions.
  • Using my talents when asked to contribute time and/or money to people and organizations working to advance racial equity and justice.
  • Encouraging organizations with which I am involved to be open and welcoming to all people, particularly those different from those in power or in the majority. This means inviting into leadership and power people of different ages, races, ethnic groups, sexual preference and gender.
  • Seeking to better perceive my own blind spots and ways of colluding with racial injustice and to change when brought to my attention.
  • Actively looking for opportunities to work and play with people different from me in a respectful and mutual way.

I want to work for more equity and racial justice. It is relatively easy to find moving testimony to the case for change. The case for doing nothing is hard to make. Whether as part of an anti-racist coalition, a demonstration or thru a prayer group, there are many choices. Discerning what to do and how to best do it is much more difficult for each of us.

As I reflect on what is mine to do, the need to connect with others and be in prayerful community about this question seems compelling. Our human hunger for love and oneness drives us all to want to take a stand in our own way. Each of us is called to discern a prayerful path and to answer the question, what is mine to do?

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