Before the hopeful part
Reading "The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy and the Path to a Shared American Future" by Robert P. Jones, Simon & Schuster, 2023.
I started reading The Hidden Roots of White Supremacy because reviews said it was a hopeful book. I haven’t gotten to the hopeful part yet.
The book tells the real history of three places in America (Tallahatchie County in Mississippi, Duluth, Minnesota and Tulsa, Oklahoma) and then describes what the people there did “to repair the downstream damage and build a shared future.” The Hidden Roots at 24.
I look forward to the hopeful part because the part that comes before it — the real history — is devastating to read. It’s the sort of thing that makes me doubt the possibility of redemption, and once again I am feeling despair, guilt and shame.
It’s one thing to talk about those emotions. It’s another thing to feel them. It’s very unpleasant. I am hoping to figure out how we “metabolize” these feelings1, but I don’t know how to do that yet. For now, all I can do is mentally look away. Just for a bit. Just to take a break.
There is a difference between taking a break and being a denier.
Deniers tell us that nothing bad actually happened. American enslavement had a bright side. The holocaust was a made-up story. Trump won the election.
A variation of denialism is that something bad may have happened but it was done by bad people and we’re better than that now, so it won’t happen again. When it comes to white supremacy, that doesn’t work. White supremacy is so baked into culture and white self-understanding that white people can barely see it. Without vigilant awareness and suspicion of our own intentions and the system, the events of the history which we can barely bring ourselves to read WILL happen again.
I hope it is okay to look away from the real history once in a while. Just for a moment. Just long enough to take in a bit of beauty or sing a hymn that says people are redeemable. Taking care of heart and mind so that we will be able to look at the real history again. Because the willingness to know the real history is the necessary first step to take to keep it from happening again.
I hope you have a good Thanksgiving Week. Please know that I am thankful for each of you who reads this newsletter.
In My Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa Menakem says we need to “metabolize” the negative feelings, working through the emotions as we physically experience them.