Listening to learn
When Aaron and I were engaged, we, like many couples went through pre-marital counseling. I will never forget when we talked about how our racial difference would affect our marriage. We had been asked to consider how we would respond if someone disagreed with us being in an interracial marriage. I said somewhat flippantly, “they can get over it.” Aaron responded with a serious tone, “That’s something that weighs on me because I want to ensure Holly’s safety, and I know that some people will have an issue with it. I can’t control how others might respond to us.” The counselor than confronted me with the truth that not only was I not listening to Aaron but I was also dismissing his experiences and concerns for this new reality that I would be entering into. I was responding out of my White privilege, whereas Aaron was responding out of his life experience as a Black man. That’s the first moment that I distinctly remember the realization that my reality has been different due to the color of my skin. That was the first time that I remember specifically being confronted with the fact that my knowledge and beliefs about the way the world works was not the way it worked for everyone.
Like with most things, as I began trying to listen more and argue less, I started to learn. However, if I’m being honest with you, I didn’t want to accept what I was hearing initially. To hear that I had a privilege and consequently, was ignorant on certain issues, was hard for me to accept. Yet, as I continued to listen to others with different experiences than mine, I started seeing the defensiveness in my mindset. When I thought about it realistically, why do I think that my White opinion on the experiences, struggles, and injustices of People of Color is more accurate than the accounts of those very People of Color? Every time I dismissed an injustice, found a reason to justify an unwarranted death, or explained away a microaggression, I was, in reality, trusting my opinion more so than the person’s opinion who actually experienced the hardship. In what other realm do I operate that way? When someone is struggling with the loss of a loved one, I don’t explain away their feelings. When a woman expresses her disgust about an inappropriate comment yelled to her, I don’t find a way to justify the man’s actions or words. When my friend experienced a biased ruling from a judge in her court case, I didn’t side with the Judge. I was frustrated with the bias. So, why was my tendency to discount the stories of People of Color? Through this journey, I found that I really do have privilege, that I actually was ignorant on certain issues, and that I definitely need to listen more in my pursuit of racial reconciliation.
Every parent will tell you that the full truth matters when knowing which child to believe. A couple weeks ago, Eliza called “Mommy! Isaiah’s eating something!” I raced into our game room to find Isaiah had a penny in his mouth. After I removed it, I gave Eliza a huge hug and told her how proud I was that she called me. Aaron and I are diligent about keeping things out of reach that could be choking hazards, so then I asked her, “Eliza, do you know where the penny was before Isaiah picked it up?”
She replied, “His snack cup.” I knew there had not been a penny in his cup when I handed it to him a few minutes prior.
“Eliza, how did the penny get in his snack cup?”
“I put it there.”
So then we had a long conversation about putting things in Isaiah’s snack cup that is not food. The full context of the truth mattered. My judgement on the situation before I had the entire story was wrong. The message that needed to be addressed with Eliza wasn’t that she had helped her brother but rather that her actions had potentially endangered her brother.
As I began to go beyond listening to also researching diverse perspectives on racial inequality and systematic oppression, I started to understand that just like with my kids, not only does the context matter for the full truth of the story, it also matters for the safety of everyone involved. As a White Evangelical woman, when I was making statements, generalities, and constructing moral beliefs about these topics without knowing the full context, I was actually hurting the process of racial reconciliation. I was hurting the integrity of the Church. When I blindly dismissed the concerns, stories, and realities of individuals of Color, I dismissed opportunities to carry another’s burden, chances to pursue peace, and moments to mirror the heart of Jesus. Furthermore, I found that my beliefs about issues involving racial components had, for the most part, been drawn based on a reality that did not represent the full context of the situation. Yes, the full context of truth always matters, but it is absolutely essential when we are discussing racial issues in America. It’s not truth if we pick the parts of history that we like, make us feel good, make us feel proud to be American, or affirm our current beliefs, and then we ignore or defend the parts of the story that challenge us, that show our nation’s sinful nature, rebuke us, or confront our belief systems about our current state of affairs in this country.
As someone in the majority, now is the time for me to stop rebutting and to start listening. Now is the time for me to inspect my motives, thoughts, and responses to find the areas that I’m defensive, prideful, or ignorant in. Now is the time to recognize that as a White Evangelical American, I probably do not fully understand the context of the pain, exhaustion, frustration, and fear that People of Color face regularly. Now is the time to recognize that I can’t help fix what I refuse to recognize is broken.
Let’s start listening so we can start learning.
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About Holly's Blog
Holly loves to write, and you'll find her blog covers all different topics!