What I couldn’t see unless I saw it through another’s eyes

I have 3 strong handsome kind brothers. The four of us live across 4 time zones and still, my brothers are part of the beating of my own heart.
I have never in my 47 years gone to bed worrying that my brothers wouldn’t make it home because they would be pulled over by a police officer.
I have never doubted that if they were pulled over it would be for a good reason and that the police officer with whom they engaged would treat them with respect and stay within the limits of the law as they dealt with whatever the legitimate reason was for having pulled one of my brothers over.
And if my brothers were in trouble, I would never have thought for a moment that the police might use an unreasonable amount of force that could lead to injury or death. It would never have crossed my mind.  Nor would I have thought that a police over who did cross the line would ever get away with it.  I trusted the law to be impartial.
I have no doubt that my assumptions about my brothers’  safety are right because my brothers are white.
If I were to base my estimation of the police only by my white family’s experience, I would have a high valuing of the police, which I did until three years ago.
What I knew intellectually before the murder of Michael Brown has now become emotional knowledge because of the growing number of people of color who are in my life, because of the countless actions that I’ve been privileged to be a part of where I met and listened to people of color in my city talk about their experience of the police.
If I measured their truthfulness by my brothers’ experience, I would say they were lying. A lot of whites measure the truthfulness of the black experience by their own personal experience. That would be a mistake.
Being truly in solidarity means acknowledging the limits of white experience in providing the raw matter to attain a larger truth. Our own experience shadows the truth rather than reveals it.
Learning to decenter your own experience hits against the wall of everything we’ve been taught as whites. We have been taught in a million ways that what we perceive is right because we perceive it.
This is especially true in Unitarian Universalism, where we have been taught that our own experience is the bedrock of authority. This is what we have taught our children.
This is a partial truth and it is rooted in the culture of white supremacy, where white experience is given more truth and value than the experience of people of color. Yes, we Unitarian Universalists do give great authority to our own personal experiences, but those experiences must be anchored in a racial consciousness to give those experiences their true meaning. For whites, that cannot happen until whites listen to and center the stories of marginalized people. Only then can we understand our own story. Only then can we be complete.
I am so grateful that I do not have to worry about my white brothers. But I know why that is the case. I know that my confidence is a privilege that is denied to others. My prayer is that every sister can someday have the assurance and confidence that their brothers will be alright, that their brothers will come home, that their brothers will have long rich lives filled with joy, dignity, meaning, and purpose.

About kristataves

I am a Unitarian Universalist minister serving the Unitarian Church of Quincy IL. St. Louis is my residence. I am a dual American and Canadian citizen living in the great state of Missouri and building my life in this wonderful and sometimes very frustrating state.
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