"I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Son, let this woman be a bride to you in the restoration of my people. Let her be a mother for these people, regenerating souls through the salvation of spirit and water.'" (Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias)

Monday, October 31, 2016

Black Lives are Sacred Day 31: Apologizing for Racism Again

The cis white boys are way ahead of the cis white girls this week with Chris Hemsworth's superhero apology added to his picture--appropriately dressed in Thor armor--standing with Standing Rock.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to raise something that has been bothering me for sometime. Last New Year’s Eve I was at a ‘Lone Ranger’ themed party where some of us, myself included, wore the traditional dress of First Nations people. I was stupidly unaware of the offence this may have caused and the sensitivity around this issue. I sincerely and unreservedly apologise to all First Nations people for this thoughtless action.”

In contrast, Amy Schumer's aggressive non-apology claiming a lack of intent to hurt Black women with her racist Formation parody made me wonder again about that ever popular hurtful excuse in fauxpologies. If people don't actually intend harm surely the response to learning they had unskillfully caused it, as the Buddhists say, would be humble contrition and passion to speak words which heal, rather than compound, their victims' wounds as well as gratitude for the privilege of being confronted and invited to learning and growth.

The contrast inspired me to conclude the monthlong series by returning to my initially planned post about apologizing for racism, which was set aside for what became a three part series inspired by a recent anti-Semitic social media fail. For the curious: 1) Apologizing for Racism. 2) Making Amends for Racism. 3) Forgiving Racism.

There are some great pieces out there about the importance of a willingness to apologize for aspiring allies, and ways to implement that which help heal, rather than compound, the pain and damage caused by both intentional and thoughtless racist words and deeds. Racist thoughts should, of course--like all others--be dealt with via better thoughts and/or other discussion venues than victims who don't need or want to know they have been sinned against. This is one reason I am profoundly grateful for the practice of sacramental Reconciliation in my faith tradition allowing me to seek conversion and transformation going beyond direct amends when appropriate and replacing them when, as the Ninth Step teaches, they would further harm that person or others.

And for the belief in the "communion of saints," i.e. interaction between heaven and earth allowing me to reach out in prayer to both personal and historical people who have passed into the full safety and power of divine love to both express repentance and request assistance. (Recent prayerful apologies for what my wise maiden termed "the anti-Semitism debacle" ranged from Mary Magdalene, my sister in PTSD and apostleship, to Simone Weil, whose life and writings moved me deeply as a first year doctoral student, to Professor Michael Signer, who offered generous compassion and a rabbinic Shabbos blessing at a medieval conference when I earned and then lost a prestigious position at a Jesuit university due to discrimination as both a mother and a feminist theologian).

Intent versus impact.

How to apologize for a racist (etc.) comment.

(How to avoid) white apologetics.

And the ever-helpful SorryWatch blog--in this case Maimonides' rules for healthy apologies on any subject.

The one piece often left out, which I would like to highlight as I learned it through hard Ignatian experience, is the immediate temptation the evil spirit throws in once a harmful racist act has been identified and repented for: to make the repentance dramatic and self-centered instead of humble and focused on the apologizee. This is always a temptation for oppressors who are programmed to center themselves from birth. So in addition to the willingness to accept and respond to confrontation I always pray for the grace to keep my apologies short, sweet, and specific to the person to whom I owe amends. And do my best to save the detailed introspection and white girl tears--necessary parts of the conversion process that they may be--for my prayer time, my confessor, and other aspiring white allies.

One of the greatest gifts in my learning process on this came from a respected womanist colleague. I was revising a divine feminine prayer book to include more matriarchs and initially decided to exclude Hagar for some ridiculous reason that seemed plausible at the time. I was uneasy enough about it enough to double check with her, though, and her incisive yet gracious reply rapidly opened my eyes, mind, and heart. So I thanked her sincerely for schooling me on the subject...and asked her forgiveness and Hagar's...and further asked in a pushy and entitled way that she would continue to call me out if and when I screwed up again. Her response was fricking brilliant and life changing, and I quote it verbatim:

[ ].


"Not. Your. Mammy."

I got it. And confessed it. And began to make amends by keeping my fool mouth shut. And followed up by exercising exquisite care to avoid the "f word" and any other demand for emotional labor when the Spirit prompted an apology for something else the following year, which was apparently non-idiotic enough to honored with a calm and kind verbal response.

More recently I was profoundly moved when she noted the concurrence of Yom Kippur and Coming Out Day two weeks ago with a brief and beautiful social media apology as a straight Christian for the harm both groups have inflicted on queer and Jewish folk. And inspired to follow her example soon afterwards when she expressed frustration with white feminists excited about a possible female president exalting Susan B. Anthony--and shared some powerful links indicting the egregious racism of her and other white suffragettes.

I had vaguely known about this problem in the past but it was this courageous sharing of her sacred anger and pain that finally pulled my cowardly ostrich head out of, er, the sand enough to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest more of the truth about the poisonous roots of racist white feminism and white feminist racism in myself and many of my sisters. And to add it to my doozy of a list for today's healing sacraments appointment at the Carmelite monastery, where my beloved spiritual brother laughed with delight when I replaced the usual formal closing words indicating "done with the sins, bring on the penance" with "I totally suck and God totally rocks and the mercy is amazing!" And to join with others on her social media feed expressing gratitude for the wake up call with prayer for the right words...and needless to say, no expectation of response given the immense debt to her and hers--calling for a lifetime of metanoia and unworthy handmaid reparations--from me and mine.

Thank you indeed. It will be a powerful addition to a stuck blogpost on this issue. I humbly apologize to you and all your sisters on behalf of my mothers in racist white feminism from suffragettes through Second Wave. And on my own behalf for fleeing the fullness of the horrible truth about their and my participation in white supremacy and hence the actions of metanoia to which She is calling me through the sacred Passion of our victims.

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