By: Max Bruns ~Copy Editor~
Fr. Gregory Boyle, S.J., who has been doing service and mission work for Los Angeles gang members since the 1980s says, “Service is the hallway that leads to the ballroom. It’s getting you to the ballroom, which is the place of kinship, the place of mutuality.”
Fr. Boyle’s ballroom is the place where human beings stop pretending that they are different from each other. It is the place where two people, no matter background, faith, creed, race, sexuality or gender can dance together simply because they are human.
There is something more nuanced going on in our nation than direct service that should be urging everyone to line up at the doors of the biggest ball in social justice history since Martin Luther King Jr. told the world about his dream: The Black Lives Matter movement.
The Black Lives Matter movement is not an opportunity for any one group of people to start treating the Black members of our nation like human beings so that they can feel good about themselves. It is not an opportunity to fetishize Blackness, so that suddenly everybody has that one black friend. And it certainly is not “us (white folk) helping them (Black folk).” It is us (citizens of the United States, members of the human race) helping one another become whole again.
Last week, Taylor Zachary called out the white students of Xavier. He eloquently hid his outrage in informative prose, and he’s right. Zachary pointed out that us white folk are not owning our identity. Zachary boldly asked, “Why are my white counterparts not held to similar standards of identity?” When white people refuse to assess, contextualize and question their identity, they are essentially saying that they are the “standard” for racial identification, and everybody else has to find their racial place in the white world.
In an article entitled “I Don’t Discuss Racism with White People” for the Huffington Post, John Metta said, “white people do not think in terms of we. White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals. Whites are often not directly affected by racial oppression even in their own community, so what does not affect them locally has little chance of affecting them regionally or nationally.”
What Metta is saying is that because white identity is just assumed for us, because it embodies our whole world, anybody else, white, Black, Asian, Latino, has to find their place in that world. White people feel like they own the cultural norm.
I grew up in a well-meaning environment. “Love everybody no matter the color of their skin.” It sounds nice and rosy, but it translates to one basic message: don’t hate anyone because they aren’t white. Because of this, I get the fun task of overcoming cultural bias. I get to learn the fine line between fetishizing racial difference and celebrating it. I get to learn what it means to celebrate other cultures rather than trying to appropriate them for my own amusement.
And most importantly, I have to remind myself every day that being an ally for the Black Lives Matter movement also means being a 100 percent participating member. That means checking my privilege. That means relabeling “harmless racial jokes” as actually racist. That means owning the idea that a human life has worth simply because it is a human life and acknowledging that Black lives deserve attention because nobody has ever questioned the value of a white life.
Dear white people: fear is a fun excuse for apathy. Us white people may not ever utter the nword, but we’re definitely going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. Own it. Know that it’s going to happen. Apologize for it, and go out and learn and grow. Because when you and I sit back and tell Black people that we’re too afraid to mess up and do the wrong thing, what we’re telling Black people our potential embarrassment is not worth the betterment of another human life.
The day that America waltzes together in Fr. Boyle’s ballroom, moving as one whole person who cares for and loves all of its members, will be the day that movements like Black Lives Matter will have the vast relief of not being necessary. All lives will start to matter when we first recognize that Black ones do.