A friend wrote to me that she despairs that this may not be, once again, the tipping-point we had hoped for. But it is a tipping-point, in one way or another – and how it tips depends upon our not despairing, because it is by our actions or inaction that we help determine which way it will go.
The outcome is not outside us, it is inside us. It depends upon how we see what is happening, and how we act or fail to. This choice-point is not black and white along racial lines – what matters is what is in our heart, and whether or not we act from it.
Beyond the divides of black-and-white thinking, can humanity realize its one shared human heart, and rise up together in action on behalf of all life and the planet we all call home? Beyond black-and-white thinking, and the vicious cycles of fear and despair that come with it, can we come together in our one human heart, and act together from it — its wisdom, power and caring, its love of truth, beauty and justice?
It is too easy to polarize, to say that there are this kind of people and that people, this kind of future coming or the other, cause for despair or hope. But things are not that black and white; there are nuances and they are important – in the way we see things, the way we act, and they make a huge difference.
There are not just two different sides, the good guys and the bad guys, nor a predictable outcome, but a spectrum of responses to what is happening, and we need to see where we fall on that. We unconsciously position ourselves somewhere on this spectrum, and don’t usually see beyond it. But if we can see the wider perspective, we might consciously choose otherwise, other options that are wiser and perhaps far more effective. We have to see the whole picture so that we can decide where to act from, where we want to put our energy and our heart.
The Spectrum of Fear and Love – Where Do We Position Ourselves?
It is not so black and white, not along the blunt lines we usually draw them. (This is not to draw false equivalences, but to soften hard and fast divisions.) It has often been said that human beings are motivated by either one of two basic emotions – fear or love. This is basically true, but even this is not so clear-cut, as most of us have both of them. We live in a churning, a struggle between the two, individually and collectively. There are whites who are coming from fear or love, and blacks who are coming from fear or love, and a mixture of both in most of us.
Of course, there are some vital differences, and recognizing these is just as important as recognizing our sameness. The fear and anger of many whites comes from their position of privilege, which is now sky-rocketing (rich white elites) or eroding (middle/poor whites getting poorer — mainly due to the rich getting richer, but the rich are very clever at blinding the poor to that reason). This white fear and anger is the offshoot of a long history of aggression and violence towards blacks, the violence from which empire was built, and the desire to maintain that privilege at all costs.
The remorse and caring, the solidarity, that is also now being awakened in many white people’s hearts, is another response, coming from love, not fear. They are hearing a red-alarm signal calling them into action, action for the good of all, to dismantle the causes of harm. In an extraordinary show of solidarity, all over the world, in the midst of a global pandemic, white people, side by side with people of all races, have risked their own safety and lives, to show how much they care for black people’s safety and lives. They have gotten the message, and are now getting it out there, that yes, black lives matter.
Both love, and fear and anger, are being expressed by both blacks and whites, but along this same spectrum of emotions, there are also important differences. Blacks who are coming from fear and anger are coming from another position than the whites who are angry and fearful – it is a defensive fear and anger, a long-stifled cry of outrage and self-protection. They are fighting for their lives, not their privilege or exorbitant lifestyle. And this makes a very big difference – it is an anger and fear that needs to be heard and understood, not feared, aggressed or crushed in turn — a cry for help that is deserved and needed, a desperation for justice that has been so long and so egregiously violated and neglected.
And the black people who are coming from love, and the willingness to reconcile, a desire for peace, are many – and a shining example to us all. Black people have, traditionally, love and joy aplenty – a sense of interconnectedness, with each other and nature – the deep understanding that we live in each other, and, in that, a capacity for forgiveness, deep in their ancestral bones, that many white people have forgotten. We white people need to learn that from them, not crush it, in them or ourselves. (I say this not out of some romantic notion, but have lived in African villages and experienced it first-hand. I was always astounded at how kindly I was treated, especially given the history of the relations between my race and theirs, and gained an enduring respect for the profound spirituality of African culture.)
We can see this so clearly in the ancient African principle of Ubuntu — I live because you do – and the tremendous capacity for love, forgiveness and reconciliation manifested in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process in post-apartheid South Africa. We should take a clue from that exemplary playbook, that extraordinary turning-point from the most extreme racist oppression to love, reconciliation and renewal.
I have also seen these qualities – true grit, resilience, love and forgiveness –in black friends in the US and around the world. In countries outside Africa, where there is so much prejudice against them, black people are survivors, and survivors have strength in their genes – a buoyancy, a joy of life, a no-pretenses realness and at the same time a sense of the sacred — it is not an accident that we speak of black “soul”. These are the essential, vital qualities that have allowed black people to survive, even the harshest of circumstances, to stay with the truth at their centre, even if they’re not allowed to express it anywhere else outside.
For me, the most exemplary person is one who can undergo tremendous hardship and still come through with love and faith. Black people, more than anyone, have been forged in this crucible, and many I know rise in triumph. If some are still churning in anger, so would many of us in their place, given the outrages they have suffered. It needs to be heard as a cry for help and solidarity – and fortunately, many are hearing it now, all over the world, and responding. Something is quickening now, even as the crises thicken. Something new is emerging, for all of us, in this crucible of mixed emotions, fear and love, faith and confusion, vulnerability and strength. Something new is breaking now, breaking open – the one heart of humanity, beyond its black and white thinking, beyond all separation.
In fact, at the heart of the racial crisis, like the climate crisis and other eco-social crises we are facing, is a spiritual crisis. If we don’t recover our spirit, we will not recover our Earth, nor our lives. Black people have within them this deep spiritual aspect, soul, that many of us have lost, and the truth is if Black lives don’t matter, no lives matter, and few of us will survive.
The truth is, if this deeper sacred essence within us and our precious Earth do not matter to us, it is not that they forget us, but we that forfeit our own lives. If, though, we care about unity, awakening, redemption from our own divisiveness, they will surely forgive us, and work with us to regenerate our planet and create a new society with reverence for all life.
It is not that black people have the exclusive claim to “soul” – white people have it, potentially, it’s just that they’ve sourced their power elsewhere. Just as black people are now claiming more outer power to express their inner power, white people need to find their inner power to balance their outer power, and reduce their exclusive dependence upon it. Then we would begin to converge in a true equality, the sacredness of our common human spirit.