by Kim Redigan
Pax Christi Michigan

Ed. note: The following is a reflection first given in 2016 and reprinted recently on the author’s blog.

Twenty-eight years ago this very day, I made my way down a flight of church basement stairs – the longest walk I’ve ever taken – in order to save my life. Although I was confused and terrified, I knew that if I wanted to live I would have to embrace a new way of life that would require soul-shaking honesty, an unsparing personal inventory, and a willingness to make real amends. In short, if I wanted to recover from the disease that had me in its grip, everything would have to change, beginning with self-delusion and denial – a painful process that was devastating in its demands but, ultimately, liberating.

Walking into that church 28 years ago has everything to do with my walking into this church today.

When I was asked to speak about white silence a couple of months ago, I wanted to say no.

Quite honestly, I would rather speak about almost anything else – the peril of nuclear weapons, the water crisis in Detroit, spiritual activism – anything  that would keep me swaddled in my soft cocoon of white comfort. Anything that would allow me to remain in that safe place from which I can project a sense of control and competency, even when discussing, as I often do, the racism that undergirds virtually every injustice that exists in our world. Anything that would ward off that white-girl-fear-of-being- judged fragility that comes up when things get too personal.

It’s one thing to talk about structural racism as a teacher or about the institutional racism driving water shutoffs as an activist or about white privilege as a friend in private conversations with mentors, Black and white, but it’s another thing to stand in front of a church and speak with rigorous honesty from my own lived experience.

The discomfort, the real dis-ease, that I felt when I was asked to offer a reflection on a subject that I and all white folks know all too well serves as evidence that white silence is a real thing. My own dis-ease also reveals the distance I have yet to go in my own journey of recovery from racism.

The dis-ease I feel at this moment is not much different in terms of its severity than the dis-ease I experienced 28 years ago when I walked down those church stairs. The shame, the sadness, the confusion, the wanting to get it right but not knowing how, and, most of all, the inner knowledge that delusion and denial and cowardice and a resistance to vulnerability are at the heart of this dis-ease, a dis-ease that thrives on deep denial and an adherence to secrecy that keeps us locked in sanctuaries of silence…

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Photo credit: The Inclusion Solution blog

One thought on “The violence of White silence: As sick as our secrets

  1. Those of us who live in the bedrock of white supremacy have especially difficult task ahead if we take the words of Kim Redigan seriously. We will have trouble finding a starting point from or isolated location. We will have trouble understanding the plight of people of color from our isolated position.

    It seems that our silence needs to be broken from our isolated position and
    our words need to fall on the ears of our white supremacist companions. We might try to learn more background history of people of color, and speak up for opening our neighborhoods and churches to them and stop our support of white flight. Our isolation has captured our tongue. Our good intentions will seem awkward until we get feedback and experiences that might be blundering. Our only viable option to break our isolation is to step out even if we can’t see the next step.

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