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…