I left the final class time feeling frustrated (to put it mildly). Maybe that was the point. I wasn’t sure.
From the first session for this course on multicultural perspectives (a required course for an MA in Counseling Psychology), I felt a deep desire for more.
It seemed that the whole class was formed to point out the wide gaps between us all. And it felt harmful to sit solely in the feeling of separation for the entirety of our time together.
What I did know and fully accepted was that I needed to experience disorientation as a white man taking the course. I was ready to feel what I needed to feel when it came to the realities and impact of racism on others. This was my chance, if there ever was one.
Yes, I brought my own unique history to the conversation, as everyone did. I couldn’t deny how my experience as a “third culture kid” impacted the way I showed up. Still, I genuinely wanted to be present for the purpose of the class. I wanted to focus—to feel the weighty reality of this country’s history.
But in the end, a deeper wrestling remained. I was bothered by more than my own disorientation or my own confusion about how to understand the conversation in light of my past experience.
Sitting and focusing on our separation seemed to leave so much out. Where was the story of us, together? Where was the story of hope? Where did that belong?
I had witnessed this “sit in separation” approach to the class harm people of color in the room. My friends, once again, had to take on the weight of responsibility to help white people feel the sting of truth. In short, they were used to point out realities white people were unwilling to see for themselves.
I felt angry. I felt confused. I felt something was missing for us all.
In This Room, Together
I still have a visceral sense of sitting in this room, together with my peers and the guides helping us process (for whom I was, and still am, so grateful).
As I metaphorically sit in this room again, I can’t help but think of Dr. King’s words—his dream to be judged by the content of his character. His dream to be with others as an equal. To be fully welcomed to the table—not as a special souvenir, but as a beautiful, multifaceted human being.
In this room, I too dream for more. I believe—I know—we can do more than simply imagine what it would be like for us to all enjoy each other.
If we can only stay in the past, we have, in a sense, given in to death. We have said that the very ways and patterns of the past have won. That they have gained the right to the final say in the room.
I refuse to ever accept that stance toward life.
AND I Accept the Need to Sit, Listen, and Wait
In this same room, we cannot move forward flippantly. White people, myself included, need to learn to hold their words that make light of realities they could never understand. We need to learn to listen.
In this room, it’s excruciating for me to see how so many people have SO long to go to feel the reality of racism that remains—to understand racism as something beyond a special history lesson for a day. But as hard as this is to see, I have to see this too.
And I am left with a clear sense of why the professor and guides have taken this approach to the class. I understand.
If we think we have already “gotten past this” and can simply move on, then we can’t move on. Period.
We must learn to wait. To sit in this difficult space. To feel and be impacted. Before moving into a conversation of hope and the possibility of together.
So What Is the Answer?
The guides in the room led us so well toward realizing that we could not move so quickly to answers.
What also became clear to me was that we cannot move toward any answers without extending grace for everyone.
If people are shamed for whatever they say in these conversations, there will be little room for any conversation. To move somewhere better together, all must be welcomed to the table, as they are, where they are.
Together, we must be willing to stumble as we seek for truth. We must be willing to listen. We must be willing to feel the many feelings we don’t know what to do with—feelings that may not lead to the crystal clear, “final” answers we seek.
But this difficult space of welcome at the table is worth it. Only here can we move out of the endlessly violent search for superiority, into real relationship.
So no, there are no simple answers. But there is a space we can meet one another. Know one another. See the beauty of one another.
I know it might be a bit radical to say, but I truly believe that this space of meeting—not any particular end conclusion derived by a logical progression of statements—is itself one of the best answers we have in life.
Here, in this space, we find the stories written on the walls of the world, written on the walls of our homes, and written on the walls of our hearts. Here, we meet at the intersection of our endless value and of our endless lack. Here, we find eternal treasure.
You Are My Friend
If experience is a great teacher, my own has taught me that friendship is one of the best ways to move forward, past a place of solely sitting in separation.
Friendship allows us to move past philosophizing into knowing, in the most practical way.
Friendship is a powerful balm for the wounds of the world. In the midst of our embrace, we mend—if only a little—the brokenness of a shared history.
I think of many of my closest friends over the years—people of many ethnicities and backgrounds—whom I have loved and been loved by. These friendships speak to the possibility that we can fight for together.
And perhaps, over time—individually and societally—it will not have to be such a fight.
Separation is always ready to call us a little closer. Its message is always the same: “But do you really have to think any differently? But can’t you eat of my tree and not die?”
Separation hopes to make us into enemies.
But can you hear a symphony slowly rise from the earth, singing a different song of hope?
The voices of the ages say:
“Loose your hand from the tree of separation—the tree that keeps you in cycles of war and loneliness. Hold tight, instead, to each other. If you have only one finger of hope wrapped around another’s finger of hope, still, hold tight.”
I can feel the chorus rise up in me.
Will I listen?