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Talking about Racism and Discomfort

How do we name racism without white people feeling uncomfortable? Is it possible? Can we cloak our words in a way to expose racism without using that politically charged word that puts those in positions of power on the defense, and instead leads to empathy for what it means to be Black or Brown in the United States and willing to make amends?

The Riverton Peace Mission is grappling with these questions. Do we restrain from calling out racism reflected in the data we collect and the stories that we hear from our neighbors because we fear that we will make decision-makers uncomfortable? Can we propose solutions to address root causes, not just symptoms, without recognizing that racism is a root cause? Can education and simulation experiences motivate white decision-makers to make needed changes without identifying race as being a primary bias for us?

On NPR, Rev. Raymod R. Green, in response to the failure of a grand jury indictment in the police killing of Jayland Walker last summer in Akron, Ohio, said “It is my mission to make people feel uncomfortable until Black men are able to feel comfortable in this country.” I hear what he is saying as he encourages people to go to the streets to peacefully protest. He has concluded that creating discomfort is necessary.

In Memphis, Tennessee, the family of Tyre Nichols who was killed by police has filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit believing that monetary considerations will get governments to change their practices throughout our nation, another way to create discomfort.

I suggest that white people become comfortable with discomfort. Instead of getting defensive and shifting the blame to the victims of racism, leaders need to listen and learn. Forgetting the past has not worked to end racism. Truth-telling and accountability are necessary, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. Feeling uncomfortable is a small price to pay on the road to justice.

The role of the Riverton Peace Mission needs to include causing discomfort if we are to get our desired outcomes.

Fear not. Be humble. Have faith. Be bold. Build relationships. Do justice.

Chesie Lee

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