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MY RESPONSE TO RACIAL INJUSTICE by April Janzen

03
Jun

MY RESPONSE TO RACIAL INJUSTICE by April Janzen

I’ve been feeling the need to write something all week about the current racial tensions in the U.S amidst the murder of George Floyd. 

Why? 

Because “Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.” -Helen Keller

” The Only thing necessary for evil to prosper is for good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke 

Racism flourishes when we say nothing. 

Racism is about human dignity. 

It’s about life. 

It’s about death.

It’s about my faith as a Christ follower. 

And it’s absolutely about yoga. 

Ahimsa.

Let me begin with transparency by saying that I come from a long line of staunchly proud southern Americans. I am half American. I am white. I am well educated and come from a European worldview. I occupy a place of privilege. 

Please don’t throw stones at me….

I’m going to be naked here for a moment in the hopes to break myself free from my own prejudices and hopefully to give many of you the same opportunity. Only things hidden in darkness have power. Once they come out into the light their power is gone. 

So please don’t throw stones.

When I first heard about the murder of George Floyd, my initial reaction was to think “it’s being overblown because he was black, the cops were probably acting in self defense even if that’s not what the video looks like etc.” 

Please be gracious with me. I’m sharing this because darkness needs to be shown light so that the darkness no longer has power. I have this darkness in the corners of my being….and I suspect a lot folks out there do. 

I knew this thinking was not a reflection of Jesus or of truth but my culture has been deeply ingrained in me. I had to stop and take my thoughts captive. I liken it to social justice infused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with a generous dash of Jesus and an undertone of the yogic philosophy of Ahimsa (non-harming). 

But what really got me is when it got personal.

I’m going to leave names out to respect privacy – My white American cousins who live in the deep south adopted a black baby just over 15 years ago. He just turned 16. I don’t know him super well cause we only see each other once every couple years at large family gatherings but I can tell you that he is kind, quiet, an incredible athlete, loves Jesus and is one good looking young man. 

Well, my cousin shared that she prays every time he leaves the house that he will be safe because she lives in fear that he will be the victim of racism just because he is a young black man. And the murder of George Floyd really shook her up. 

And that’s when it hit home for me. 

That’s when I realized in a very deep way inside my body that racism isn’t just a nuisance of a social problem. It’s devastating. And it’s real. Very real. 

I know it sounds really bad because I’m a social worker and could write you a thesis by the end of the week on fancy terms like “interlocking structures of oppression” and describe wonderfully sounding ways to implement social justice. I have always said I am against racism and addressed it when I’ve heard it but I didn’t really get it in the deep fibres of my being until it became personal. 

And I think a lot of us privileged folks are probably in the same situation as me. And I think it’s time we acknowledged it. 

The darkness has to come into the light or it will continue to have power. 

You see, Ahimsa – the yogic philosophy of non-harming – isn’t about saying weak pacificsm. It’s not about the absence of action (although sometimes it might be). Rather, it’s about using our power in a positive way to help prevent harm to others.  

It’s not the white saviour rushing in to save the day cause that does way more harm than good. 

It’s using the power we have in a way that supports our black and Aboriginal communities using their power. 

And it all starts with learning about these communities. (I will write more about my experience with this in another post).

I am not an expert on racism. But I am going to share something that I have learned in my studies of trauma about the relationship between trauma and race.. 

Statistics typically show higher crime rates amongst marginalized groups of people – so as a culture we have this collective mindset – like it or not – that this is because there is something wrong with these groups of people. 

Instead of acknowledging that oppression is trauma. 

Slavery is trauma. 

Trauma is held in our bodies. Trauma alters the neural pathways in our brain. It deeply affects our nervous system. 

Trauma is devastating to our body and our mind. 

And it gets passed down through generations. 

The effects don’t stop just because we don’t have plantations with black slaves. 

It doesn’t stop just because we don’t have residential schools anymore. 

Black slaves experienced severe trauma. Their mental health was affected. Their nervous system was affected. Not to mention their physical bodies. 

Oppression is trauma. Captivity is trauma. Being beaten is trauma. Being called names is trauma. Being told you are worth less because you can’t sit at the front of the bus or share the same classroom as a white kid is trauma. 

Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex Trauma have been documented and research by countless trauma experts like Bessel Van der Kolk, Babette Rothschild, Judith Herman and Antonio Damasio. 

And guess what……high risk behaviours like drug use, violence, crime are all symptoms of trauma. 

So let’s start by acknowledging that white people inflicted severe trauma on black people and that accounts for much of the “social problems” we find in these communities today.

But let’s not stay there and berate ourselves about it because that just makes it all about us again. 

Let’s bring it into the light – say it like it is. 

And then learn. 

I don’t have prescribed action steps other than this because I’m on this journey too.  

But by all means don’t let evil prosper in the midst of your silence.