The Whiteness Letters

A Non-Violent Call to Arms

Brittany Walker Pettigrew—————Michelle Obama——————Dr. Roxy Manning

Dear Friends and Family,

When we started the Dialogue Wednesday group two months ago, my goal was to build my stamina in having uncomfortable conversations. Back then, I assumed my discomfort would come from the shame, guilt, and fragility I feel when interacting with BIPOC friends and colleagues. And, sometimes, it does. But most often my discomfort comes from the real or imagined conversations with white people who believe differently than I do.

Brittany Walker Pettigrew calls on us to get curious about those differences. How did I come to believe the way I do and how did those white people come to believe as they do? She asks us not to “succumb to the allure of separating people from their humanity with self-righteous name-calling,” but rather to expand our heart in new directions:

“You might get sore from the exertion because, quite frankly, these are not muscles we use very often, but I need you to sit with that discomfort. They are just feelings. They will not kill you. And, then, I need you to keep going.”

To keep going without separating people from their humanity is what, I believe, Michelle Obama means when she calls for us to go high, to claw and scrape our way to the mountaintop. We go high, not by degrading and dehumanizing others, but rather by standing in the cold hard truth against hatred and cruelty, while still remembering we are one people, one planet. We survive or die together.

But what does it mean to go high in real life? What does it look like? I think it looks like Non-Violent Communication. Dr. Roxy Manning says Non-Violent Communication offers us a more transformative way of thinking, a way to:

“[G]ain clarity on what actions are serving life – making this world one that works for all beings – and which actions are too costly in their impact. We can differentiate the action from the actor. 

And, as we support individual healing, liberation, growth and connection, we can unite and work to repair the generations of harm that have been inflicted on black, brown and indigenous communities. We can identify where the systemic damage is great, and direct resources to attend to those needs. We can work together to overturn the systems that condone, entrench and incentivize racist violence and inequity. 

We can look beyond the individual and ask ourselves, “What actions can we take to create a society that serves all its peoples? To have systems that don’t privilege some at the expense of others? Ones that are truly committed to attending to the needs of all? 

Audre Lorde said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” 

It’s time for us to put down the master’s tools of blame, shame and judgment, of separation and division, and pick up new tools — resistance grounded in empathic understanding and compassionate embracing of all our humanity — if we hope to create a world where everyone has the conditions they need to thrive.”

Brittany Walker PettigrewMichelle Obama, and Dr. Roxy Manning are Black women from very different walks of life who do not know each other, but nonetheless have issued a similar call to arms. Not the traditional call of the conqueror who divides, degrades and dehumanizes, but rather the call of the non-violent warrior. A warrior who can engage with empathy, sit with discomfort, stand in the truth, and fight with protective, not punitive, force.

Does this non-violent call mean we must condone, accept, or excuse white supremacy? Does it mean there are no consequences for racist police shootings?

No. It means when they go low, we claw and scrape our way to the mountaintop. 

We step in with protective force and stop the carnage, but we do not succumb to the allure of separating people from their humanity. We stand fierce against racist and violent systems, but we do not lose our compassion and empathy for the human beings who support and disrupt those systems.

This is the reason for Dialogue Wednesdays—to name our racist systems, to recognize how we benefit from those systems, to practice being anti-racist, and to role play how we intervene against racist behavior without losing our compassion and empathy.

This is our work. This is my work.

Until next time, stay healthy, safe, and loved, most important, loved.

Love, Leslie