Every core part of my identity that I love and treasure has a history of oppression that comes with it. I am African-American. I am a woman. I am in a same gender loving relationship. And I am a practitioner of an indigenous African spiritual tradition. I live at the intersections of all these realities. In spite of the personal bias I have experienced and the history of my identities, I feel freer than I have ever felt because I consciously carry the awareness that my ancestors fought and demanded liberation that allows me to live the life I do today.
I am a St. Louis native. Ferguson, MO is approximately 15 minutes from where I grew up. I go home to see my parents and extended family every year. I have driven on the street of West Florissant more times than I could possibly count. The day Michael Brown was killed was the same day I married my wife in Harlem, NY. As I poured libations at our ceremony honoring the Orisas, Abolitionists, Quakers, Suffragists, Civil Rights & LGBTQ activists who are no longer living, another black life was taken. So while I celebrated the huge step my partner and I took in our relationship, I also felt sadness and grief. It was deeply troubling to see the treatment of my brothers and sisters in the city I called home for 25 years of my life.
Yet in spite of my heartache, I still feel hopeful. My spirit rises when I see individuals from all backgrounds holding signs across the country that say “Black Lives Mater.” A colleague of mine often says all people really want to know are three things: 1) Do you see me? 2) Do you hear me? 3) Does what I say even matter to you? If anyone is being oppressed and we cannot answer “yes“ to all three of these questions, we will be ineffective in assisting the communities we are called to serve.
As people work to dismantle racial profiling and institutionalized racism in all its forms across the country, I expect interfaith communities to become more involved in actively disrupting all systems of oppression. In order to effectively do this, interfaith, interreligious and interspiritual leaders need to become aware of their own unconscious biases and prejudices. When these problems go unchecked, internalized superiority (typically rooted in racism, sexism &/or heterosexism), and privilege supports leaders in their choice to avoid making necessary changes that would benefit the world they claim they want to help improve. For those who work in these areas and desire to build or expand coalitions and communities that reflect the beauty of Life’s diversity, I ask you to consider the following questions:
Is the absence of women, LGBTQ and people of color in your organizations due to not knowing anyone in these groups? Or are you more comfortable with the people you already know who look like you? Do you value the perspectives and insights of secular humanists and agnostics? Or do you simply tolerate them? Do you really believe all religious and spiritual paths are equal? Or do certain eastern religions and mystical practices of indigenous people scare you because you have been conditioned to fear them?
It is time to be proactive and have the courage to begin these difficult conversations. We have the capacity to do this. I believe in the universal truth that we are all one. I hear many people in interfaith, interspiritual and multi-faith spaces say this phrase repeatedly. Now let’s show we believe in oneness by working to end the systems of oppression that encourage us to act as if we are separate.
The popular poem, “First they came…” written by German Protestant pastor, Martin Niemoller reflects the importance of using our voices to address injustice and move past the illusion of separation. I have given it a twist to close here:
First they came for Secular Humanists, and I did not speak
Because I did not see it and was not a Secular Humanist.
Then they came for Women, People of Color & LGBTQ folks and I did not speak
Because I did not hear it and was not a Woman, Person of Color nor did I identify as LGBTQ.
Then they came for Sikhs, Hindus & Indigenous Spiritual Practitioners, and I did not speak
Because it did not matter to me as I am not any of those things.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
All lives matter.
Image courtesy of Pinterest.