The Call to Anti-Racism

Image Description: The word ‘Racism’ is written in black letters, a red circle is around it with a slash coming through it to cross it out.

I’ve been reflecting on a quote from Angela Davis:

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist — we must be anti-racist.”

Racism is pervasive, but it is in some ways taboo, even as it is expressed systemically and increasingly overtly. And white people (I’m among them) often spend a lot of time trying to prove to ourselves and others that we are non-racist — not like “those people.”

But at the very same time, we may be doing very little to challenge, disrupt, and change this reality. We paste quotes of MLK over our social-media sites in times that are especially difficult but then become uncomfortable, radio silent, or actively resistant when people challenge, protest, and disrupt the systems of white supremacy — both within and beyond the legacy of MLK.

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist — we must be anti-racist.”
– Angela Y. Davis

Renee Roederer

Sunset

Image may contain: sky, tree, cloud, plant, twilight, outdoor and nature

As I was finishing some things around the house last evening, I glanced outside the window and noticed colors of blue and pink swirling about in the sunset. I snapped both of these photos and smiled. Three minutes later, the sun was still setting, but the sky was solid gray.

Even in this topsy-turvy time, beautiful surprises still find us.

Image may contain: tree, sky, cloud, plant, outdoor and nature

Running From Need

morning runner

Image description: A person is running, and the surroundings are blurry and distorted. Public domain image.

All people in this world have needs that are particular to themselves.
Every person.

And

All people and all communities have unique and particular strengths to share.
Every person, every community.

I’m not sure if we can ever truly run from need, because need is one of the most honest and real things about us all. But we definitely try. There may be a number of reasons for this. Among them, we’ve internalized lot of cultural narratives about individualism, self-sufficiency, and the belief that we must produce and earn love and belonging. (Psst, those are myths. Dangerous myths).

But those cultural narratives take form in our thoughts and feelings…

“I’m a burden.”

“I’m too much.”

“I don’t want to over-ask.”

“I don’t want to trouble.”

“They’re going to get tired of me.”

Soon we’re speaking narratives about ourselves, and we run from our need and from one another.

But here is something that is truer than true. I will even speak it as testimony because I keep discovering it to be so: Interdependence is an immeasurable gift.

These days, I’m acutely aware of my need of it, and how sacred it is to receive community care.

This pushes up against so many dominant, American cultural narratives.

I am community-dependent.
We are community-dependent.

These days, I keep saying these sentences to myself, because they are freeing, necessary, and beautiful.

Truly, interdependence is an immeasurable gift.

Renee Roederer

Values

care
Image Description: The word ‘care’ is spelled in plastic letters. The letters are set on top of a tree trunk. . I found this image here.

I had to remind myself that productivity is not my central value. I typically take Fridays away from work, and I keep that time away pretty sacrosanct. But goodness, I hit Thursday, and my mind, body, and spirit said, “Stop working.”

I didn’t want to stop, mostly because this is the schedule that I had set for myself. But it’s important to listen to our bodies, especially when we have the ability to be flexible. How are we supposed to act during a siege of Capitol Hill? What’s a typical workday during an attempted coup? How about threats of domestic terrorism?

I did listen to my body. I had to do that. Productivity isn’t my central value, though sometimes I want to keep going because I feel that’s what I can control within a whirlwind of what’s beyond our control.

Care is my central value.

Sometimes, that means, stop. And if we can advocate for others to have choices to stop — if we can pick up the load at times so that everyone has the freedom to choose this — that is a good and helpful thing.

Renee Roederer

The Misery of Uncertainty

paths
In a wooded area, two pathways diverge.
Public domain image.

Psychologist Bruce Perry shares a particular adage in in some of his books which may seem a bit pithy, but there is a lot of wisdom and thought behind it too. He says,

So often,

“We prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty.”

There are times when we assume that pain, chaos, or conflict are going to be constant. Maybe not in every situation, but at least, in particular ones.

There are times when harmful rhythms, patterns, and practices (our own or others) become normalized to us, even though they are causing great difficulty.

There are times when we come to expect very little with resignation or cynicism.

These cause misery, but we can feel settled in their sense of certainty. Rather than risking uncertainty, we sometimes prefer what we have become accustomed to because goodness knows,

uncertainty is vulnerable.

Risking hope is vulnerable.
Saying, “No More,” is vulnerable.
Cultivating new possibilities is vulnerable.

It really is vulnerable.

And if we’re doing any of these things, or if we want to do these things, we can give ourselves a lot of gentleness and grace. But we can also give ourselves hope and trust. Uncertainty requires risk, but it is generally the pathway by which newness comes.

Renee Roederer

Gentleness

Teddy Bear Couple Hug : Public Domain Pictures
Image: Two light brown teddy bears hugging each other on a black and brown striped couch.
Public domain.

For all of us, I just want to acknowledge that during this time of trauma, tragedy, and terror, we’re either living with way less hugs or no hugs at all.

In this, we may need to be gentle with ourselves and each other. ❤️

Renee Roederer

*Here’s a piece about the value of giving yourself a hug. It really helps our bodies: Give Yourself a Hug

The Crowd

IhaveadreamMarines.jpg
The crowd at the National Mall during the 1963 March on Washington.
Public domain image.

I had the occasion to attend a virtual talk last evening by Dr. Gwen Etter-Lewis, entitled, “Living the Dream.” She talked about the vision of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and discussed the spiritual roots and anti-racist actions of her Baha’i ancestors. It was challenging, powerful, and life-giving.

Growing up, my anti-racism education was exclusively about Martin Luther King Jr. If I’m being honest, it was also the docile version of him that white educators tend to present. We talked about the “I Have a Dream” speech many times in my growing-up years, but my education on racism largely moved along these lines: “Racism is really bad, but it’s also really over.” The pictures were all in black and white, giving everything an aura of over and done. Dr. King helped us accomplish this, and we really did it!

But here we are in 2021 America.

Last night, when I saw Dr. Etter-Lewis’ slides and revisited those familiar, but hardly tired photos from the 1963 March on Washington, I teared up a little. They stood in such sharp contrast to the images of last week’s violent siege on the U.S. Capitol.

In my own Christian tradition, I remember that many of my ancestors’ scriptures were written in ancient Greek. Sometimes, when speaking about the past, those Greek verbs are in the perfect tense, meaning that an action happened in the past and has continual relevance for the present.

I saw that crowd in Dr. Etter-Lewis’ slides like a perfect tense community — a moment of dreaming, spoken in the past with continual relevance for the present.

What does this mean?

We’re still invited into the dream. We’re still invited to make it real.

Renee Roederer

Unity?

The candles in the church are set in a circle free image
White candles in a circle.
Public domain image.

There are calls to refrain from removing the President from office or engaging in other forms of accountability for the sake of national unity.

If so, what are we unifying around?

If we want healing and peace, don’t we have to stop what is causing violence? Don’t we have to hold ourselves to higher standards?

How about if we unify around dismantling white supremacy?

How about if we unify around protecting vulnerable people?

How about if we unify around protecting democracy?

How about if we unify around truth?

Renee Roederer

Place and Possibility

Ann Arbor Liberty Street - Free Stock Photo - Easy Download
Liberty Street in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Free Stock Photo at drstockhoto.com

When the state lockdown began last March, I stayed at home for a couple weeks, and then, I felt the need to drive around town. Specifically, I was missing the University of Michigan campus. At this time, much was still unknown about COVID, and we weren’t even wearing masks yet. I didn’t get out of my car, but instead, I drove through the streets. And… they were empty. I thought this might cheer me up, but it made me really sad.

I had to drop something off at someone’s house yesterday, so I got in my car and drove through a variety of neighborhoods in Ann Arbor. After experiencing the heartache of Wednesday’s insurrection, something I will continue to feel in waves alongside others, I may have needed to feel something hopeful. I don’t know what it was, but suddenly, emotion washed over me with the recognition that in a few months, I will likely be vaccinated, and… I may be able to experience this town again (still, with a mask). Its places… Its people… The thought of experiencing public spaces again, even with precautions, filled me with such gratitude.

I needed this.

I’m not pollyanna about anything underway. I feel hope about the vaccines, but I also know we are deeply in the throes of COVID-19. It’s devastating. More than 300,000 people were newly diagnosed on Friday. This is hard to fathom.

I do not mean to dismiss this or the deep grief and dismay of this week. But I needed that moment of place and possibility.

Renee Roederer

The Larger, Longer Work

Rabbi Robert Dobrusin, Rabbi Emeritus
CREDIT BETH ISRAEL CONGREGATION OF ANN ARBOR / BETHISRAEL-AA.ORG

I am very grateful to share a piece that my friend, Rabbi Rob Dobrusin, wrote the day after the assault on the U.S. Capitol building. I appreciate the ways he challenges us toward the larger, longer work we have to do to confront white supremacy and violence in our country. He writes,

It is definitely my inclination (and I think it is a good idea in general) to react to an event like yesterday’s with relief that it is over and to find a glimpse of hope for the future. But, then after that deep breath, it is essential to look more critically at some of the issues that we must confront in looking ahead.

First, I agree with all of those who say that while President Trump and some of his closest advisors and supporters are to blame for inciting the protestors yesterday, the ideas and the attitudes that were reflected in the protests began before this administration and will remain long after Jan 20. President Trump gave them legitimacy in a more blatant way than previous presidents did but he is not the first to use language and take actions which inspire hate filled individuals to feel empowered. Still, from the very beginning of his candidacy, his continued statements which fueled actions of this kind were clear and unmistakeable.

But, those attitudes are still going to remain. One of the best statements I heard yesterday was from a commentator quoting Winston Churchill: “Dictators ride to and fro on tigers from which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry”. This administration will come to an end on Jan 20, if not sooner, but the ideologies of hatred and bigotry and radical nationalism will still be there and will have to be confronted. This movement is fueled by President Trump but it has enough fuel without him at the head.

Secondly, the reality which so many have raised and occurred to so many of us yesterday must be addressed clearly. Why were these individuals able to get access to the capitol building? Why did we see pictures of police and guards stepping aside or smiling with the protestors (even taking pictures with them). Why were there so few arrests? The contrast between the peaceful black lives matter protest in June outside the White House which was broken up with tear gas and this atrocity yesterday could not be more clear and speaks again to the issues of racial inequality and injustice in this country. How could a black lives matter flag be deemed offensive and “anti-American” while those carrying confederate flags were told by the president; “We love you”?

These issues will not go away now that the horror of yesterday has passed. I’m glad we can breathe a sigh of relief but once we do that, we have to confront these issues which are not going to disappear with the end of this administration.

— Rabbi Rob Dobrusin

Rabbi Rob Dobrusin is the Rabbi Emeritus of Beth Israel Congregation of Ann Arbor. He hosts a beautiful podcast that I highly recommend to you, entitled, Wrestling and Dreaming: Engaging Discussions on Judaism.