We at ConSpirita Consulting Network are committed to improving leadership, especially ecclesial leadership. These times of a global pandemic and a global awakening about racism cry out for courageous and humble leaders. This series of blogs invite you to come along with us as we humbly, courageously and consistently undertake the work of self-education about racism in the United States, in the Catholic Church and in our own white, privileged lives.
This is the third in a series of three blogs inspired by Mary-Frances Winters’ work on racism. These thoughts are inspired by her book Black Fatigue. Confession: I had never heard the term “black fatigue” until about a month or so ago. As soon as I heard it though, that place inside me that reverberates when I hear truth well-expressed, hummed in recognition. It was not an intellectual recognition as much as it was a soul-recognition. Souls recognize fatigue and exhaustion for what they are: deadening on the one hand and sparking fury on the other.
My soul knows that kind of fatigue, but I am not black, so I cannot understand black fatigue without assistance from people like Ms. Winters who describe it for me. What causes black fatigue? She says it’s these kinds of historical, persistent, and generational notions:
- White people claiming sublime ignorance about racial inequities. I think I know what she’s talking about. Things like, “Well, I’ve never heard of such a thing!” “I didn’t have any idea it was like that.” “You mean, black people don’t have a level playing field?” I suspect the list of claims of ignorance…sublime ignorance, as in, I-prefer-you-not-tell-me ignorance…is far longer than these three statements. I’ll be checking my own thoughts as time goes on, because I also suspect I’ve said them, thought them and maybe even voted in line with them.
- White people using “discomfort” as an excuse for not engaging in conversations and therefore failing to address centuries of structural racism caused by white supremacist ideology. Best-selling author, researcher, story-teller Dr. Brené Brown says this is the very epitome of white privilege: to be able to walk away from injustice simply because it makes us uncomfortable. When I heard her say that, I had that nervous reverberation of truth again. She’s right. The very fact that I can walk away from the discomfort is a sign of privilege, while black people live in the uncomfortable injustice of this every day.
- White people expecting black people to carry the burden of educating them, increasing their understanding and motivating them to change without making them uncomfortable. This is intellectually, emotionally and spiritually exhausting. What, you say? To resist taking on the burden of someone else’s transformation, to resist being made to feel bad about demanding that they take responsibility for their own growth and conversion, to resist being made to feel as if their discomfort is MY fault and therefore my responsibility to alleviate. It’s exhausting..the resistance, the feelings, the demands and ire of the others. It’s exhausting to resist the well-intentioned but privileged position that says make it better for me, and don’t make it hurt.
Fatigue: weariness or exhaustion from labor, exertion or stress; a state or attitude of indifference or apathy brought on by overexposure as to a repeated series of similar events or appeals.”[i] A quick look at these two definitions of fatigue give me another insight into black fatigue. It’s not just physical. This has the longer-term effect of creating apathy and indifference toward the people or the situation. That helps me understand some of what I intuit is behind the difficulty we face now. When something has gone on for four centuries, it’s easy to understand a DNA level of fatigue directed toward whites. I see something I did not see before. And I also see the thin line between apathy, indifference and rage. I’ve felt it myself around other issues. Trust me, it’s really a very thin line, sometimes quickly crossed.
So what is the hope-filled response white people can make to black fatigue? To do the hard work of becoming an anti-racist…that is, a person that speaks up and acts against racial injustice every time it appears on their radar screen. That means within themselves, their families, neighborhoods, workplaces and cultures. Every. Time.
Being an anti-racist acknowledges racism exists within me and around me and that I am committing to calling it out. I am committing to becoming an ally in the fight to change the systems and structures of racism. I’ll use my power/influence wherever I can, including giving up the gains and privileges I have that have come from black oppression, to change the systems once and for all. That’s becoming an anti-racist. That’s the response to black fatigue.
These three blogs, and more in the future, are our first steps in self-educating and in listening. They are our first steps in examining our own white privilege. They are our first steps in re-framing our thought patterns, in choosing to recognize our parts in the creation of the current system and in the creation of something new. They are our first attempts to become even more like Jesus, who reminded us that in God’s eyes, every single person is holy, beloved and deserving of all they need to live in dignity, to flourish, to contribute, to work and thrive. Thank you Ms. Winters, for guiding our first steps.
[i] Merriam Webster Online Dictionary https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fatigue Accessed 8-11-2020