I recently shared some news about the American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) Quaker Social Justice Ministry program http://www.afsc.org/document/small-group-social-justice-ministry-model. A big part of that program involves engaging with (accompanying) people who are experiencing injustice. Several of the Quakers (Friends) who attend North Meadow Circle of Friends have been involved with a community rebuilding/youth mentoring group called Kheprw Institute (KI), and there is a common desire for both groups to work together.
To try to help people get to know some of the people at KI and what they do, I recently sent an email message with a photo, and an explanation of how things were going. The photo was of Diop Adisa with his father, Imhotep, both of whom I have gotten to know over the past couple of years. Diop is a musician, and I had just purchased his album Black Dragon https://dioooop.bandcamp.com/album/black-dragon, and shared a song from that, again to try to help people get to know more about KI and the people who are involved there.
After sending that, I kept thinking about some of the language in the song, and began to wonder (a little bit too late) if some people I sent it to might be offended by some of the words. No one has let me know that they were, but that, of course, doesn’t mean that someone wasn’t offended.
I get offended, myself, in these situations. To me words are just words, and while personal verbal attacks can be very hurtful, I object to finding fault in the language used to describe injustice. People use music and other art forms to expose injustice, and that work should be encouraged, not judged, especially from what might be a privileged perspective. The awful situations these works expose are what is truly objectionable.
If we want to learn about others and their lives, we have to be able to listen to their stories, as they choose to tell them. Getting past judging the language is just a small first step in learning not to judge, period. These are some of the first small steps needed, by many of us who think of ourselves as white, in order to begin to become aware of the injustices engrained in our society.