Comprehension is Not a Prerequisite to Compassion

Are there any more words that can be written or spoken after the violence of the past ten days? Certainly none that can bring back Anton Sterling or Philando Castile or Delrawn Small or Sandra Bland; none that can crumble this violent system of white supremacy to its foundations overnight; none that can heal the physical, emotional, and mental wounds caused by the systemic and systematic violence that we have seen and remembered in the last week.

There are no words that can right these injustices, yet words that change minds and actions that challenge systems are the effective and nonviolent tools we have to dismantle the system of white supremacy upon which the United States is built, the system that denies that Black Lives Matter.

In the last ten days, when we see over and over again that Black lives do not matter to the institutions and systems that we have created that make up our country, the words of Rev. Sekou at the PPF Peace Breakfast have been echoing in my head and heart: “You may not understand, but let us be clear that comprehension is not a prerequisite for compassion. To be faithful in this moment, we must ask ‘What are you willing to sacrifice?’” and then he said, “For predominantly white congregations, the question for you is not about how many people of color you can get to join your congregation; the question is ‘What blow are you striking against white supremacy?’”

I borrow Rev. Sekou’s words and pose them to us again: What are we willing to sacrifice? What blow are we striking against white supremacy? His words challenge, convict, and inspire me, and I believe they challenge us as the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

We are not an all-white organization. There are people of color who are a part of PPF’s history and current life, without whom we would not be who we are. However, we are undeniably a majority and culturally white organization. So the question for us is not “How do we get more people of color to join us?” Our questions are: What blow are we striking at white supremacy? What are we willing to sacrifice?

Denise Anderson, PC(USA) Co-Moderator, tells us that white people have to talk to other white people about white supremacy and how it hurts us. We must talk to each other not about racism in general or about specific instances of others’ racism, but about our own racism. We must use our own words and experiences and sacrifice our pride and talk honestly about the harm white supremacy inflicts on everyone.

What blow are we striking at white supremacy? What are we willing to sacrifice?

We do not have all the answers, and we will inevitably act in ways that perpetuate racism and white supremacy even when we don’t mean to or realize we’re doing it. Yet we must act. We must continue to talk about the ways that white supremacy shapes and hurts us as PPF. Then we must act in ways that dismantle it. We must decide for ourselves and our organization what we’re willing to sacrifice.

I prefer to understand and articulate things and then take appropriate and logical action based on my carefully gathered and pondered knowledge. But right we are being called to act—to show up in this moment with compassion even though we may not comprehend it all. This could be simply believing people when they talk about their experiences of being racially profiled by or afraid of the police, even if I’ve never experienced that so far; it can mean holding the institutions I’m a part of accountable for past and present suffering it has caused to people of color, even if I have not experienced that suffering firsthand.

There are no words that will undo the unjust murders of so many people of color by police and civilians acting out of white supremacy; there are no words that can fully heal the wounds caused by white supremacy; there are no words that can dismantle overnight this system we as white people have created. But there are words we must speak to each other, and there are these words that we have to challenge and inspire us:

What are we doing to strike a blow at white supremacy? What are we willing to sacrifice? 

I will continue to hold on to these words as I try my best to show up in marches, in conversations with other white people, in church, on the street. I will hold on to these words and see where they lead me, where they push me, where I resist them, when I forget them. I hope that you will do the same and that we will gather around these words in September when we come together as the Activist Council to discern how the PPF is being called to be peacemakers in this moment.


For more, check out these links:

“How white supremacy hurts white people” by Denise Anderson

About Delrawn Small: “Video of Fatal Shooting by Off-Duty Officer in Brooklyn Emerges”

Take the BLM Pledge

This week marks the one year anniversary of the death of Sandra Bland.