By Kris Berggren | The conversation about racial injustice is heated these days and it’s tragic that it has taken the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, among others, to bring this conversation to the national level it deserves.
It isn’t my intention to focus on these recent events but instead on the fact that the effects of racial injustice and the inequities it perpetuates are felt by our fellow Americans every day in lack of access to safe, affordable housing.
How does racial injustice affect our work? We often say that people from all walks of life can and do experience homelessness because of job loss, medical catastrophe, domestic abuse, divorce or death of an income earner. It’s true, but the majority of Beacon’s housing tenants and Families Moving Forward shelter guests are people of color, many of them black. Our congregations and volunteers (and staff, it must be noted) are mostly white.
It is worth noting that we’ve been having the conversation about racial justice here at Beacon even before Ferguson. Our conversations are prompted by the different perspectives that white people and people of color, particularly black Americans, have about race, public safety, law, violence, poverty and privilege.
Some of those words are so full of emotion to so many, that meanings shift depending on the person reading or hearing those words.
And that is part of the problem. But we as a staff (mostly white but always seeking diversity) are trying to listen to and learn from one another and those we serve.
I am not a sociologist or an economist or an urban planner. I am a white person who has had years and years to work on my own baggage about race. I read a lot and listen to public radio. I’ve taken trainings on dismantling white privilege and on cultural awareness in the nonprofit world. I have worked in nonprofits and worshiped at churches where justice is the talk and I’m trying to do the walk.
But here is one personal example of white privilege I have had. I grew up in the suburbs of a Great Lakes city with an industrial past and a rather desolate core. We (teenage white girls driving their parents’ cars across town to a basketball game at another high school) were advised by older siblings not to stop at downtown traffic lights after dark, and if stopped by the cops, to plead fear of the (poor, black) neighborhood. This was white privilege in action - we knew they (white cops or maybe even black cops in a white system) would understand our behavior and most likely let us off without so much as a ticket.
As an adult, I’ve chosen a path that allows me to confront that kind of white privilege. I’ve lived in the urban cores of cities like Detroit and New York by choice. I’ve been in the minority on occasion – in a neighborhood, on public transportation, in church – but I can always “return” to a world where my white skin and middle class upbringing and college education is the norm.
My privilege now is to be at Beacon, where this conversation takes place, and where we want to be part of the solution.
We believe in home. And we believe black lives matter.