The Importance of Listening
Sometimes, our task is to remain silent. That is true for all of us at times. In the silence, we can listen to our hearts, to our god, to our neighbor.
During this moment in our country’s history, this moment in our Unitarian Universalist denomination, we who have skin we call white are being asked to hush, to hear what others have to say, particularly those whose skins are brown as earth, or tree bark, or memories. Listening can be difficult, especially when we take it for granted that our voices are important, that our words matter, that everyone cares about what we have to say. That’s part of privilege, assuming people want to know our thoughts.
Privilege and Being White
Not every white person has that privilege, of course. Children, women, the uneducated, the poor, the sick and broken and mentally challenged often feel shut up and shut down no matter their skin tone. But white people have for so long told the histories, claimed the stage, taken advantage of our position that it’s time we closed our mouths and opened our hearts and heard what someone else has to say. No matter what abuses and oppressions we might face in other realms. We don’t have to shut up forever. Just long enough.
Today, we white people stand as “other.” Normally, white is considered the norm. If I talk about a singer or author or politician or doctor, and I don’t tell you the color of that person’s skin, what will you think? That her face is cream-colored and pink. White. What else? Only whiteness goes unspoken among us.
This is just one of the assumptions we make that allow us to judge, point fingers, and blame everything that isn’t white. By doing this, we make everyone else the “other.” So perhaps we could try labeling label whiteness, instead, and treating every other shade as normal, expected, right.
Opening Our Hearts
Do I hear voices of dissent? Questions? Doubts? Do you want me to understand that you have pain, as well?
I get it. Of course you do. We already acknowledged that black, brown, yellow, and red people are not the only ones who suffer. We don’t wish to take your pain away. Even the pain of the whitest, richest man matters. I believe that.
Yet to insist that the pain of darkness cannot be voiced unless we also talk about every other ism we can name discounts and minimizes and distracts. Everyone will have her day. Most of us have already had it.
Settle down. Open your hearts. Prepare your souls. Hush your mouth.
As part of that effort, I will stop writing. At the recovery church service on Sunday, we will listen to stories from people who suffer because they cannot hide. We will listen to those who cannot change the color of their skin, which has made all the difference. Perhaps we should learn something of what that difference is really like.
In faith and fondness,
By Kevar Whilby, from Unsplash