Inspired by my friends Muna Hussaini who organized an interfaith vigil in Austin to honor the Muslim people killed by a white supremacist in New Zealand, and Deborah Harris, who wrote a Facebook post expressing her feelings about it, I wrote this reflection essay. I have quoted Deborah extensively in it and put her quotes in italics.
This year, 2019, marks 400 years since white people brought the first Africans in chains to Jamestown Virginia to be sold into bondage. We live today on land white people stole from the Native Americans.
As we reflect on the white supremacist terrorism in New Zealand, we recognize that division, slavery, and genocide are deeply rooted in American history and are reflected in how we think, act, and live today.
DH: “We hold images of worshippers of God slain in their house of worship in New Zealand in our minds and hearts.”
Let us -brothers and sisters of all faiths- as well as our atheist and agnostic sisters and brothers- lift up prayers and thoughts for our innocent Muslim brothers and sisters, their families and advocates.
DH: “Their hearts are broken yet again because of the snares of darkness. Let us stand beside the families of those who left this life too soon and share in their burden of grief, for those who were taken are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and children too.”
And yet we know that our prayers are not enough.
The darkness that killed 49 innocents praying is not only present in New Zealand, but it is also present right here in America too, in every town, city, neighborhood. In the hearts and minds of every white person.
It is present in the White House.
It is present in the rising tide of racist, anti-Islamic, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant beliefs and behaviors.
White people: if we are truly honest with ourselves, we recognize that it is not only present in “those bad people over there,” darkness is also present within ourselves and the ways we behave.
Who we feel comfortable associating with. Where we send our kids to schools, and where we worship. What we teach them through our everyday actions.
And so, to truly honor and respect the 49 innocents slain in New Zealand, we can not, must not, say some prayers, and call it a day.
We must spend some time reflecting on ourselves, getting to know our neighbors, and developing a plan for how we are going to work together to stamp out the darkness in ourselves and in our community.
DH: “We must pray God reveals any dark spaces of bias, indifference, fear, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, supremacy, racism, classism, xenophobia and judgment in our souls.”
Think about how our beliefs originated, and how they manifest in our daily actions today.
Open our eyes, and share what we have learned.
Now discuss with our neighbors, DH: “what can we do together to change our beliefs and behaviors, to stop erasing human dignity from people of color and people who practice different faiths, to stop segregating, labeling and oppressing them, to stop casting them aside and allowing hatred and evil to win without blinking twice.”
Spend time listening to one another.
Then commit to doing something together, to holding each other accountable.
Each of us has a sphere of influence, each one of us can push for change, both within ourselves and every institution we are a part of.
It could be asking your children’s school to create a statement of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
Or pushing on your employer to change hiring practices. Or asking your faith-based organization to partner with a different faith-based organization on a community service project.
Anything that will go against the tide and create space, security, and empathy for people who don’t look like you or practice the same faith as you.
Please commit to each other to do something, and share the ideas you came up with to inspire others.
DH: “Brothers and sisters as we reflect on the white supremacist terrorism in New Zealand we must be brave and heal ourselves and our community.
We must be willing to stand in the gap and protect one other. We must not give up on sharing God’s true message of love and healing and rid this world of darkness.
We must all come to the front of this battle. Not one more life lost because of hatred. Not one moment more of segregation, gentrification, and discrimination here in Austin.
This we ask, in the name of the 51 innocents slaughtered while praying.”
Karen Fleshman, Esq. is an attorney, activist, single soccer mom, and a nationally recognized expert on racism, feminism, workplace fair practices, police brutality, and politics. In 2014, Karen founded Racy Conversations, a workshop facilitation company, to help people feel more willing and able to communicate honestly with each other about racism and to do so with increased empathy and understanding.
Karen’s passion project is to build interracial sisterhood and raise antiracist children. She is the author of a forthcoming book for white women about racism, blogs for Huffington Post, Moguldom, and Blavity, and is a Medium Top Voice on Racism, Feminism, and Politics. Karen is a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, the University of Texas at Austin, and New York Law School, and is admitted to practice law in New York.
As she has since 2017, in 2019 Karen will cohost Inclusive Conversations in cities across the United States, events designed to unite women across age, race, sexual orientation, and class, and will speak about interracial sisterhood With Minda Harts and Dr. Avis Jones De Weever, Karen spoke at SXSW 2019 on building interracial sisterhood. For more information, contact her here.