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  • Translator: Ivana Korom Reviewer: Joanna Pietrulewicz

  • I want to share with you

  • a moment in my life

  • when the hurt and wounds of racism

  • were both deadly and paralyzing for me.

  • And I think what I've learned

  • can be a source of healing for all of us.

  • When I was 17 years old,

  • I was a college student at Tuskegee University,

  • and I was a worker in the Southern freedom movement,

  • which we call the Civil Rights Movement.

  • During this time,

  • I met another young 26-year-old,

  • white seminary and college student

  • named Jonathan Daniels, from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

  • He and I

  • were both part of a generation of idealistic young people,

  • whose life has been ignited

  • by the freedom fire

  • that ordinary black people were spreading around the nation

  • and throughout the South.

  • We had come to Lowndes County

  • to work in the movement.

  • And it was a nonviolent movement

  • to redeem the souls of America.

  • We believe that everyone,

  • both black and white,

  • people in the South,

  • could find a redemptive pathway

  • out of the stranglehold of racism

  • that had gripped them for more than 400 years.

  • And on a hot, summer day in August,

  • Jonathan and I joined a demonstration

  • of local young black people,

  • who were protesting the exploitation

  • [of] black sharecroppers

  • by rich land holders who cheated them out of their money.

  • We decided to demonstrate alongside them.

  • And on the morning that we showed up for the demonstration,

  • we were met with a mob of howling white men

  • with baseball bats, shotguns

  • and any weapon that you could imagine.

  • And they were threatening to kill us.

  • And the sheriff, seeing the danger that we faced,

  • arrested us and put us on a garbage truck

  • and took us to the local jail,

  • where we were put in cells

  • with the most inhumane conditions you can imagine.

  • And we were threatened by the jailers

  • with drinking water that came from toilets.

  • We were finally released on the sixth day,

  • without any knowledge, without any forewarning.

  • Just out of the clear blue sky,

  • we were made to leave.

  • And we knew that this was a dangerous sign,

  • because Goodman, Schwerner and Chaney had also been forced to leave jail

  • and were murdered because no one knew what had happened to them.

  • And so, despite our fervent resistance,

  • the sheriff made us leave the jail,

  • and of course, nobody was waiting for us.

  • It was hot,

  • one of those Southern days

  • where you could literally feel the pavement --

  • the vapor seeping out of the pavement.

  • And the group of about 14 of us

  • selected Jonathan Daniels,

  • Father Morrisroe, who had recently come to the county,

  • Joyce Bailey, a local 17-year-old girl

  • and I to go and get the drinks.

  • When we got to the door,

  • a white man was standing in the doorway with a shotgun,

  • and he said, "Bitch, I'll blow your brains out!"

  • And before I could even react,

  • before I could even process what was going on,

  • Jonathan intentionally pulled my blouse,

  • and I fell back, thinking that I was dead.

  • And in that instant, when I looked up,

  • Jonathan Daniels was standing in the line of fire,

  • and he took the blast,

  • and he saved my life.

  • I was so traumatized

  • and paralyzed by that event,

  • where Tom Coleman deliberately,

  • with malicious intent,

  • killed my beloved friend and colleague,

  • Jonathan Myrick Daniels.

  • On that day,

  • which was one of the most important days in my life,

  • I saw both love and hate

  • coming from two very different white men

  • that represented the best and the worst of white America.

  • So deep was my hurt

  • at seeing Tom Coleman murder Jonathan before my eyes,

  • that I became a silent person,

  • and I did not speak

  • for six months.

  • I finally learned to touch that hurt in me

  • as I became older

  • and began to talk about the Southern freedom movement,

  • and began to connect my stories

  • with the stories of my other colleagues and freedom fighters,

  • who, like me, had faced deadly trauma of racism,

  • and who had lost friends along the way,

  • and who themselves have been beaten and thrown in jail.

  • It is 50 years later.

  • Many people were beaten and thrown in jail.

  • Others were murdered like Jonathan Daniels.

  • And yet, we are still, as a nation,

  • mired down

  • in the quicksand of racism.

  • And everywhere I go around the nation,

  • I see and hear the hurt.

  • And I ask people everywhere,

  • "Tell me, where does it hurt?"

  • Do you see and feel the hurt

  • that I see and feel?

  • I feel and see the hurt in black and brown people

  • who every day feel the vicious volley of racism

  • and every day have their civil and human rights stripped away.

  • And the people who do this use stereotypes and myths

  • to justify doing it.

  • Everywhere I go,

  • I see and hear women

  • who speak out against --

  • who speak out against men who invade our bodies.

  • These same men who then turn around --

  • the same men who promote racism

  • and then turn around and steal our labor and pay us unequal wages.

  • I hear and feel the hurt of white men

  • at the betrayal by the same powerful white men

  • who tell them that their skin color

  • is their ticket to a good life and power,

  • only to discover,

  • as the circle of whiteness narrows,

  • that their tickets have expired

  • and no longer carry first-class status.

  • Now that we've touched the hurt,

  • we must ask ourselves,

  • "Where does it hurt

  • and what is the source of the hurt?"

  • I propose that we must look

  • deeply into the culture of whiteness.

  • That is a river that drowns out all of our identities

  • and drowns us in false uniformity to protect the status quo.

  • Notice, everybody, I said culture of whiteness,

  • and not white people.

  • Because in my estimation,

  • the problem is not white people.

  • Instead, it is the culture of whiteness.

  • And by culture of whiteness,

  • I mean a systemic and organized set of beliefs,

  • values, canonized knowledge and even religion,

  • to maintain a hierarchical, over-and-against power structure

  • based on skin color, against people of color.

  • It is a culture

  • where white people are seen as necessary and friendly insiders,

  • while people of color, especially black people,

  • are seen as dangerous

  • and threatening outsiders,

  • who pose a clear and present danger

  • to the safety and the efficacy

  • of the culture of whiteness.

  • Listen to me and see if you can imagine

  • the culture of whiteness as a dehumanizing process

  • that melts away

  • all of our multiple and interlocking identities,

  • such as race, class, gender and sexualities,

  • so that ...

  • so that unity is maintained for power.

  • I believe, because I know

  • and believe that the culture of whiteness

  • is a social construct.

  • Each of us, from birth to death,

  • are socialized in this culture.

  • And it marks people of color also.

  • And it makes people of color, like white people,

  • vote against our interests.

  • Some of you might ask --

  • and my students always tell me I give hard assignments --

  • some of you might ask, and rightfully so,

  • "How do we fix this?

  • It seems so all-powerful and overwhelming."

  • I believe that we must fix it,

  • because we cannot humanize our future

  • if we continue to be complicit

  • with the culture of whiteness.

  • Each of us must connect with our authentic selves,

  • with our authentic ethnic selves.

  • And we must connect with the other aspects of our identities.

  • And we must move out of the constructs

  • of whiteness, brownness and blackness

  • to become who we are at our fullest.

  • How do we do this?

  • I believe that we do this through our collective narratives.

  • And our collective narratives must contain our individual stories,

  • the arts,

  • spiritual reflections,

  • literature,

  • and yes, even drumming.

  • (Laughter)

  • It must be a collective telling,

  • because individual stories just create a paradigm

  • where we are pitting one story against another story.

  • These different models that I have talked about tonight

  • I think are essential to providing us a pathway

  • out of the quagmire of racism.

  • And I want to talk about another very important model.

  • And that is redemption.

  • I believe that movements for racial justice

  • must be redemptive rather than punitive.

  • And yes, I believe

  • that we must provide the possibility of redemption for everyone.

  • And we must be willing,

  • despite some of the vitriolic language

  • that might come from those very people who oppress us,

  • I think that we must listen to them

  • and try to figure out where do they hurt.

  • We must do this, I believe,

  • because our redemption is tied into their redemption,

  • And we will not be free

  • until we've all been redeemed from unredemptive anger.

  • The challenge is not easy.

  • And in a technological society, it grows even more complicated,

  • because often we use technologies

  • to perpetuate the very values of racism that we indulge in every day.

  • We use technology to bully,

  • to perpetuate hate speech

  • and to degrade each other's humanities.

  • And so I believe that if we're going to humanize the future,

  • we must design ways to use technology

  • not to degrade us, but to elevate us

  • so that we can live into the fullest of our capacities.

  • And I believe that technology

  • must provide us larger vistas

  • so that we might engage with each other

  • and move beyond the segregated spaces that we live in, every day of our lives.

  • I believe

  • that we can achieve this if we set our minds

  • and hopes on the prize.

  • The question before us tonight

  • is very serious.

  • It is: "Do you want to be healed?

  • Do you want to be healed?"

  • Do you want to become whole and live into all of your identities?

  • Or do you want to continue to cannibalize your multiple identities

  • and privilege one identity over the other?

  • Do you want to join a long line

  • of generations of people

  • who believed in the promise of America

  • and had the faith to upbuild democracy?

  • Do you want to live into the fullest of your potential?

  • I certainly do.

  • And I believe you do, too.

  • Let me just say, quite seriously,