Build a Bridge and Get Over It

The past year has brought race and racism to the fore in national and global dialogue. Murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and too many others were shocking, but they were no surprise. Health inequities were not created by the pandemic, but they were exacerbated and laid bare. The essential nature of “essential workers,” cascading homelessness, New York Times’ 1619 Project, demonstrations and outrageous police responses, and misery at our southern border have disrupted my comfortable vision of the American community.

As a white, liberal woman of a certain age, I am in a quandary. I don’t know what to do. That is the point.

For too long I have thought I was in charge. It was my job to find the answers. I assumed the power to “fix” things. I took on the role of defining the problem and designing the solution. The past year has disabused me of this notion. I realize that my worldview and assumptions have created the patterns that drive me to despair today. I cannot define equity and justice for others. I have a very different job to do. And I don’t know how to do it. It will take me some time and lots of work before I can learn a new how.

I must learn to be quiet and listen. Even the questions I ask can distort and disguise others’ truth, so I must simply watch and listen and learn from what is real for others.

I must learn humility. The point isn’t to reach for the sack cloth and ashes or beat my chest in faux despair. I must learn from those who have been harmed by my lack of awareness (or willful ignorance) and our collective transgressions in the past. I must heed their advice and hopes for a more just and equitable future.

I have to find my own way. I belong to groups and assume labels, but identity and action are radically personal. My path emerges from my personal history and my current context.  Your path toward reality will emerge from your life, too. No two of us will navigate this dilemma the same way.

I must create a new pattern in every moment. Structural and social racism were created in a sequence of decisions and actions. They will be destroyed in the same way. Each conversation, every decision, and all of my actions will contribute to an evolving future.

I will learn from failure. It is tempting to step out of the fray, to become an inactive observer, to not take chances. The risk of making a misstep is great—especially because I care so much.  I must take that risk, though, because practice is the only way to build capacity. I build adaptive capacity for myself and my community when I do the best I can in the moment, pay attention to the results, ask for forgiveness and advice, and learn in preparation for the next opportunity.

This will not be a quick, easy, or painless transformation. But, if equity and justice are truly my goal, then I have to build a bridge and get over it. Thank goodness for colleagues and friends who will share their stories, teach me lessons, and forgive my errors as I pursue the HSD vision in this and all things:

People everywhere thrive because we see patterns clearly, seek to understand, and
act with courage to transform turbulence and uncertainty into possibility for all. 

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