2020 was a painful year for race relations. After a year of tragedies, Jen Barnes, founder of White Girl Awakening, offers ideas for what needs to happen to help the country move forward and bring unity, as opposed to more polarization and more division. In this podcast transcript, you can learn what to be hopeful about from the past year and how to positively build on 2020.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- That more people are awakening to the problems and open to discussing them.
- Why a commitment to the truth is the starting point.
- How to avoid echo chambers and sensationalism.
- Why, as a white person, you can’t afford to go into self-preservation mode.
- What role the church can play in bringing healing and restoration and how each person can contribute by walking in love.
Read the transcript of the podcast below.
File Name: Jen Barnes Part 2 Audio
Date Transcribed: October 13, 2020
Karin Conlee: 00:11 Welcome to R4R, conversations that educate and elevate, I am Karin Conlee, the executive director of Race for Reconciliation, and I am joined for a part two. I hope you checked out part one of my conversation with Jen Barnes. Jen, thank you so much for coming back for a part two.
Jen Barnes: 00:33 Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
Karin Conlee: 00:35 Well, you are just such an encouragement in this space, and we talked in our first session together, a little bit about your background, your journey, how you ended up with a heart for this, and then you’ve really ended up walking in a space very connected to the King Center and multiple organizations that really are striving to bring healing in this country in race relations. And so, we talked about White Girl Awakening. You were the founder of that and just launched that ministry. But we really did not have a chance to talk about really current events, about 2020. And you and I had some conversations offline about just what a hard year this has been. And I think maybe just as a place to start this conversation, what are the two or three things that have encouraged you?
I think this is such a heavy topic. We’re going to start with the encouragement. Is there anything that you can think back in this year as we have just gone through painful situation after painful situation and race relations in this country, anything from that that you see as a spark of hope that we can build on?
Jen Barnes: 02:00 Yes, I think I’m encouraged even through the difficulty, the more and more people are paying attention to what has kind of laid dormant. Maybe it’s always been there, but especially people within the white community. It seems like there are more questions than ever before. There’s more of an openness. It seems like this new generation coming up. We’ve talked about your daughter and I have a lot of relationships with, you know, college age or below, young people who just seem to get it in a different way. And I’m so hopeful for this next generation who has been somewhat removed from the tension of the civil rights movement, all the way through kind of where we are now. We’ve had some instances this year that have felt a whole lot like what I imagine the 60s felt like [inaudible 03:04], but I imagine, it’s been somewhat similar, and I’ve seen this younger generation of white people raise themselves up and say, why are we confused here about who matters and asking more progressive questions, seemingly having the answers already. So, I’m just really hopeful for where we have the potential to go as a people.
Karin Conlee: 03:41 In your work with the King Center, your work with White Girl Awakening, you’ve been in the trenches this year and a lot of, Yes, professionally, but probably even more importantly, personally, in the trenches, walking with people of colour, and in the heat of all of this, when you think about the tragedies of 2020, what is it that you think needs to happen that will help move us forward and bring unity as opposed to more polarization and more division?
Jen Barnes: 04:25 I think we as a people have to have a commitment to truth, more than anything else. And when I say truth, I mean, not being so in love with the sensationalization of all of these like real pains that exist within our society and within so many people who live within it.
The sensationalization of the pain that real people are going through, I think, it’s one of the biggest tragedies of what’s happening right now. And so, there is no part of the work I consider to be my profession, it’s only authentic relational work that is desperately needed within our society.
So, I think a commitment to truth is something that we must connect with, and then the pathway to truth, we need to be reminded of what it looks like to educate ourselves, to look at all sides of an issue, to listen to those who aren’t just like us. We’re doing ourselves a disservice when we dig deeper into echo chambers and just decide, oh, we’re just going to live here, because that in and of itself is…. It’s not possible. It’s not sustainable.
Karin Conlee: 06:11 You’ve used the word sensationalism and echo chamber a couple of times. Elaborate on just what you mean and why those need to be just red flags to us.
Jen Barnes: 06:28 An echo chamber is kind of like the preaching to the choir. It’s the way we protect ourselves and hedge ourselves in by surrounding the entirety of our life with people who think like us, look like us, act like us, vote like us, believe like us. We have this tendency to encapsulate ourselves in an attempt to make us feel more secure and comfortable when it’s very apparent that nobody is actually secure right now. We are actually in a very dangerous time in history. And I’m wondering if people are actually paying attention to that or are you burrowing into these echo chambers who aren’t really safe because there’s stuff swirling around them? And in choosing denial over truth, so that’s what I mean by echo chamber. So, sensationalism. Yes, go ahead, sorry.
Karin Conlee: 07:37 Go ahead and answer that, that’s great on sensationalism.
Jen Barnes: 07:43 The sensationalism, I’m not giving an educated answer here, I’m just coming from my perspective, from what I feel and sense and experience from day to day life.
The mainstream media, the outlets that we go to for information, the way that we choose to engage one another now through social media and virtual, and there’s this disconnectedness in all of those mechanisms from this humanity. And there’s a tendency to make an issue that is really an injustice or a force of pain for people into like a political topic, or a political agenda, so, it becomes a thing instead of about a person who’s experienced pain or a whole collective group of people experiencing pain. And so, sensationalism is really dangerous to me right now because it’s helping drive this tendency to dehumanize people and turn their humaneness into issues or voting dockets or, you know, we’re in the middle of voting season, so I’m thinking about the election and all the narratives that are going on. So, that’s what I mean by sensationalism.
Karin Conlee: 09:24 I think you bring up such an important point and, you know, even in the polling and the things I somewhere heard the other day, it was like, well, back in April, there was just this move of people interested and caring and engaged and concerned. But now, as time has gone by, you know that that has ebbed and there’s more people that are kind of taking a step back. Is that a concern of yours in terms of this, just the trajectory of… because of the sensationalism, or is that again something that the media is projecting that you would say, no, that’s not the case?
Jen Barnes: 10:11 I do think people are disengaging. I think sensationalism drives people into their denial zone, which is the echo chamber. And it’s not necessarily a matter of I’m going to my echo chamber because I don’t care about everyone else who doesn’t exist within it. It’s I don’t know how to deal with the heaviness and the weight of what’s going on in the world around me, and I’m just trying to find a sanctuary somewhere in this world. And in the white community when we do that, people of colour feel like it’s a lack of concern or of, you know, we don’t care about you. When it’s really like we’re not understanding what’s happening right now, in most cases, I just want to say being in the middle of the word. In most cases, it’s really just like, no, I’m just trying to find my place in this world where I can feel safe with all this sensationalism that’s going on around me and what’s real and what’s not, because if there is real pain, the majority of white people who are, especially, within the church that I know would want to engage it, but it distracts from the real issues that are going on and affecting people’s everyday lives.
Karin Conlee: 11:42 If you don’t take anything else from this podcast, I hope that you heard what Jen just referenced, because if we… and again, speaking from a majority white culture, it is so easy when it just the noise gets so loud and it’s been going on so long. It is almost self-preservation of just I’ve got enough problems in my own life that I just don’t have any more capacity to sort through and figure this out, and then we go back to our reverting to either not caring or just acting like we don’t care. It appears we don’t care and we’re not engaging. And what Jen just said, and I would just be my encouragement to every single person, regardless of your race, is to keep this on a human level, to keep this on how do we love one another? And Jen, you referenced the church and people of faith as an organization. We know that this affects… every racism is not just a Christian issue, but as you bring that up, the faith community is a huge influence in all societies, and that’s very true here. What do you think the role of the church is specifically in this conversation?
Jen Barnes: 13:10 I think the church has the primary role. Specifically, in the United States, on the issue of race, I believe the church has the primary role, and I’m not saying the what we refer to as the black church or the white church or I just mean the church as a whole has the solutions within its tenets that if they are carried out and lived out authentically would create a road map for the rest of the world to follow, and I think that the lack of engagement from the faith community, historically and even so now, has perpetuated this for so long. I mean, in the 60s, Dr. King was talking about the 11 o’clock hour on Sunday morning being the most segregated hour in America. And you do now today have various diverse churches in every community just about now, but it’s still pretty segregated hour in America. And so, what he was saying then is still true. He talked about the white moderate, the one who’s kind of silent and just sliding into their echo chamber, being more painful, causing more pain to the black community than the vehement racists who were really verbal and vocal because the verbal and vocal people were getting the microphone and driving the narrative.
But the masses of good willed white people who just kind of remained silent, could have overthrown, you know, these louder voices that they didn’t even probably agree with.
Karin Conlee: 15:15 Jen, you bring up Dr. King and really with all of your work at the King Center and with Dr. Bernice King, I know these are probably things you’ve already thought of many times before, but what do you think if Dr. King were here today, what would his talking points be? What do you think that he would want to say to this generation?
Jen Barnes: 15:43 Oh, my gosh, nobody’s ever asked me a question like that. I’ve heard people ask Bernice before. I really, truly believe the more I study his work, he’s already said it, and he was such a prophetic voice that was a gift to us even now.
The things he said then are still so applicable today. And so, he had such a fierce belief in the power of love. And then he defined what love looked like, it wasn’t this anaemic, sentimental feeling, it was the type of thing that would drive you through a feeling into an action, because you knew it was right, no matter what it cost you. And so, I think today we’re so driven by emotions and there is a sentimentality about this idea of love that we carry in society. And I think we need a revolution of, and a reconnection to this love that Dr. King demonstrated while he was here that would bless a woman who stabbed him literally in the heart. Or who would walk into a room with a president who he knew was completely against, you know, what he was working towards, but he would always leave that person with their dignity, no matter how much he disagreed with them. He would never take a person’s dignity away.
So, there’s a way in which we communicate. There is a way in which we demonstrate our perspective. And it seems like we’ve just lost all sense of that, the dignity of others and what it means to leave someone with it, even when you disagree with them. So, I would just encourage… I can probably continue to go on and on about various examples through studying him that I draw on every day. And I’m still learning and I fail all the time, and just this week, I had a situation come up, we’re at the beach and I didn’t get what I wanted from a service person. And I came back and told Bernice about it because she was in the house and she said, you know, you just need to start over with them and, you know, go back over there, and this is what you need to say. And I’m like, I’m not there yet, and I still haven’t gone back to that person because I’m not there yet. But I’m going to do it before I leave this week because I know I have to develop the muscles inside to make a mistake and then go start over and not just give up and shut the door, you know, these are the things that that generation… I’m so afraid to lose them all. And this year we’ve lost several, especially, civil rights leaders. We had John Lewis, who passed away, and then C.T. Vivian on the same day. We’ve lost so many people in that generation this year.
And there was a quiet strength that we’re going to have to find a way to work those muscles and develop.
Karin Conlee: 19:45 Well, Jen, I love the just how real and authentic and specific that you are just in your conversation, because I think that if there’s a take away, you know, race for reconciliation, we’re going to do events. We want to bring people together when other COVID will allow. We want to be a part of the education process. That’s our platform is to educate and elevate, our platform is to raise money to deal with some of the systemic issues.
But all of that pales to awakening people and again, some very well-meaning people. But it’s the old code of all, it takes for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing. And so, to take this just to a very relational level, like you said, sometimes it’s the courage to say maybe I’ve messed up in a relationship or there’s been some dis agreement or something with somebody, but that I’m going to care enough to go back.
I’m going to care enough to, you know, in the future know that, hey, leaving someone with dignity, that term that you used is a value that I’m going to apply to every single person in my life, and I’m going to move outside of the group that looks like me and talks like me and votes like me, and open the door to learn and to grow and to have a perspective that I didn’t. And so, thank you for bringing just the importance of humanity and relationship. That is the only way that this problem will really be solved.
As we’re kind of wrapping up this particular episode. Is there anything from your journey that you would say, if I could sit down with someone and have a cup of coffee and say this is what you need? This is something I’ve learned in this journey that would help you stand on my shoulders and continue to build into your health, into your community. What would be those things that you wish that you could say?
Jen Barnes: 22:02 Well, in the context of race for reconciliation, I’m a runner, I want to be able to insert that in this, and this is part of why I really love this organization and what you’re doing, because we have to be whole as individuals in order to start tapping into how do we be a part of the solution for this collective dilemma that we find ourselves in this lack of wholeness collectively that we’re experiencing. And so, the biggest thing in my journey has been to ensure that I am whole within myself, that I am becoming whole daily, and that I’m taking time to really have a good relationship with myself so that I can give good relationship to others. And part of that journey for me has been my daily runs, that is how I start my day. Sometimes I have to take off in the middle of the day and go for a run, because I have to clear my head and I need that space and time to get my body moving. Our physical health is so connected to our emotional and spiritual and mental health. And this is a critical component. This need to get out and move and exercise as we’re changing our minds. You have various professionals in the field of mental health who will tell you that when you’re trying to change thought patterns, if you incorporate movement into the changing of thought patterns, it helps those patterns change and shift. And so, if you’re doing something like running while you’re changing your mind about something, it’s helping reprogram what triggers your mind to think certain ways. And so, I would say the importance of exercise and physical help in this work is absolutely critical, and I don’t know of any organization that’s spotlighting and highlighting that.
And I will follow up with resources on that one component, because I think that this community particularly is going to be extremely curious to know more about it.
Karin Conlee: 24:32 Absolutely. Well, and I think it goes back to just the humanity that you talked about. For us to be the people that we want to be, we have to be healthy and have to have those key components in our life that allow us to be at our best so that we can then step forward and care about somebody else from a place of health. And so, yes, that’s a fantastic way for us to wrap up this.
And I just want to encourage everybody, if you have not checked out White Girl Awakening, to go to the website and check out this is what Jen has founded and really is a great voice in this space as we all partner together to really make a difference and bring healing, honour, and hope to our culture in a way that needs it now as much as ever before and maybe more so than ever before. So, Jen, thank you so much for joining us. Give us your website one more time. Or if somebody wants to reach out and learn more about White Girl Awakening, where should they go?
Jen Barnes: 25:38 Whitegirlawakening.com. That’s where you can find it all. But we have a Facebook page, a Twitter page, Instagram. I think we even have a TikTok, but I’m not technologically literate. But Whitegirlawakening.com, that’s where you can find us.
Karin Conlee: 25:54 All right, thanks so much for taking time out of your world to speak with us, and we’re just excited to see how you are going to continue to make a difference and have a good one. Thank you, guys, for joining us for this episode.