In the race for racial reconciliation, there are certain foundations you want to move toward, like creating equity and creating culture. However, there are things you should avoid in this pursuit as well. Factors that will distract you or get you moving sideways. Outlining these five minors, as we’re calling them, will ensure you can build a strong foundation for racial reconciliation in your circles.
In this episode you’ll discover the 5 minors to avoid, which are:
- Who had it worse.
- Who does it better.
- Hanging in hopelessness.
- Harboring hatred.
- Staying stagnant.
Karin: Welcome to the R4R Podcast. This is Karin Conlee, and I am the Executive Director of Race for Reconciliation. we’re just excited that you’re here with us for this particular episode. You have joined us for a really important episode in the journey of this new movement, Race for Reconciliation. I have with us if you have been on our podcast before you have probably seen the beautiful Vonnetta West. If you’re on video, you can see us on split screen right now. Vonnetta, you are in warm sunny, Georgia.
Vonnetta: I am.
Karin: Thank you for joining us again today.
Vonnetta: Thank you for having me. It is warm and sunny here.
Karin: I’m recording this from Cleveland, Ohio, and we have sun, but not warmth. So I appreciate sun and warmth more than I ever had before right now. So we are here today on what we’re calling the Five Minors for Race for Reconciliation. And one of the things that we wanted to do is clearly define our purpose, our mission, and also some guard rails. This is a topic that is consistently a polarizing topic, a challenging topic. Vonnetta is going to help us as we have kind of defined what we’re calling Five Minors. Really what they are, are the things that we are not going to do. The ways that we can protect ourselves as a mission, as an organization. Even with guests that we bring on and people that are involved with this, these things would represent how we would want to just keep our focus on the main thing and not get distracted or have sideways energy.
So Veneta, I want to share those five minors with you and then ask you because as a woman who has walked in this space by now people probably know a lot of your experience if they’ve listened to other podcasts. But you are a leadership consultant, you are a writer and author. You are an expert on Dr. King, you have studied and taught training, have led trainings on his material for almost 20 years now. A part of the King center where you developed curriculum and their Nonviolence 365 platform.
So you know the space and I wanted to learn from you and have your expertise, help us to understand why these things are so important that we really protect ourselves from. So the first one, and if you’re watching by video, you’ll see this pop up on the screen, but the first thing we’re going to avoid is who had it worse. So in that we’re going to avoid comparing atrocities and attempting to weigh oppression. And Veneta as you think about that, could you maybe explain why kind of going down that train of thought who had it worse might take us in the wrong direction?
Vonnetta: Oh, it’s just a never ending conversation. You know, atrocity, it’s just grave in humanity. And atrocity is not a word, of course, that we use lightly. When you think about atrocities, you’re thinking, for me, you know, the Holocaust, the transatlantic slave trade, and then slavery here in this nation. Over a period of time Jim Crow mentioned atrocities, things that have sought to extinguish culture and people, steeped in hate, and discrimination, and bigotry, and racism. Japanese people in concentration camps, things like that, where it’s not just I was uncomfortable or I had to deal with some issues. It’s persecution, not people are talking about me or they don’t like me, or they don’t like to be affiliated with me. It’s great harm has been caused to a group of people.
So those things we can’t compare them and I’ve seen often people try to have a conversation around what was worse slavery or the Holocaust? And I’m just like what the kind of conversation is that? I don’t want to be a part of that simply because I want to ensure that we don’t have either of them ever again, because both were very detrimental and harmful, caused deaths of millions of people, shifted cultures where people couldn’t find their family members. Those types of things comparison doesn’t help. What does help is to focus our energy on how do we ensure that we build community and equip humanity not to go back to those places. So when I say they’re unfruitful, that comparisons are, that’s what I mean. They take our attention off of eradicating the things that cause those atrocities
5:32 Karin: So good. And it is how we want to put our energy on being a part of the solution. This protects us from just being overwhelmed by things we cannot go back and change. So I appreciate you elaborating on it. The second one is equally important and I think very pertinent to all us in many fields, but especially in this space. The idea that we’re going to avoid is the conversation about who does it better? You know, we avoid comparing activists and leaders and instead pull useful tools and thoughts that accommodate our vision and our voice. So, you know, more times than not, when we start to compare, it divides people instead of unifies. So how can we focus more on what we have in common than the differences?
Vonnetta: Yeah, that’s a difficult space because especially if it’s talking about, and being applied to people and organizations who are doing social justice work or racial reconciliation, there’s a tendency to want to say this organization is doing it better. I think the question we have to start to ask is one, how can we do it together? Two if there’s something that I believe should be done differently then why don’t I do it? These are hard questions that we start to ask ourselves that we say, instead of me saying, they’re not doing that correctly, if I believe it’s something that needs to be done differently, how do I help get it done? How do I let that organization focus on what they need to focus on if they’re not using language and if they’re not using practices that are harmful, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about just the habit of criticizing. This space of we do that better.
Even in terms of, you know, people will try to pull me into conversations to criticize Collin Kapernick. I don’t engage in those conversations. Unless I’m saying, hey, if he would’ve had this, he could have done it better. But if somebody is genuinely saying I’m protesting racial injustice and police brutality. This is the Kingian approach, the approach of Dr. King. Let’s talk about what they’re protesting and how we can help with that. Then lead that conversation about how we do it, how he did it for another time. So I’m always wondering when we’re talking about who does it better, what’s being left out of what energy are we depleting from actually working on that issue. In other words, the time that we spent discussing how Kapernick protested, there were more black people being killed in the streets and brutalized by police. So should my focus be more on that injustice or looking at somebody saying, well, he shouldn’t have knelt. He shouldn’t have done this, but I think it’s a distraction tactic because the more I talk about who does it better, or who’s not doing it correctly, the more we don’t spend time, eradicating racism.
Karin: Well, and I would say it also keeps people from being engaged. If you can point and go, well, they do it wrong so therefore I’m going to do nothing. Because I don’t want to be associated with it being done wrong. Now all of a sudden we have rendered ourselves on the sidelines again, instead of saying, this is important. I again, back to our own culture and creating our personal values, that shouldn’t, if we get distracted in the comparison then we’ve missed the focus of what’s important.
Vonnetta: Well, this is something we can start to ask people. I ask when people are just telling me, they don’t think somebody’s protesting injustice correctly, like true injustice, not discomfort. They’re not protesting injustice correctly. Then I say, well, tell me about some of the work you’re doing to eradicate injustice. That usually ends those conversations, because what you find is it might just be dealing with somebody who wants to criticize somebody else’s work to eradicate injustice. They’re not actually doing anything that conversation’s over, because what it’s saying to them is, hey, you know, you can’t even criticize in a space you’re not participating in.
Karin: Yeah, that’s good. That’s good. The third one is so important. Hanging in hopelessness. So we want to avoid language and postures that rob us of hope. Instead choosing to merge understanding of history and undergirding with hope. So I know on a personal level, all of us can kind of get to a place of the half empty, of the pessimism. We can look at this on a more corporate level and just get overwhelmed and feel powerless. Describe that dynamic that we have in this third minor of merging both an understanding of history with the undergirding of hope. What does that mean?
Vonnetta: That ruling, I mean, sometimes people think hope means being naive, but that’s not what hope is. Hope is actually having a great knowledge of history and a great expanse of knowledge of where we are now and still saying, we can be better and we can do better. What helps us be hopeful is being helpful. For me, nothing cultivates hope more in my culture, my atmosphere, and my character internally for me than being helpful.
Now, if I become a person who I’m no longer contributing, I can’t find a way to have some positive input. Then I’m going to feel hopeless. In the moments in my life where I felt hopeless, it’s because I wasn’t doing anything. There was nothing I was standing up to do to say, this is a way I can help. I don’t mean grand things. I just mean daily going into a grocery store and saying, hey, let me help you with that. The more we build a culture of giving and of helping and of addressing systemic issues, the more hopeful we become, because little by little, you can see change in somebody’s life if you help them, you can see change in an instant if you buy groceries for somebody who’s digging through their purse for money and you see they don’t have the money, you instantly can start to cultivate hope in those moments. Then you can go home and say, let me continue to cultivate this hope by looking at why there is poverty and looking at how to address this systemically.
It takes being strategic to maintain hope and to not hang in hopelessness. We have to actually say for me personally, I’m going to create a culture of hope. I just really encourage people based on what we talked about in a previous podcast to say, what culture do I want around me, my personal culture. If I say, I want a culture where I’m hopeful and I’m not hanging in hopelessness, what things cultivate hope for me? That could be music. For me, a great song can help cultivate hope for me. I have playlists that I have for different occasions where I say, hey, this is a encouragement playlist. Things like that they may seem simple, but if I’m really committed to not hanging in hopelessness, I make a plan for how that happens for me.
Karin: I love the intentionality that you’re speaking about. I also love just to be honest with you, a lot of what you’re saying resonates with things that have existed in my life before my awareness, and awakening in the whole area of racial reconciliation. I hope that’s an encouragement to people out there to say, this really isn’t as foreign as you might think. If you’re new to this conversation and you want to be a part of the solution, it’s not impossible, but it is intentional and it is a discipline but you can start making a difference in your grocery store, in your neighborhood, in your workplace. Like you don’t have to be the director of training at the King Center to create an environment and a culture that promotes hope for you and hope for others around you in the space.
So I love how, how individual we’ve made it and how, as we individually do this, we can collectively with our hearts in the right place, come together and make a big difference. So I love what you said. Let me move on to the fourth one. This is harboring hatred. So let me read this to you. You can see it on the screen for video people. We avoid lingering on discord and hatred, instead facilitate facilitating conversations in a way that within a strategic timeframe turns us to truth and reconciliation.
So Vonnetta you know, this as a black woman in a way that I don’t as a white woman, but these conversations are deeply personal. There are generations of black families that have been hurt from years of a culture that didn’t promote their welfare. So what would you say to help everyone involved to be able to engage in conversations that lead to what you talked about of at the end of that, we say turns us to truth and reconciliation? How do you help us move from that topic of hatred to the reconciliation?
Vonnetta: Well, I first share a quote from Coretta Scott King, and she said she expounds on a quote from Dr. King. He says, ‘hate is too great, a burden to bear.’ She adds, ‘it injures the hater more than it injures the hated. I believe that in my core that hatred injures me when I facilitated, when I hate people. Sometimes we think, oh, you just don’t want to hate people that’s unloving. It’s first and foremost unloving to me to hate people. When I hate people, I damage me and I make myself corrupt. I move myself into spaces, thinking spaces, and emotional spaces where I can’t function at my best. So it’s in my best interest, not to hate people and to then say, how do we move towards truth? And how do we move towards justice and how we move towards true peace, which Dr. King said ‘is not merely the absence of tension it’s the presence of justice.’ How do we get to those spaces?
And so I have to create that for myself. I have to ensure that I’m helping us to move forward. That doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where I experienced bitterness, where I experienced sometimes contempt, where I experienced outrage. But I have to have an intent and be very intentional to cultivate that and move it into how do I not harbor hate in my heart because that’s going to damage me. Sometimes people, when we talk about words like forgiveness, and we talk about not hating, they’ll immediately think about what that other person did this. They don’t deserve my forgiveness and they don’t deserve for me not to hate them. No, no, no. This is about me damaging me and not being able to move forward and do the things that are positive and the things that help us shift and change as community and culture. That’s different than what I have to do. That’s going to let somebody off the hook. This is not about that, but I want to be a positive contributor in spaces. I can’t do that by her apartment hatred in my heart.
Karin: Well, and as I listened to this and what you just said I’ll just say this as a white woman, but it does make me think like, come on, we don’t want to be uncomfortable. That’s nothing compared to the emotions that most black people have to overcome. To your analogy the other day with the hands equal, as a person who has been in the majority culture, my whole life, we have to move past that place of, oh, well, this is hard and uncomfortable because it is nothing compared to the…if somebody in my family had mistreated my grandfather and that had been told to me, and then told to my parents and to me, I would harbor hatred if I didn’t deal with it. And that happens in families of all races all the time.
Vonnetta: Oh yeah what I don’t do is when I’m talking to people and they have hatred in their hearts, I don’t listen to them talking about it. They’re telling me how their uncles were lynched. They may be telling me how they had a relative who experienced police brutality because they were black. I’m not that person talking to them saying, oh, you just really shouldn’t hate. That’s not how I deal with those situations. I listen to that person and what they’re saying, and I listen to their hearts. And then I start to have conversation and I say, hey, you know how is this making you feel? What are you doing with that? But I don’t dismiss them feeling that at all. I mean I think wow, of course some people are gonna feel hatred based on the things they’re experiencing and they’re learning about culture and society and systems.
Karin: And I really appreciate just your honesty and candidness through this conversation. Cause I really hope that it will open up the eyes and begin to cause some people who, again, you know, just haven’t stepped into I want to be a part of the solution. I don’t want anyone in humanity to be mistreated. And so I think sometimes we wimp out on the white side and just go, it just feels icky and to go, oh, whoa, whoa.
Vonnetta: Of course it does.
Karin: Yeah but don’t let that small amount of discomfort keep you from being a part of the solution. So the last one that we’re going to look at today is what we’re calling staying stagnant. And this is we avoid remaining where we are emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Instead embracing movement as a part of racial reconciliation. And Vonnetta as I hand that fifth minor to you of staying stagnant, I would love for you to address it both to the person who maybe is listening and beginning to have a heart softened towards this subject and wants to become a part of the solution. But then also would you address those that have walked in the space for a long time and that might be weary of how they also can apply this to this saying, this principle.
Vonnetta: Sure. You know, first, if there are people who are listening and you’re thinking I really want to become involved in this, or you’re thinking, I haven’t really done anything in this work and you, you know, you know, or you don’t, I’m telling you, you’re stagnant. That you’re in a space where you could be contributing to eradicating racism which has been a pervasive, systemic, cultural, overt evil not for too long, cause one minute is too long but never should have been. So you could be a part of shifting and changing that. Deconstructing systems that are harmful and building systems in a way that care for people and don’t discriminate against people. That’s important work.
I think it only takes thinking about human beings and seeing people as human beings to come out of that. It shouldn’t take, you know, seeing an unarmed black man gunned down in the street for that to happen and for us not to be stagnant anymore. It should just take us realizing that people are being mistreated. Even though we can’t see it, even though it might not be happening in our house or necessarily in our community. Racism is harming someone somewhere. So we can’t afford to be stagnant in that work. We have to get from that place where we’re saying, there’s nothing I can do, to asking what can I do? We Google, we’ll Google culture. Get on Google and say, ‘ending racism,’ put that in there. And just start to research and look at the different organizations that pop up.
Then if your people and you’re tired, like last week I was tired. I mean, I was just crying. I was a mess and I was talking to different people. In those moments I spent so much time encouraging people and coaching them and things that I needed people to say, hey, you know, we still can do this. And I did not believe that we could not do it, but I had moments last week based on a tragedy that happened right here in Georgia with a young black man, where I was saying, what are we going to do? Because this is something that continues to happen. We keep working and we keep coming up with plans and we keep saying, ‘no justice, no peace.’ I am spiritually, emotionally tired.
For me, I had to have a moment where I came back to my own culture. I said, this is not what we do. You know, I do this for a day, but one of my mentors always told me, she said, you know what? I’m gonna give you three days with that. Because even Jesus only stayed in tomb for three days and then he got up, so you need to get up. And so that’s a part of my culture. If I give myself three days to be in something and to just feel it, by that third day, I need to be looking at how do I get up and how do I stop being stagnant? And what did I see in this? And how can we change things based on what we’re looking at? How do we need to show up in this instance of injustice that will help us in other instances, and maybe we can prevent it from happening again. Which is always the goal because justice, isn’t just reactive. Justice is proactive. Justice means we put things in place to help this not happen again.
So, you know, being stagnant…it’s another thing again, that you have to say, this won’t be culturally who I am. So if you’ve been doing this and you’re saying, hey, I’m frustrated, I’m tired, create a culture again where you say, what do I do in those moments where I’m feeling that way? What have I established works for me? And again, this has to be as Karin used this word and I think it’s so key, intentional. Not being stagnant has to be intentional.
Karin: Well, and I love the example that you just gave because number one, it acknowledges humanity. There are going to be days in whatever you’re passionate about, they’re going to be…we live in a fallen world. It is a broken world. People will disappoint us. We have to acknowledge that. We would be, you know, we’ve got to normalize that, but what you just said is, okay, I give myself three days, you give your self permission to feel to be at that place. But in that intentionality part of the culture you created was choosing the people in your circle of influence so that you have people that will hold your arms up, that will speak truth to you. That will encourage you and will tell you, okay Vonnetta it’s day three, get up. We can do this thing.
Vonnetta: I tell you one of the people for whatever it continues to be amazing to me, but I can just be having, I was in South Africa and there was an injustice that happened while I was there. Bernice King, Dr. King’s daughter, she happened to call me and I just broke. Then the other day, when this Ahmaud Arbery thing happened when he was…when we saw that video of him and a man standing a man standing on the truck and it looked like it was hunting season. I saw this black man being shot and dying, and I called her again and I just broke. She is one of the people for me that when I’m in those spaces and I talked to her, I’m just like, I can just be fully transparent and say, this one is terrible.
She immediately starts to say West, West. Cause she has to know typically our spaces, we’re encouraging each other. We’re talking about her father’s philosophy. We’re talking about how we can apply it. Well, she knows about me as if I’ve gotten to a place where I’m just weeping about something that I really need for her to show up in a way that she doesn’t normally show up in our conversations. That for me is one of the relationships where I know I can be transparent about injustice, about racism, because somebody’s listening who’s saying, okay, let’s think about what we can do.
Karin: All right. Wow, Vonnetta you are an encourager and somebody who pours into so many in walking into difficult places and keep showing up and keep caring. So I just want to thank you for the way that you’ve done that in my life and for the thousands of others that I know that you influence. Thank you for being a part of the series with us. I’m just hopeful that this will be a message that really yes, it sets the foundation for who we are as Race for Reconciliation, but more than that, that it will inspire everybody who listens to become somebody who cares enough to take that next step and act.
Karin: I think hopefully there’s opportunities to collectively come together through Race for Reconciliation events, but there are ways right where you are no matter where you live to become a part of the solution. Thank you for the way that you’ve outlined that individually of what that looks like in our lives. For also painting the picture of how we need to be collective in our efforts to partner with everybody who has a heart for this and see that we actually eradicate racism. So thank you for your time, your expertise, your friendship. We look forward to hosting you again at some point on this podcast, but thank you so much Vonnetta.
Vonnetta: Thank you Karin. Thank you.
Karin: Well, everybody that has joined us, thank you for being with us on this journey and we pray that you would share it with other people and that you would be someone who takes this message with you and creates your own culture to carry this important message everywhere that you go. Please go to www.raceforreconciliation.org for more information and for helpful resources. We will continue to add to the website as we continue to build coalitions and point you to other resources that will be helpful. Have a great one. Until next time.