Vast … great … whopping … extensive … immense … massive … lofty … towering … soaring … significant … spacious … roomy … huge … enormous … gigantic … mammoth … giant … colossal … momentous … substantial … weighty … hefty.
What associations do you make with these words and images?
Minor … trivial … slight … insignificant … trifling … tiny … diminutive … miniature … pint-sized … modest … inconsequential … negligible … piddling … insufficient … inadequate … modicum.
And what associations do you make with these words and images?
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This summer, our church’s study of “white privilege” set me to pondering. Years ago a black co-worker conducted a survey of black clients in our treatment center, asking how they perceived the white therapists on our staff. She confronted me with being seen as “Miss Nicey Nice.” I thought it was a good thing to treat my African American clients with the same respect as my white clients. However, I could hear judgment in the tone of her voice.
I didn’t have the courage to ask for clarification.
Retired for eleven years, I have pondered the meaning of “Miss Nicey Nice” for a long time.
The desert fathers and mothers approached prayer as a practical twofold process: first, of ‘thinking and reflecting,’ or ‘pondering’ what it means to love others; and second, as the ‘development and practice of loving ways of being.’ ~Roberta Bondi, early church scholar
In our church school study, I recognized that it was my “white fragility” that prevented me from asking my co-worker directly about the meaning behind the perception.
I now know that being “nice” gives me the “privilege” of playing it safe, refraining from addressing directly the discrimination and antagonism aimed at my black sisters and brothers. I am complicit.
Of course this exploration is challenging and disturbing. It is never easy to face shortcomings within oneself.
~ ~ ~
During this study, we were introduced to Michael Eric Dyson’s book, Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. Written in the framework of a worship service, Dyson lifts up how white America has ignored, dismissed, or discounted black grievance.
As an author myself, the creativity used in formatting the book caught my attention immediately. Open the front cover, on what is usually a blank page, you are met with the words
“how WE can make it through the long night of despair …
turn to the last page, also usually left blank, and you find the end of the sentence …
to the bright day of HOPE.”
In his “Benediction” chapter, Dyson addresses the issue of reparation … compensating the descendants of enslaved Africans with some form of reimbursement. It was through reading this chapter that I saw how I had been influenced by our society’s preference for BIG … ascribing superiority to what is “BIG” and inferiority to what is “small.”
I had pondered the issue of reparation in the past, trying to imagine how our government could institute such a policy. Thinking only in terms of a “big” solution, my creativity had been dulled. I couldn’t see how it would work. Dyson opened my eyes to how “small” gestures can make a huge difference … a difference for my black sisters and brothers and for my soul, as well.
What Dyson encourages is creativity … creativity in transferring a bit of our resources, even in modest amounts, to deserving and often struggling descendants of the folk who gave this country its great wealth. I don’t know why I didn’t see this. My father modeled this behavior for me fifty-six years ago.
Here is Dyson’s list of creative ways to make reparations at the local and individual level:
- Hire black folk and pay them slightly better than ordinary
- If a black accountant is doing a good job for you, assume a surcharge and pay her more
- If a black lawyer performs good service, compensate him even more
- Pay the black person who cuts your grass or scrubs your floors double what you ordinarily pay
- Publically recognize “civil rights veterans” for their valor, honor, and sacrifice for making our country great … similar to the way we appreciate military veterans
- Give a deserving black student scholarship help
- Religious or civic institutions tithe in support of a worthy cause … as an example, committing ten present of its resources to educating black youth
- As an individual or small group, set up an IRA (Individual Reparations Account) to be used to
- send black kids to summer camp
- pay fees to sports teams
- buy band instruments
- pay for tutors
- sponsor trips for a group of black children to the zoo or a museum
- begin a film club for black children to attend movie theaters
- treat working class folks to a massage
- pay for textbooks for black college students
Now with my creativity muscle set free, I found a meaningful way for me to make reparations.
These ancients (the desert fathers and mothers) taught that prayer was participation in God’s love, the activity that takes us out of ourselves, … and conforms us to the path of Christ. ~Diana Butler Bass
Stacey Abrams, the African-American woman who is running for governor of Georgia, inspires me. I commit to making a contribution to her campaign … and to other inspiring African-American candidates. And I will find other creative ways to use my modest resources in support of other deserving and often struggling descendants of enslaved Africans.
I would love to hear how you are inspired to use your creativity to be a part of healing this huge national wound.