By Maurice L. Harris
When the RRT established the Four Phase Racial Healing Process this past spring, Acknowledgment was loosely defined as “the acknowledgment of racism in its many forms.” The team realized, however, that there was a tendency, especially among people who were unaware of their own implicit biases, to deny that racism exists. And those who did admit its existence tended to blame the problem on people or systems beyond their control. This didn’t necessarily surprise me.
“If indignities are not directly named, acknowledged, and redressed they take on an invisible energy of their own, showing up in the form of obstacles…..” – Dr. Donna Hicks
Around that time, I was reading Theory U: Leading from the Future As It Emerges, in which Otto Scharmer describes this phenomenon—the mix of denial and blaming—as “downloading” and “absencing,” respectively. Such behaviors, he says, divert our attention and distort our intention, creating blind spots in our perception. Donna Hicks proffers a similar idea in Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict, and warns that “if indignities are not directly named, acknowledged, and redressed…they take on an invisible energy of their own, showing up in the form of obstacles…” From these perspectives it is easy to see why the RRT refined their working definition of Acknowledgment to include unintentional, yet un-criticized, personal contributions to systemic racism, as well as racially-biased thoughts, which ultimately influence individual actions.
In the books listed in the Clergy Day syllabus, authors Michael Eric Dyson, Jim Wallis, and Debby Irving urge readers to examine their interior condition, and they provide practice tips for doing so. It begins with listening to first-person stories rather than “helping” based on one’s own assumptions about what someone else may need. Perhaps the effect of this intentional practice is what Acknowledgment “looks” like. It’s what happens when we illuminate our blind spots – which are often shrouded in good intentions – and uproot our spiritual and social obstacles by addressing personal biases, unrecognized privilege, and unexplored racism.