I Am The Betrayer

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A Personal Response to An Advent Lament by Diana Trautwein

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Often times personal lament and confession overlap. There are moments we see ourselves amid the ashes and we complain, confess, speak out our part in the wrongness of things. Reading the lament Diana offered, this one phrase haunted me relentlessly:

“And sometimes, the betrayer is me.”

I love my brown brothers and sisters. Yet as I scour my own upbringing, I see how my words and actions have betrayed otherwise. It is a systemic wrong, but also a personal one I cannot deny.

“Too often, those who say they love you,
betray you with their words and their actions.
And sometimes, the betrayer is me.” –Diana Trautwein

I am the betrayer.

I am the one who has betrayed my brown brothers and sisters in subtle but undeniable ways. I’ve snickered at ebonics and rolled eyes at names so obviously from a community other than my own. I failed to see names as a way of resistance, a refusal to be assimilated–names as a claim to another place and culture thick with meaning and the power to shape.

I remember laughing (in the privacy of my home) at Kwanza. Instead of seeing people reaching back through history for connection and a celebration with distant kin, I turned my face away and mocked.

Grabbing from so many different African traditions to try and create one festival seemed like grasping for the intangible. So I shook my head. Instead of being open to the possibility that some of that tradition from their motherland would offer nourishment, offer hope, offer God With Us in a way my white Christmas never could.

I betrayed my brothers and sisters when they deserved my love in word and deed.

//

I am complicit.

I grew up with a neighborhood ethic that taught me to cross to the other side of the street when a black man was coming my way–for safety. I learned to lock car doors when I saw a black teenager in my vicinity–for safety. I feared dark alleys with dark men, even though I’d never been in a dark alley or ever been harmed by a dark man.

But my culture shaped me to be afraid of black bodies, even as I could befriend them in class or at church or in other social settings. I had many brown friends over the years. How is it that I enjoyed them yet simultaneously feared an unknown black assailant? How did I not see the unholy dissonance?

My community modeled a kind of racial profiling that I thought was common sense safety. Many of us didn’t know any better, we didn’t realize what we were doing to our brothers and sisters as we criss-crossed streets and tried to nonchalantly lock our doors.

I am complicit, nonetheless, in perpetuating a culture that fears brown bodies when I should have seen God’s image shining through each man, each woman, each child.

//

I am a beneficiary.

In ways I cannot yet fully calculate or articulate, I walk in a kind of white privilege in this land. There are richer inheritances at hand and fewer obstacles. There are things I never consider or feared–like police, unfair accusations of guilt, an incarceration rate that targets my brothers, sons, fathers. I assume the system is mostly fair, mostly blind, mostly good to all citizens.

But I read #CrimingWhileWhite and then #AliveWhileBlack and double over with shame. How could I be so blind? How could I not have  known? I wept at my corner table in the coffee shop as I realized (again) where I fit in the landscape of racism. I bought the lie.

I determine to be another kind of beneficiary now. I will benefit from the scholarship and stories of African American thinkers. I will listen to the brown poets, luminaries and preachers and hear their wisdom. I will benefit from a necessary soul-searing as African American lives speak truth and I accept their words and rend my heart.

I am a beneficiary of an unjust system and history of half-truths, and I want to divest of distrust, undo the lies, and honour my brothers and sisters anew.

//

I am betrayer. I am complicit. I am a beneficiary. I have gained at the expense of another, and another and still another. I am the rich ruler asked to let it all go for the sake of others.

Only now are my eyes seeing and my ears hearing; only now is my heart turning back towards my brothers and sisters.

Only as I lament my complicity can a contrite heart be born in me this Advent. 

______________

Hands image credit: Laney

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Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley is co-director and chief storyteller for Communities of Hope, a community development enterprise in Burundi. She is also the author of Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Eerdmans).
Kelley Nikondeha
Kelley Nikondeha

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  • Bev Murrill

    Oh Gosh… God help us! You open our eyes with everything you write, Kelley. Those dim awarenesses become blindingly obvious when I read what you write…

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  • Erin Wilson

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this. Wondering what it looks like in different contexts. I don’t want to take anything away from the very real, important and necessary conversation around African-American culture. But it’s too easy for some of us to leave the conversation there. For many rural Canadians, who may have never met a person with African heritage, a conversation might be rooted in Native and Indigenous Canadian culture. The same goes for all of us anywhere.

    I hope we will all be stretched to seek our own culpability, in our context. And continue to learn important lessons from our African-American brothers and sisters…

  • pastordt

    Thank you for this heartfelt response, Kelley. As always, you say the right things in the best way possible.

    • I love being in conversation with you, leaning into lament together. You are a flickering light in the darkness, a reminder of goodness in my midst!

  • DJ Brown

    A confession by a clueless white woman in Toronto: Without black friends or acquaintances, I email Chandra White (black, living in NYC) after she published in SheLoves to ask if she had any contacts in Toronto working on interracial issues so that I could get involved. She has responded with nothing but graciousness when she might have told me to do my own local searching. Today, thanks to your post, Kelley, I find on Facebook my local “Black Lives Matter” group who marched YESTERDAY in my very own downtown. I could have been there. I’m with you, Bev below, “Oh gosh…God help us”. And yes, Erin below, we Canadians must align with our First Nations sisters/brothers as well. Honestly I’m ashamed of my lazy hot tub of privilege.

    • Erin Wilson

      You and me both.

      • DJ Brown

        Thx, Erin.

    • DJ, we are walking together, on a journey toward liberation for all. So glad you found your local group – you may yet march in Toronto!

      • DJ Brown

        For sure, Kelley

  • Powerful + so humbling … It starts right here. You’re right. Thank you, my friend.

  • jenn

    What a beautiful and important reminder that no action is in itself an action and that silence speaks loudly. Thank you for these bold words!

  • Kelly, I am just coming to read. And, yes. this. These humble, contrite, hard words. They have been rumbling like an earthquake in my heart. And you spoke them for me with such tender grace. Thank you.

  • Beautiful, Kelley.

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  • Holly

    “I want to divest of distrust, undo the lies, and honour my brothers and sisters anew.”
    This. This is my prayer. Thank you for your incredible honesty and your willingness to show your truth. It makes me feel a little bit braver.