I Am The Betrayer


A Personal Response to An Advent Lament by Diana Trautwein


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