Listening is one of the easiest and yet, hardest things a human can do. Those who are advanced in listening already know that they have to actively make sure that they are not making the conversation about themselves. When someone needs you to listen, it is not for you. It is for them.
This is an incredibly hard practice to implement. We always have an opinion. We always have feelings. And we always want to share these things with people that we care about. What will happen if we do not get these thoughts out? Will we explode? Will we be eaten alive by our thoughts?
And in that moment, we are not listening. We are not listening because we are thinking about ourselves.
Listening is truly a selfless act and it is easier said than done.
Today is Juneteeth. This is a day that most African Americans know very well, while this might be the first time any white people in the room have heard of it. It is a day of celebration for the African American community, as it marks the day that slaves were notified that the Civil War was over and that slavery had been abolished.
This is a day that has been marked by numerous activities such as barbecues, fishing, and other community gatherings. This is a celebration of freedom for African Americans.
But make no mistake—African Americans were unfortunately not given full freedom after that day in 1865. It was followed by harsh Jim Crow laws, unimaginable segregation, and denial of voting rights even after the Civil Rights Act was passed. African Americans were plagued with ongoing threats against their lives, merciless killings of their friends and families, and refusal of basic human rights through institutionalized racism. And even still today, they face a higher risk of police brutality, increased jail sentencing, and are being robbed of their peace of mind.
It is important for those of us who are white to recognize that today is not for us. This is a day that not only celebrates freedom from slavery, but also a day for black people to celebrate their blackness in a world that tells them that they cannot and should not.
What should white people do, then?
We should listen. Listen, listen, and listen some more.
Listening does not involve sharing our opinions and feelings. Listening is taking in everything that is being said and understood—and then sending energy to the speaker that says “I hear you. You have been heard.”
Too many times, African Americans have attempted to share their feelings and experiences about their oppression, only to have been met with resistance from non-black people. People who tell them that their experiences aren’t real. Who tell them that because they have not seen the same inequality, that it doesn’t happen. Who tell them that things are just not “that bad.”
Break the cycle. Listen, my fellow Unitarian Universalists. Listen to our partners of color in faith.
If they choose to speak, listen. If they choose not to speak, respect their silence.
We can listen today, on Juneteenth Day. We can listen every day.