Today is the beginning of Black History Month in the United States. I know for me, in the past this has meant reading more about the experience of Black American’s, especially important historical figures like Jackie Robinson, who’s 100 birthday just passed. I was moved by an experience this past week to make this exploration more personal.
I serve on the board of directors of the Brockton Interfaith Community, a community organizing group based in a gateway city in southeastern MA, part of MCAN and the Faith in Action network and led by the incredible Will Dickerson. Will, an African-American man, led 20 veteran members of the organization in a two-hour training on White Supremacy, Power and Racism. The powerful thing about this training is that Will made it very personal. Using the metaphor of a house built on the foundation of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism and Christian hegemony, he said to this racially diverse group, “If you can’t feel how you are being hurt by these foundations you are never going to want to leave the house.” As a Jew I have access to how I’ve been impacted by Christian dominance, but as a white, male, upper middle class person, it is less obvious for me to feel the negative impact of the other foundations.
I was thankful to one of my white, male, upper-middle class colleagues who spoke up and said that he is hurt by these foundations of empire because he feels his value is all based on his ability to help wealthy people make more money. Once he is not able to do this he will be discarded by this system. That is a harsh reality to live with. Even for people who ostensibly benefit from capitalism, patriarchy, etc. the cost is that our security is very precarious and our worth transactional. It takes making a clear-eyed, honest self-assessment to see these costs.
This is the role of one of our key spiritual technologies – Cheshbon HaNefesh/Soul Accounting. We make a Cheshbon HaNefesh by taking an honest look at our selves and the state of our being. How do our beliefs and patterns of behavior impact the state of our soul? How do external systems and oppression impact our soul. Cheshbon Hanefesh requires that we are curious about and care for our souls. My colleague’s statement about the impact of capitalism on the state of his soul was a real Chesbhon HaNefesh. If I can actually see these negative impacts of the foundations of empire on my soul and really feel them, I’ll be more likely as a privileged man, to know we have to get out of this house and build a new house. One of the things I’ve been doing to help with the Cheshbon Hanefesh is the #52undo challenge to look at how racism impacts my life. This is a 52 week challenge led Will Dickerson to uproot racism from our hearts and our institutions.
I invite you to join me in this challenge and in a broader Cheshbon HaNefesh this month so we can build the Ratzon/Desire to build a new house together.