All across America, white people are wrestling with how to respond to the continued spectre of racial inequity and the brutal murder of yet another black man.
Although there are a range of responses, the two I see as most tortured appear to be polar opposites, yet are rooted in the same soil.
The first, performative activism, was highlighted this week when the snack food brand Doritos tweeted an image of a black square and the words “We see you. We hear you. We are standing with you.”
The public response was swift:
“We see you. We hear you. We monetize you.”
“Show us your executive team.”
Individuals are also guilty of this kind of values signaling, which is less about substantive change and more centered on personal promotion.
The second response is more complicated, and it is from those who need to minimize, rationalize, or deny that racism exists.
Maybe you have heard the famous quip by Zvi Rex: “The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz.”
Rex was referencing secondary prejudice, the idea that exposure to the ongoing suffering of victims increases prejudicial feelings. People who have studied this issue believe the presence of someone suffering is a shameful reminder of our connection to their pain. The cognitive dissonance between guilt and our desire to see ourselves as “good people” becomes too much to hold, and we grasp at beliefs that will quickly restore a positive self-image. This looks like justification (he was committing a crime!), redirection (look at all the looting!), or alternative narratives (it was all funded by George Soros and antifa!). Very few people want to live in a world in which innocent people are murdered, but perhaps more than this they fear the ugliness of association with that injustice.
The central problem in both responses – the performative as well as the dissonant – is that each is about ego. If our fragile identities are bound up in our activism, we can never be of meaningful service.
The heartivist path invites us to a response that begins with divorcing ego, which is a mask that keeps us from seeing ourselves and others as they are. Clear-eyed and with a heart to serve and listen, setting down our ego helps us resist a need to react judgmentally. Instead, we can observe, self-reflect, and discern, detaching from our assumptions and from the binary thinking (good/bad) that underpins cognitive dissonance in the first place.
What would it mean if we could express our hearts for service in the most authentic way possible? If we could hear truths about our world and heritage without it undermining our self-efficacy? If when we looked at others, we saw a reflection of ourselves?
I think it would look like shared humanity, joined in love to lead each other out of this dark chapter.