I wince every time I am invited to a “Forum on Reconciliation”.
We have all heard of these types of events. They typically are organized after tragedies where bigotry is implicated as an instigating factor. In these forums, we typically have a panel, a moderator, and a time set aside for “Q&A”. The suffering community is given a “space” to articulate their concerns and grievances. The dominant culture, like clockwork, empathizes with the representatives of the grieving community and seeks to “strategize” new ways to “forge a better tomorrow for all of us”. Afterwards, there is usually an exorbitant amount of hugging, followed by the obligatory wiping away of tears, and always concluded by a collective hope that the hour of reconciliation had not caused the reconcilers to miss out on the daily lunch specials. Nothing can heal the cavernous wounds of structural injustice like half-off appetizers, right?
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for reconciliation. My reservations, however, are based on an inherent skepticism regarding the intentions behind our collective usage of the term ‘reconciliation’. Who and what are we trying to reconcile? Who/which group(s) have ultimate power over the scope of the conversation, the form of the conversation, and where the conversation ultimately leads? Are the grieving communities truly collaborators in the process, or, are they merely mannequins of flesh connivingly propped up in order to propagate a veneer of diversity to those who get a kick out of window-shopping for change?
My cynicism regarding such events is rooted in the fact that the unspoken rule for all of these gatherings is “everyone needs to leave feeling comfortable, enlivened, and ready to leap tall buildings of injustice with a single Bible verse”. I personally have been told on several occasions to make sure that “I don’t sound angry when I’m speaking.” Never mind the fact that I am talking about the blood of black victims baptizing urban pavements across the country. Never mind the fact that I am talking about a perpetuity of broken promises that has left many standing upon the threshold of change, sequestered from the foyer of opportunity. Never mind the fact that I am talking about a paralysis of purpose engendered by a pernicious form of Black nihilism that arrests the hopes and dreams of many before they even leave elementary school. To Hell with vulnerability and authenticity. My job is to make sure that the crowd can leave this conversation with their appetites fully intact. Duly noted! “Though this is how youfeel, James”, I am constantly reminded, “You don’t want anyone else to feel this way. Your purpose is to make everyone feel good! You purpose is to make everyone feel accomplished! Your purpose is to make everyone feel comfortable at the table (table, not in a Eucharistic sense but, rather, in a Euphemistic sense [which deserves an essay all unto itself])!”
What if the table, itself, is the problem? What if the comfort you are trying so desperately to preserve is the very thing that needs to be destroyed?
What I find interested is that we are always talking about making room at the table. But not all tables should be left standing. Some tables need to be flipped, turned, and taken out of the room altogether.
Maybe, just maybe, if we truly deal with the schisms and issues plaguing our communities, those in attendance will not be able to eat immediately afterwards. Maybe, just maybe, the fact that people are joking and laughing raucously in lunch lines 15 minutes after talking about murder and the pain of an entire community is proof positive that we didn’t reconcile a damn thing (but we sure can load up a gang of Facebook pictures that look like we did!).
Though it may sound as if I am being divisive and raining on our reconciliation parade, trust me, there is no one who desires to see the manifestation of the Beloved Community more than I. However, I am fervently convinced that we cannot have constructive dialogue until we are first willing to partake in deconstructive dialogue. I believe with all my heart that if our unity is based on a fallacy, blessed be division. Moreover, I am all for inclusion, however, when our ‘inclusion’ is used as a subtle tactic to eviscerate a movement of all its raw and influential potency, it becomes nothing more than a co-opted tool of Satan and must be extinguished at the root. It does us no good to ornately decorate a table in the midst of burning house. We preserve ourselves, not by taking a seat at a table that is sure to be consumed in fire, but, rather, by having enough sense to know that sitting down is not what we need to be doing as the roof is caving in on us.
I understand that removing a table concretized in moral folklore is never easy. Many have taken pride in the so-called table of reconciliation. You’ve told many jokes on this table. You’ve shared countless half-off appetizers on this table. There is no way you can muster the strength and courage to flip over the table of unseen power and privilege. Don’t worry, we see your struggle.
Allow us to help you take it out. We never liked that table anyway.