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Removing the Barriers Between Us

Written by: Julia Smolucha

Recommendations from The Reverend Dr. Jo Forrest

Placing our feet in another’s shoes asks us to imagine life from their perspective. Perhaps you might have heard the phrase or offered it to another in moments of empathy.

Imagining a world while wearing a differing color of skin, shaped by a lifetime of self-conceptions and prejudices, becomes more incomprehensible.

Karem Abudul-Jabbar named by whiteness in his op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

I have much to learn from the voices of people whose skin color and origin differ from mine and much to learn from you, members and friends of Kenilworth Union Church.

In the coming weeks members of Senior Staff will present blog posts with recommendations of books, articles, podcasts, movies, and music to explore racial justice, injustices, and the ways we have hurt one another and can heal together.

Here is my short list of books:

Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race traces author Debbie Irving’s personal quest to learn more of why she was so unable to connect with her students of color as a teacher. Her story might resonate with anyone who grew up in a predominantly white area. One ah-ha moment includes learning that black veterans from WWII were denied access to VA loans and other aids when they returned home. Access to homeownership post-WWII set the stage for families’ wealth creation and subsequent bequests to later generations.

Earlier this year members of the Women’s Reading Group savored Toni Morrison’s exquisite prose from previously printed essays or speeches in this collection published shortly before her death, The Source of Self Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations. Read her commencement address to Sarah Lawrence College. It sears with a logic of how we become slaves to those we hate. She connects you to James Baldwin or Martin Luther King, Jr, voices from the past whose prophecies address us today.

Several years ago I recommended Jacqueline Woodson’s award-winning memoir for young adults, Brown Girl Dreaming. Readers of all ages will be captured by her poetic writing and story of growing up in the south on the fringe of Jim Crow laws and the ethos of New York City. I loved this book.

Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration traces the lethal living conditions of Jim Crow south and the way of escape—free men and women needing to escape—to other cities. Between 1915 and 1970 six million blacks migrated from the south to points north and west. Their journeys, bravery, and the hostile environs waiting for them at their new homes will lay the ground work for understanding long animosities in cities today.

Robin Diangelo’s more recent publication, White Fragility: Why it is so Hard for White People to Talk About Racism receives critical acclaim, has been a best seller, and is now on my reading list.

What about a book you already have on your shelf? Just open Amos or Isaiah or any of the prophets in your Bible. You will encounter a writer of color speaking to people of all colors throughout the ages. Our prejudices are not unique to this age and our call as a people of faith remains the same—love God and love our neighbor.

As I write this my black Lab, Penny, sleeps uncharacteristically in my cramped office in Lincoln Park. It is a small space for her large frame. Firecrackers, thunder, or the Blue Angels’ flyovers never faze her and yet after four days of the “L” silenced and the constant sirens and helicopters from mid-afternoon into the evening, she is anxious. All her favorite shops along Armitage remain not just closed, without treats; they are boarded over. It reminds me of Florida preparing for a hurricane. The storm will not pass without our removing the barriers between us. George Floyd died at the knee of racism and we can stop this only if we begin now.