Pain demands a response. An urgent messenger who will not be denied the access of a hearing. Even if the witnessing acknowledger is merely an audience of one. The message is always delivered. But, not always heeded or understood.
As the keynote speaker got up to speak during the West Michigan Center for Fair Housing luncheon this week, a projection of a public lynching emerged on the screen. A jarring image in any setting. One designed to provoke a visceral response. I wondered where he was going with this…
My gaze was drawn to the two figures who were hanging by nooses from the tree. But the speaker drew the attention of the audience to the crowd underneath the tree. A large group of well dressed citizens, some of them with smiles on their faces. Two young teenagers hanging dead from a tree was a community social event!
This gruesome chapter in American history is one many of us would prefer no to re-read. But beyond the imagery preserved in historic photographs, prints and yes…even postcards, there is an on-going issue of pain and its consequences both for the perpetrator and the victim.
While the American story of opportunity and promise is a shining beacon of hope to many around the world, the underbelly of this story has a dark side. One in which people struggled to get ahead, stay alive and manipulated power to their advantage at the expense of other human beings. History reveals that fear, rage and the desire to increase or maintain power were often the driving forces behind the most heinous acts of racial injustice.
Pain is something we prefer to avoid. We fight it, medicate it, sometimes ignore it, and often strike out and wound again because of it. However, the pain of the past has the capacity to serve as more than a stark reminder of our failings as individuals within community. The fact that we recoil and want to move on indicates that we know that all is not yet well. Pain is not sent to stay, it’s purpose is to deliver an injunction to initiate healing.
When we ignore the message, pain can do a number of things, the most insidious being to re-format itself in a way that can serve to spread the infection covertly. This is sometimes referred to as Secondary Pain Syndrome. A condition in which the initial onset of the pain has now been transferred to another part of the body.
This is the challenge we face as a country today. The pain of racism has taken on camouflage. It has spread in ways that are covert and harder to quantify or identify. The refusal or inability to deal with the constraints which tempt us to devalue and deny the dignity of another human being now threaten to undermine our capacity to live as fully human. And to recognize the divine spark that exists in every ‘other’ who exists alongside us.
Because pain can do this to you. It can make you forget who you are. Pain can cause you act irrationally and to strike out with incredible viciousness and in the process create shame and guilt. It can kill, literally depleting the life blood of hope and inspiration which sustains the body, soul and spirit.
The reason why we must examine issues of Fairness in Housing and our explicit or implicit participation is that ultimately we cannot afford not to. The key is Awareness. We cannot afford to ignore the gift and extinguish the hope of others simply because they are not like us. For in doing so, we are denying the basis of our own humanity. We hijack the promise which lies dormant within the potential of every human being.
Awareness is our hope. It is awareness that brings understanding and compels action. Awareness is what allows us to question WHY we respond the way we do, make certain types of assumptions and fail to react to the violation & denigration of human beings. It is through awareness that we slowly begin to discover who we are and to see ourselves in the likeness of ‘the other’. We re-awaken to the fact that we ARE the other.