If Only…

Raja Gopal Bhattar, Ph.D., (they/them/theirs) hails from a long lineage of Hindu spiritual leaders from the Srivaishnava tradition. They are a higher education leader, advocate, and consultant. Bhattar is a 2020 Interfaith America Racial Equity Fellow.

“If only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.” – Amanda Gorman, Poet Laureate

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen too many social media posts claiming outright disbelief at the attack on the U.S. capitol and the democratic process of counting electors. Why is this surprising to us? Is this not what James Baldwin was talking about when he said, “Ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have”? Fueled by a former president that charged his followers to “fight like hell” and “take back our country”, the thousands of insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol for the first time in centuries. What angered me the most is number of elected officials and police who were involved in allowing such an incident to occur. If Black, Brown, Indigenous, Queer of Disability activists were to partake in peaceful protest, let alone attempt such an insurrection, we would and have been attacked with fatal violence by police.

We have to be brave enough to see the systemic issues that continue to harm Black and Brown bodies, female and trans bodies, bodies with disabilities, bodies of working-class people and immigrant bodies. The fact that we as a nation are more accepting of violence by White people driven by falsehoods and manipulation than we are of peaceful calls for the basic right to live and justice for Black murders demonstrates that it is not violence that is feared but the melanin pigments of our skin. Black and Brown people are killed and assaulted in their own cars, homes and workplaces while White people can enter a building central to our democracy. Videos show officers moving aside barricades to let these insurrectionists in, posing for selfies and even guiding them through the building. 

While this is surprising for some people, what we are seeing is the America that many of us have known for a long time. Seeing (someone I perceive to be) a white person with confederate flag walking through the halls of the U.S. congress, and incited by the president, who time and again has used religion to spew hate, lies and calls for violence made me sick…but again, I was not surprised. Whiteness is sacred in this country. As one social media post stated, “the fact that someone could make it through the building, onto the Senate floor and back out with a confederate flag and be alive to talk about it is the definition of Whiteness and white privilege”.

Two months ago, I wrote on election night that I wanted to expand the table and be more intentional about listening to those who voted for and support the current administration. Today, I am convinced that such a discussion would not be fruitful as we need to actually discuss truth and evidence-based information to have an effective dialogue. These systems will not transform on their own. We have to be brave enough to see them, name them and dismantle them. It’s clear the haze of whiteness has thickened such a fog that any perspectives that conflict their views are lost in the mist. And honestly, I’m worried for the safety of those I love and myself if we were to attempt these conversations with folks who have led this insurrection. I don’t want to give up hope in the potential for people to change and exchange ideas, even disagreeing but not with those who blatantly disregard all the bipartisan evidence of a secure election and science. 

The insurrection also overshadowed a historic day of two wins in Georgia which has sent one of youngest senators who also is Jewish and a child of immigrants and the preacher of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s home church and the first Black senator from the state to Congress. My initial reaction is to say I am disheartened from what happened on January 6 in this country. No, I’m not disheartened; I’m angry. I’m angry that Whiteness is glorified through unnecessary violence against Black and Brown people. I’m angry we have elected officials who knowingly act against their oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution. I’m angry that little Black and Brown children have learned again that they are seen as more of a threat playing in their front yard than white adults attacking a branch of the federal government. As one post noted, “Let me be clear, we don’t want those who committed treason yesterday to be executed by the police. We want the police to treat {Black] folk who are sleeping in their own home, playing in the park, or just existing to be treated like white folk rioting in the Capitol.”

The rollercoaster of the last few weeks have me exhausted but the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris gave me the spark I needed to keep my light of hope alive. One of my favorite moments was listening to the words of Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman. who echoed a vision for our country that recognizes that we have work to do while anchoring on the potential for collective liberation.

While the insurrection was terrifying, the symbolism of the inauguration taking place exactly two weeks from that date and bringing together one of the most diverse administrations in our nation’s history is inspiring.  The various events taking place in Washington D.C. and across the country this past month reminds me that the promise of the United States is not in our infallibility, it is in our ability to learn, transform and strive to do better. To be better. We as a country, as communities and individuals all have the potential to do better. Gorman’s poetry challenges us to meet the challenge of a better tomorrow. The light that Gorman references is our own passion, compassion, and vision for our world. Our ability to stay grounded in the long arc of history that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about allows us to be the justice we envision. We have to be brave enough to envision a world that is not only accessible but equitable.

Grounding our journey within a consciousness of our social identities, rather than in spite of them, will allow us to be brave enough challenge and cultivate a United States that is actually for all of us. If a 22-year old Black woman, descended from enslaved people, raised by a single mom in L.A. who worked through a speech impediment can spark such a national reawakening, surely we have a responsibility to respond with our own reimagined vision for what the United States is, has been and, most importantly, will be. So how will you exercise your bravery? How will you see and be the “it” we’ve been looking for?

Click here to read Gorman’s Poem “The Hill We Climb"

 

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.