It's hard for folks like me to see systems at work. I grew up being taught that racism is overcome by treating each neighbor, one by one by one, with respect, dignity, and kindness no matter what ethnicity or skin color tone. I understood racism solely as individual prejudice, and I could not see power structures and scaffolding that have been constructed by racial values assigned to people through time. I could not see bias that has lived in me and directed my thoughts and approaches to life.
While it is true that individual and interpersonal relationships are needed to overcome distance and negative stereotypes, there will be another kind of seeing needed to move toward justice.
I spent a great number of hours on a small church bus as I recently traveled from Iowa to Memphis to Montgomery to Selma and back to Iowa on a Civil Rights Vision Tour. I chose to read the book Mending the Divides: Creative Love in a Conflicted World by Jer Swigart and Jon Huckins along the journey.
Swigart and Huckins talk about "seeing" as the first way we move toward mending divides.
"Of Jesus' thirty-one miracles documented in the Gospels, nearly one in four involves the healing of sight."
"What if, like so many of those healed by Jesus, we owned our blindness and made it a practice to cry out, 'I want to see like you see' ? What if we acknowledged that the systems we were raised in taught us to see and not see certain groups of people? What if we confessed our preference for particular media channels and worked to understand how a steady diet of them had formed cataracts in our eyes and blurred our sight? What if we analyzed our upbringing to discover where our mentors' biases scratched the corneas of our souls, causing damage to our ability to see particular people with generosity and empathy? If we want to see like God sees, we need to do the hard work of understanding what caused our blindness and then cry out for the healing touch of Jesus.
When we pray that prayer, an essential journey from noticing to seeing begins. On that journey we find ourselves aware of things we've never seen before. We become people who choose to see things that make us uncomfortable. What we see begins to change us and produce compassion in us. That compassion, the precursor to responsibility, propels us forward to become a part of just solutions that lead to restoration." p.81 Mending the Divides Swigart and Huckins, 2017, InterVarsity Press