Dear friend,

Last week, we were talking. We talked about several things. And suddenly we were talking about things I didn’t expect. And I didn’t know what to say. And I shut down, and that shut down the conversation. You left, rather abruptly.

I apologize. As your friend, and as a person trying to live with integrity, shutting down isn’t good enough. I need to be honest and genuine with you.

Here is what I needed to say to you, last week, and what I will need to say to you tomorrow:

I can’t continue in a conversation which divides people by race. I can’t, first because I believe it is wrong, but also because I simply don’t know how. I don’t know how to say “Black people are that way” or “Poor people are that way” any more than I can say “White people are this way” or “Rich people are this other way.” People are complex, peoples are diverse, and trying to categorize by any means is simply…too simple. Trying to have that conversation feels, to me, like trying to hammer nails with a paintbrush – it just isn’t right.

You would like to talk with me about issues of poverty, I think; poverty and welfare and policy decisions. Your examples are about paying for medical care for families with multiple children, parents who have manicures and cell phones and jewelry. But when I hear these examples, I think of my house in the suburbs and the excellent schools my children attend and our two cars and our ability to travel because we want to, and that all of these riches are ours primarily because we were born into families which already had theseĀ privileges. You would like to talk about other families who make choices you feel are irresponsible. I can only think about the food I overeat and the time I waste and the exercise I don’t do and the people I overlook. Who am I to point at others and blame them for their choices? I can only do that if I invite the same scrutiny and criticism into my own life – and frankly, I’d rather not, not from people who would look harshly and with an unsympathetic eye.

The world is a broken place. Policy decisions will not fix that. Budget decisions, whether personal, state, or federal, will not repair the brokenness. Programs will not make it all better. But I believe that the fastest way to make the world more broken, is for the broken pieces to start pointing at each other and blaming each other and calling each other “THEY” and “THEM”. No healing can come from that; no grace will grow.

The world will not become a better place if I – or you – suddenly get to make all the decisions for everyone else.

The world might become a better place if I become willing to cross the barriers and pitch my tent with my sisters and brothers on the “other side”, and if I invite those sisters and brothers to come pitch their tent beside me.

That’s what I can talk about.

Can we keep talking?

In love,
Jen

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