By Your Former Token
I am tired. I am frustrated. Your silence is deafening. Your lack of intentional action is telling. I can remember when I found you. We met in high school, in college, in seminary, liberal gatherings or through mutual friends. We discussed social justice and music. And I should have known in an instance when you talked about social justice without particularities that you would be slow to move. That I would become your token. I have tired of being your token. I am tired of your questions. I am tired of shallow attempts at solidarity.
I am so tired this morning because I feel like folks are asking questions that we already have the answer too. Yes, I know it is easy to feel the work that we are doing does have an impact when the vitriol is revealed in videos of executed black and brown people, ugly Facebook comments, the court ruling that allows people to legally discriminate against people who wear their hair like mine. But we do have an approach, a system if you will. It is not the only system, but I believe it is an efficient system. It is called bystander intervention. A lot of folks feel like they are witnesses to the violence of the world, to the oppression of the world, to systematic racist systems, sexist systems, homophobic systems, and ablest systems. We do have a way to interact, counteract these systems. Bystander intervention can be used to combat systematic injustices. I first learned about it battling the systems in a strategic manner at the University of Kentucky, the Violence Intervention and Prevention Center at the University of Kentucky’s campus.
The VIP center provides services to students impacted by power- based violence. The center also educated on effective intervention and prevention strategies that did not blame the victim but instead recognize the larger systems at play and empowered the bystander to intervene. The most significant education component was called Green Dot. Dorothy Edwards created Green Dot. What is essential in this is the idea of counteracting the violence every day and in every opportunity. It does not call for you to go searching for them in some distant place away from where you work, live and worship. It is right where you are.
How did Green Dot get its name? On the University of Kentucky’s campus, every time an incidence of power-based violence (rape, stalking, etc.) was reported a red dot was placed on the map of the campus. The University of Kentucky’s was littered with red dots. Please stop and think about how often people report things of that nature. We know from research that reports of incidents are much lower than the actual number of incidents that happen. We know that. So Dorothy and her friends did research. They created education modules and promoted Green Dot. And culture began to shift. It shifted as friends confronted one another when one of them said a sexist joke. This leads to a more robust way to combat rape culture. Will this alone end rape culture? No, but it is an effective step. Of course, we will need people to stop enacting power-based violence, we need supportive systems for people who have been victimized, and we need criminal justice reform to ensure the safety of victims and perpetrators.
We need reform and education and action. You as an individual have power. You as an individual can intervene. You see a couple arguing loudly in a parking lot, and you think, that is dangerous or I would not know what to do to stop it. That is the beauty of Green Dot.
I got to practice in training session how to do just that. Because I visited the Center, volunteered, interned and carried around what I had learned, I made it a regular a part of my life. In the trainings we practiced how to counteract power-based rape culture. I gained confidence. I brought this into my work. I was in college, so I brought it into my classroom. I did projects and wrote papers on rape culture, circles of influence and power based violence. We impacted our campus and created change. We influenced the system.
What scares me though in the world today is when it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, people act and operate as if they do not have power; as if there are not small and large things they can be doing every day to dismantle the system of systematic racism. I am speaking especially to my white peers who act as if they do not have power to create change. Hear this, my white family, you have POWER. I love you; please use your privilege to do something. My question is, what are you going to do?
There are so many people will only hear that my life, and the lives of people who look like me, have value from people that look like you. There are some many people watching what you do. They are listening to what you say. This is so IMPORTANT.
And I know you are afraid because to do this work means there will be a loss. You might lose friends, family connections, jobs or status with some people. But my people are losing their whole lives due to systematic racism and bias. If you believe in the movement, you must act. You need to enact your power as a bystander. You need to enact your power as an influencer, because I believe everyone has a circle of influence. Everyone has a circle of people who listen to the things they have to say. Find your circle and influence them.
Kenya Cummings is a recent graduate of Methodist Theological School in Ohio with a Master of Divinity degree. She is unapologetically black and unashamedly spiritual. She is a neo-soul loving preacher with a heart and mind for justice. She is a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a Bachelor of Science degree in Family Science with a minor in African American Studies. She is a church misfit committed to the revival of church and facilitating the connection between church and community. She can be found smiling, recycling, or humming hymns on most sunny days.