Our nation has been wounded by inequality and injustice. How do we acknowledge, apologize and heal, both personally & collectively? For February’s virtual session of Courageous Conversations presented by Urban Consulate and Barrington’s White House, hosts Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque and Jessica Green welcomed special guest Valarie Kaur, renowned Sikh activist, filmmaker, civil rights lawyer, founder of the Revolutionary Love Project and author of See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love.
A Courageous Community of about 100 participants joined this month’s Zoom Session with Valarie on the topic of Love, Anger & Apology. The interview with Valarie was followed by interactive breakout dialogue.
Through stories about her experiences with racism, faith, oppression and loss, Valarie beautifully illustrated how we are individually empowered to reclaim love as a public ethic and a path toward healing.
Here are three takeaways we will remember from Valarie’s message:
1) Practice “Revolutionary Love” by loving others, our opponents and ourselves
Kaur declares that Revolutionary Love is the calling of our times. A South Asian American woman of color, she shared a story from her childhood to illustrate what this means. Kaur took us back to the first time she was the target of a racial slur, when she was 6-years-old in rural California. A little boy commented on the color of her skin and she was struck by the cruelty in his eyes.
Valerie Kaur: “I didn’t have the language then for what internalized oppression is, but it’s that voice inside of yourself that’s like, ‘Oh. I live in a culture that makes me a stranger to myself’… What trauma does and what white supremacy does is it ejects us from our bodies. When violence ejects us from our bodies we need someone to catch us. To help us return.”
The person who caught Kaur on that day as a little girl was her grandfather. He turned her pain into something far more powerful.
Valerie Kaur: “And my grandfather said, ‘Remember darling, love is dangerous business because if I see you as my sister, brother, my sibling, then I must fight for you when you are in harm’s way.’ …My Sikh ancestors were warriors who fought oppression and injustice because that is what love demanded in the face of oppression. The ideal in our faith is the ‘Warrior Sage’. The warrior fights, the sage loves. It is a path of revolutionary love… I was a little girl with two long braids but my grandfather saw me as a warrior.”
Kaur calls upon us to be warriors, too, by vowing to see others as our brothers, sisters, and siblings.
By declaring love for those who are in harm’s way: Refugees, immigrants, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, queer and trans people, Black people, Indigenous people, Asian Americans, Latinx people, the disabled, women and girls, working-class people and poor people.
By declaring love for our opponents: We oppose all policies that threaten the rights and dignity of any person. We vow to fight not with violence or vitriol, but by challenging the cultures and institutions that promote hate. In this way, we will challenge our opponents through the ethic of love.
By declaring love for ourselves: We will protect our capacity for joy. We will rise and dance. We will honor our ancestors whose bodies, breath, and blood call us to a life of courage. In their name, we choose to see this darkness not as the darkness of the tomb – but of the womb. We will breathe and push through the pain of this era to birth a new future.
2) Harness “Divine Rage” about injustice to reorder the world
Kaur says she learned about channeling rage into something positive when she broke her silence with family about a sexual assault.
Valarie Kaur: “There was a rage in my mother’s eyes, roaring inside of her, that I had never seen before. I realized in that moment that my mother was tapping into her rage in order to protect me. When we tap into our rage, we access our body’s full potential to protect itself, to protect that which we love.
Too often as women and girls we are taught to suppress rage… The solution is not to suppress rage or to let it explode. I have learned that the solution is to process it in safe containers.I ask myself, what information is this rage giving me. How do I want to harness this energy? What I do in the world and that harnessed energy projected into the world is what I call ‘Divine Rage.'”
Valarie challenges us to ask how our own rage can be productive and how it might be harnessed to reorder the world toward movement for greater equality and justice. She also says putting time between stimulus and response is one way we can learn from the intense emotions we feel.
3) For healing and unity, understand the difference between apology, forgiveness, accountability and reconciliation
Kaur says reconciliation requires the other party and may or may not come in this lifetime. Your ability to forgive, Kaur says, is not contingent upon their ability to apologize. Forgiveness is something you do for yourself. It is the freedom from hate, Kaur says, yet accountability is central to healing.
Valarie Kaur: “There is no future without reckoning with the past. There is no reckoning with the past without the hard and necessary work of accountability. When we use that word, accountability, we too often fall into the trap of thinking that looks like punishment only. Our imagination has been shaped by a criminal justice system that relies on ‘an eye for an eye’ or punishment and retribution as the only thing that justice looks like.
I think there’s a way to lean into and embrace accountability that frees us of that trap. That imagines communities coming together and those who have been responsible for the harm taking ownership of the harm, making sure they cannot repeat the harm, beginning that process of self-reflection and self-interrogation and, eventually, redemption and transformation.
That’s community work and it is possible for us to imagine a future where we do justice differently as a nation as a whole. In the meantime, we can imagine what that means locally with the small harms, the small abuses that we see around us. The Restorative Justice models are Revolutionary Love in practice when it comes to accountability.”
Kaur says part of the healing process might be, as activist Eve Ensler recommends, to imagine the apology that you never received. When you imagine the apology, Kaur says, you suddenly begin to see that person as a human being. Not as a
monster who has power over you but as someone who has done the things they have done out of their own woundedness.”
After an interview with Valarie Kaur, community members moved into smaller groups for virtual breakout dialogue. Here are the questions discussed after weighing Kaur’s words:
- How do you understand the relationship between apology, forgiveness, healing and reconciliation?
- What in your community do you think needs to be reconciled?
- What would accountability look like for our nation to repair past and present wrongs?
- Can you think of any examples of public acknowledgement, apology or amends that inspire you?
- The Revolutionary Love Learning Hub | Kaur shared a brand new resource not yet announced to the public to learn about loving others, our opponents & ourselves. Visit the website for an interactive compass, reader’s guide & educator’s guide: http://valariekaur.com
- The Revolutionary Love Project | The Revolutionary Love Project, founded by seasoned civil rights activist Valarie Kaur, inspires and equips people to ground their lives and social justice work in the ethic of love. We believe we each have a role in creating a future where we are all safe and free to flourish. We envision a world where love is a conscious shared practice that drives social change. We produce stories that center the voices and wisdom of marginalized communities, generate thought leadership on how the love ethic can challenge systems of injustice, and build tools for people to practice the love ethic in our lives and movements. Read more & sign the pledge at revolutionaryloveproject.com
Are you signed up for Courageous Conversations? Every Second Wednesday, 7pm:
- March 10, 2021 – Calling In & Calling Out?
- April 14, 2021 – Prioritizing Disability Inclusion
- May 12, 2021 – Pursuing Health Equity
Here are past articles for our takeaways from the 2020-2021 season of Courageous Conversations:
- September, 2020 – Standing in Another’s Shoes
- October, 2020 – Parenting for Inclusion
- November, 2020 – Repairing Civic Trust & Becoming America
- December, 2020 – Healing Our Communities
Courageous Conversations is presented by Urban Consulate and Barrington’s White House and made possible by your ticket purchase and generous support from Jessica & Dominic Green, Kim Duchossois, Tyler & Danielle Lenczuk, Cobey & Erich Struckmeyer, Susan & Rich Padula, Julie Kanak & Mike Rigali, Barrington Area Community Foundation, and BMO Wealth Management. To learn more, visit CourageousCommunity.us.
Photos from Courageous Conversations at Barrington’s White House by Linda Barrett.