Man climbing stairsIn the Confronting Whiteness course, our facilitator played a video of What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye released in 1971. 

I don’t think I fully understood the meaning of the song until she played it. If nothing else, I completely heard it in a new way. Here we are 52 years later and it is still very relevant. That shook me to the core.

The song’s inspiration came from Renaldo “Obie” Benson, a member of the Four Tops, after he and the group’s tour bus arrived in Berkeley, CA on May 15, 1969.  While there, Benson witnessed police brutality and violence  during a protest held by anti-war activists in what was later  known as “Bloody Thursday”. I did not know this piece of history (until I did).

 I also didn’t know that Marvin Gaye’s father killed him on April 1, 1984. Damn.

What’s Going On?

Here are the lyrics to “What’s Going On:”

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, yea

Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on

What’s going on
Ya, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on
In the mean time
Right on, baby
Right on
Right on

Father, father, everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply because our hair is long
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
What’s going on

Ya, what’s going on
Tell me what’s going on
I’ll tell you what’s going on – Uh
Right on baby
Right on baby

 Creating Safe Space

There are 10 guidelines for creating “grace space” in the course.

They are:

  1.   Listen. Hear what is being shared. Be open to hearing perspectives and experiences that are different from yours.
  2.   Show respect and dignity. Regard participants and their experiences as valuable and worthy of time and attention.
  3.   Embrace discomfort. It is okay to experience discomfort. The tension you feel now may be creating space for growth.
  4.   Participate. Fully engage the session activities and your journal. Speak up during meetings but don’t drown out the voices of others.
  5.   Be free from guilt, shame, and condemnation. Being socialized by race ideology is not a criminal offense.
  6.   Use “I” not “we.” Avoid making statements that imply group representation. Speak for yourself, not  ‘your people” or “those people.”
  7.   Avoid debating. Back-and-forth personal debating indicates that someone is not listening and is counterproductive to contributing to a grace space.
  8.   Keep a confidential table. If someone in the group says something that upsets you, please don’t out them in public spaces.
  9.   Focus on the USA. For the sake of staying on task, limit your scope to the USA’s issues.
  10. Respect the process. There is no quick fix. The process consists of many steps and cycles – learning, lamenting, deconstructing, healing, restoring, building.

The miracle is that I have the opportunity, wonder, ignorance and willingness to take this course. I am healing divides every single day.  The 90 minute call is one of honesty, sharing, and admitting where I’ve been blind. It is a safe space to do so. So glad I said YES to this course.