“There’s no such thing as neutral education. Education either functions as an instrument to bring about conformity or freedom.”
—Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
One of the most humbling lessons of my anti-racism education career was when I witnessed a difficult and racist presentation in a Unitarian Universalist gathering, and I didn't think it was mine to interrupt. In fact, there were over forty people in the room, and nobody thought it was theirs to interrupt.
It was like witnessing a trainwreck in slow motion. It was terrible. And no one said stop.
When the speaker was finished, we all struggled to process what had just happened. No one said, “We need a caucus for the people of color in the room”—because there were six of us—“to figure out what we need.” There was stark silence, followed by tortured conversation.
I learned that day that if I am in the room, it’s my responsibility to interrupt when someone is being harmed, and to center their (or our) needs. It doesn't matter what my hierarchical position is in the system; I’m part of a covenantal community and when a covenant gets broken, it’s my responsibility to name that break, with kindness and the intention of healing, and to call us back into right relationship.
To throw a wrench into the agenda is one of the more destabilizing things that we can do in majority-White spaces, because white supremacy culture teaches us to be efficient, to stay on task, to aim for perfection. The alternative is being relational: instead of staying on task, we can pay attention to what just happened and what needs to be done in order to restore right relationship. We can center those who have been placed at the margins.
This holy muscle of interruption is about courage, about a commitment to love at a higher level, about liberation and wholeness. It’s about being willing to risk being unpopular in the moment, and taking the heat that will happen when you interrupt the process.
When something happens that requires interrupting, it’s ours to do—and the more privilege we have according to our social location, the more responsibility we have to leverage that privilege. When we do, we bring the beloved community into being in that moment.
Queridísima Diosa: help us strengthen our muscles to interrupt in love. Help us honor relationships and lived experiences in real time, centering the needs of those that have been harmed and restoring what has been broken. Bendita Seas, amén.