How to Move from Allies to Accomplices

By Jim Wallis 2-04-2016
Jim Wallis meets with attendees at Politics and Prose book discussion, Washington, D.C. Photo via Carla Debbie Alleyne/Twitter.

Something incredible is happening. An important conversation about race is unfolding in cities across the country, and I feel honored to be witnessing it.

When I began writing my latest book, America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, my hope was to help foster that new conversation on race in America — and to point to the action that needs to come from it. Because only when we openly and truthfully speak to the roots of racism and inequality in our country — white supremacy, white privilege, and the dehumanization and devaluation of black lives and bodies — will we able to deal with the modern-day realities of that legacy and solve the obvious problems before us in racialized policing and the blatant racial disparities in our criminal justice, education, and economic systems. So we launched a “town meeting” tour that creates space for the voices of diverse local leaders in each city and allows for the multiracial, truth-telling conversations and actions we so urgently need across this country. I’m happy to say that tour has started, and it has been powerful to see and hear.

Already in New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Chicago we have experienced deep discussions with diverse leaders and community members about what repenting racism means. By repentance we do not mean just being “sorry” or admitting “guilt” but taking responsibility for turning around and going in a new direction — for changing behavior and strategizing what this means “here.” Christians, Jews, Muslims, and those with no religious or faith affiliation; academics and activists; professors and pastors, policy experts, and new and veteran public leaders — they’re all coming together around a new vision for the future.

What does that future look like?

In the next few decades America will no longer be, for the first time in its history, a majority white country — it will be a majority of minorities. Some political candidates have taken on the mantle of anger in this country, seeking to fuel racial fear and hate, and turn people against each other in direct efforts to prevent America’s demographic change from changing us as a nation. Overcoming that overtly racial rhetoric, hateful thinking, and bigoted strategy will be one of the biggest challenges facing our country in the next 30 years. In the book I call that struggle building the “Bridge to a New America” and now we can actually see that bridge being builtin town meetings, in packed out events that are multiracial, intergenerational, interfaith, secular, and intersectional.

A new generation of black activists from Ferguson and across the country are helping build that bridge with their message of Black Lives Matter, directed to the heart of America’s original sin, which said from the nation’s founding that black lives mattered less than white lives. On this tour, I often quote what one of the young Ferguson leaders, Brittany Packnett, told me: “We don’t just need allies, we need accomplices.” In every forum we ask how we can all become those accomplices.

I have often spoken against the notion of American exceptionalism, but Heather McGhee, President of Demos, during our first town meeting conversation on this tour said that successfully navigating our country into this new demographic reality — in a way that removes both privilege and punishment of anyone based on race — could be the first actual opportunity to truly realize our American exceptionalism. I agree.

Sojourners’ website has the complete schedule of the town meetings that lie ahead, and more are being added. But you don’t have to wait for a forum to come to your city—you can create one in your own congregation, between different congregations, in your small groups, your schools, your workplaces. In fact, we have created a very effective resource — a free discussion guide for small groups, Bible study groups, book clubs, youth groups, and more. The guide is intended for all those who wish to honestly discuss and explore what it will take to achieve racial justice, and reconciliation in their communities and across the country. We hope that this guide will help you foster rich, constructive conversations and actions that help you to discern and clarify how to move your community towards racial justice and healing. Download the guide for free and get started today.

Next Wednesday, Feb. 10, marks the beginning of Lent, which for Christians is traditionally a time for honest self-reflection and repentance — a perfect time to focus not only on personal repentance but collective, societal repentance for America’s original sin of racism and white supremacy. February is also Black History Month — another worthy occasion to have these difficult but critical conversations to keep turning our society toward racial justice.

So I hope you will do much more than just read this book. My deepest hope is that you will use the book and discussion guide to have the conversations and take the actions that need to happen in our nation — urgently. It is becoming clear to me that Americans across many boundaries are hungry for the kind of conversation that really changes our lives and our nation. We all need to ask how we can best foster and create the spaces for this urgently needed reflection and action — in our own worlds and communities. Join us.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His new Audible spoken-word series, Jim Wallis In Conversation, is available now, as is his book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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