Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson asked white people to apologize. She got it right.

By Joy Sewing

Ending racism is just as much a responsibility for the white community to "get it" and speak up as it is for my black community to "explain it."

Marianne Williamson walked to the middle of the stage, paused for a second, then she asked all the black people to stand.

The New York Times best-selling author, internationally known spiritual teacher and native Houstonian was in town recently for her "Love America Tour" at Unity of Houston. She urged the 200 of us from our seats. She then instructed a white person to hold the hand of a black person standing.

A white woman and a teenage girl who looked to be mother and daughter in the row behind me took my hand and arm.
Williamson then told the white people to repeat after her. She began with, "I apologize ... ."

I was at Williamson's event to celebrate my birthday, January 15, the same as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Each year, I try to attend a talk, lecture or event for my birthday that inspires and uplifts as he did.

This year, it was Williamson's sell-out talk at Unity Church with some 700 people in attendance.

Her focus was on racism and politics, saying that until the United States addresses slavery honestly, gets deep about its enduring impact on African Americans and makes amends, we will continue a cycle of hate and racism in this country.

She cited Germany's effort to apologize to Jewish people for the Holocaust and pay out billions in reparations.

According to The New York Times, many Germans are not even aware that their country, after paying $89 billion in compensation mostly to Jewish victims of Nazi crimes over six decades, still meets regularly to revise and expand the guidelines for reparations. The mission is to reach as many of the tens of thousands of elderly survivors who have never received any form of support.

TIME TO REFRAME: Racism isn't a black problem. It's an American problem.

The U.S. State Department also has paid or approved 90 claims for $11 million in reparations from France to former World War II prisoners who were carried to Nazi death camps in French trains — the first French reparations paid to Holocaust survivors living in the U.S.

Reparations, even the "forty acres and a mule" promised in part by General William Tecumseh Sherman on Jan. 16, 1865, to former slaves, has been an ongoing debate in this country, but that's not really what Williamson focused on.

A black woman stood up and told Williamson, who is Jewish, she was struggling to deal with the hurt and hate in her heart for white people because of racism. Williamson said one of the problems is that many white people are in denial about racism, don't want to talk about it and want black people to "get over it." Black people are angry, and it's understandable, she said.

Unfortunately, anger is our Achilles' heel.

A colleague, whom I have tremendous respect for, once asked me why many black people are so angry today. I responded with, "Why aren't you angry?"

She looked at me with a puzzled stare.
I explained that ending racism is just as much a responsibility for her white community to "get it" as it is for my black community to "explain it." Frankly, I said many of us are tired of explaining racist actions and racially insensitive and dismissive messages that permeate our world.

It's time for white people to get it and speak up, too. That's why Williamson's apology to African Americans at Unity was so powerful.

In 2016, she penned, "Prayer of Apology to African Americans," and shared it on Twitter.

"With this prayer, I acknowledge the depth of evils that have been perpetrated against black people in America. ... I apologize, please forgive us."

Before she even started, I felt on edge as I often feel when white people say things, like "You don't talk black." Honestly, I was waiting to be offended.

With nearly 200 black people in the audience on their feet, Williamson apologized for slavery, lynching, murders, rapes of black women, destruction of the black family, mass incarceration of black men, being called the N-word and systemic and institutionalized racism and more.

As she continued for what seemed like forever, I felt a rage boiling inside of me that was followed by a Viola Davis ugly cry. (Fans of Davis in ABC's "How to Get Away with Murder" know what I'm talking about.)

I never thought I needed an apology from white people, but it felt like I was crying for my grandmother, my great-grandmother and all my people who endured and died because of hate in this country.

I cried for all of the times I've felt marginalized, discriminated against and invisible because of the color of my skin, even in my own industry.

I cried for all of the times I've watched black children, especially girls, had their esteem beaten down to nothing because they didn't fit the standard of white beauty.

I cried because I didn't know how deep the hurt was.

I could not stop crying.

I opened my eyes to see everyone around me — white, black, Asian like my friend, Sydney Dao, who is Vietnamese — crying, too. I nearly collapsed to floor from the emotional weight I was feeling.

But the harder I cried, the tighter the white woman and girl held on to me.

There was a white man in the front pew who had turned around to face the entire audience. He had no one black to hold onto, but he seemed to be shouting Williamson's words for me to hear.

It was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences I have ever had.
On my way out, I whispered "thank you" to the white woman and girl who held onto me so tightly. They had kind eyes and thanked me back.

Marianne Williamson is right. We need healing. We need real talk about racism in this country. It's time for white people to get it.

An apology is a start.

Joy Sewing is Fashion & Beauty Editor, Houston Chronicle

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