Kinetic Sand and White Privilege


Kinetic Sand is pretty great.

Parents love it, because they don’t have to worry about pulling grains of sand out of the carpet. Kids love it, because they can have beach or sandbox fun indoors without getting reprimanded.

Kinetic Sand is also an amazing teaching device, and it put me face-to-face with my privilege and need for repentance.

This lesson occurred one morning in seminary chapel. Laura Lehman, Creative Learner Extraordinaire, gave the gathered assembly space to engage our senses, using tools like Play Doh, coloring sheets, Scrabble tiles, and the aforementioned sand. With these tools, we were to reflect on where we see longing, repentance, and celebration in our lives.

The sand sat at the repentance station, and it called me the moment Laura explained its purpose. I wasn’t sure why I felt the tug in my heart to go. I initially thought because I loved playing with the sand with my younger cousins.

I should have known a real Truth moment was about to happen.

After Laura’s instructions, I got up with the rest of those gathered as we awkwardly shifted to our chosen station. I walked over to the repentance station and picked up the sand, letting it sift through my fingers as I thought about repentance and the ways in which I needed to turn and return, to God and love of my neighbors. I began shaping the sand.

Soon, I found myself building walls. Due to the sand’s consistency, this project took a lot of effort. By the time I finished making them, the walls were high and mighty and formed a circular fortress.

Satisfied with my walls, I played with the remaining sand on the tray. I wanted to make something symbolic of myself, so I rolled my sand into a little ball and put it in the middle of my fortress.

The moment I put the ball down, it crumbled. I noticed the irony but insisted on taking the ball and mashing the sand tighter, hoping that little sand-me could hold it together enough to make this symbolic art serve its purpose.

I finally put sand-me back together again and placed her in the walled fortress. I looked at my creation and realized something was missing. If this was to be a proper place of defense, it needed to be sealed, and there was an opening from above. Quick to solve my dilemma, I dumped more sand on top of sand-me and covered the circle from above.

The walls became a sealed dome. I could not be seen.

It was then that I realized why I went to this station.

This is nothing new to me. I make defenses, for my heart, body, and soul. When I did this exercise, I knew they were high, but I didn’t realize they engulfed me. No one could come in, and I couldn’t get out.

At first, I thought this was all about me refusing to let the people around me in. But it’s so much bigger than that, too.

This was about me having the privilege to shut out the world around me, and this was about me wanting to keep those walls in spite of the damage done to my black brothers and sisters.

Like most white children, I grew up with teachers and textbooks that taught me racism was dead and buried.

That belief received a huge challenge on February 26, 2012, when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, FL, and the movement known as Black Lives Matter began to form.

This belief continued to be challenged time after time in the next four years, after hearing too many more names.

Eric Garner.

Michael Brown.

Tamir Rice.

Freddie Gray.

Reverend Sharona Singleton.

Sandra Bland.

And too recently, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

In spite of hearing all those names up until (and even after) this experience, I still found myself wanting to shut down, to turn off the TV and computer and let someone else figure out what to do.

And what a privilege it is for me and others like me to be able to do that. To simply turn away from what we’ve seen and heard, to build up walls between “us” and “them,” to live lives insulated from a dark reality.

Sometimes, I build these walls out of a sense of hopelessness in the midst of such pain, but in all honesty, most of the time I build them out of fear. I don’t want to offend anyone by saying the “wrong thing” in the face of such injustices. I claim to want to know the “full story,” because these must be “misunderstandings.” So I keep my mouth shut, and I ignore the stories of needless brutality harming black human bodies. I make the walls higher.

The walls continue to grow when I am called out. When I am confronted with my own white privilege, by teachers, friends, and activists, I close my eyes instead of confronting it head on. I don’t want to know of my own complicity in a society that favors my skin over that of my black brothers and sisters, because if I challenge that, I challenge the powers that keep my privilege intact. I don’t want to take the risk of standing up for equality when it could harm me or my reputation.

I want to be safe and secluded, so I turn my walls into a privileged, suffocating dome.

This dome shuts out everything. It shuts out the cries of my black brothers and sisters for justice. It shuts out the screams made at them to just “behave” themselves and “All Lives Matter.” It shuts out the reality I don’t want to acknowledge: that I can to assume I will be safe on a regular basis, but my black brothers and sisters cannot.

The good news is, Truth can bring my walls a-tumblin’ down.

When Truth shows her face, I learn that my black brothers and sisters have to be taught how to get home safely if pulled over by cops, which shatters the illusion that I live in a society which is just for all. Truth whispers and even shouts into my ear every time I hear a name become a hashtag, and every time that name of a beloved person becomes a topic of debate instead of a valued human life. Truth shifts the ground beneath my feet when she reminds me that I am not an autonomous being, that my actions and inactions affect people around me, especially the marginalized, which forces me to recognize that staying inside my dome is not a legitimate option.

Truth worked hard in my heart as I looked at my small sand dome. I knew the walls needed to come down, but how? I told Truth she might as well save her efforts with me, because I knew I’d put them back up again, so why bother taking them down to begin with?

But Truth reminded me, like an old, estranged friend, of other times she took down a wall only for me to build it up again overnight. Truth told me that taking down the walls today would be good for today, and I would receive the strength to keep taking down the walls when they came back up, day after day until the rubble is beyond repair. Truth reminded me of the new things made from the rubble, the new relationships and new ways of life and being that come from the difficult, painful work of tearing down walls.

And then memories of new life I’d seen in the rubble began to come to me. I remembered David Evans’ classes about race and religion, how the Church has silenced black voices and abused black bodies and continues to do so today, but in the act of listening to those once lost narratives, I am challenged to seek similar stories and voices today so that all those silenced may be heard loud and clear. I remembered Christian Parks struggling against the powers in my own educational institution to tell a new story about Jesus and how, despite their failure to affirm him, the story got told.

The Truth reminded me of resurrection, the power to make all things new, and the new life that happens when I turn away from my walls and walk into the light of Love.

I picked up my dome and held it in my right hand. I spread my fingers and let the sand collapse onto the tray. I watched as it fell between my fingers and thought of the security I agreed to abandon and the risky love to which I hoped to open myself day after day. I adjusted my hand to get the more solid clumps moving. Finally, the fortress was gone, dissolved right in front of me. Before I went back to my seat, I thought to myself, “Until next time.”

May it be so with your fortresses, too.


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