This last Juneteenth, a holy-day commemorating Black freedom, survival, and emancipation from enslavement, my prayer time found focus on the practice of freedom. I spent time reflecting on who has taught me, and how, and what, about freedom, and liberation. Part of practicing freedom is tracing and paying tribute to the lineages and legacies of freedom fighters and liberation laborers: Black feminists pouring forth wisdom about truth telling and collective care and healing justice and interlocking oppressions and radical love and sustaining joy; queer and trans-cestors resisting police brutality and the criminalization of our lives and loves by fighting fiercely and loving wildly; abolitionists long imagining the world anew without prisons, police, surveillance, or war; Indigenous leaders turning our attention to the connections between genocide and private ownership of public goods, the vibrant as well as violent potentials and patterns of our earthly entanglements.
As I recounted to myself the friends, and colleagues, and poets, and scholars, and artists, and activists, and writers, and elders, and beloveds who have taught me what I know about freedom and liberation, who are continuing to teach me every day, and who have stoked and nourished my own desire to show up to the imaginative labor of birthing freedom and collective liberation, I noticed a thread: they are truth tellers. They speak, and write, and enflesh, and invite, and invoke the truth. Hard truths. Beautiful truths. Painful truths. Truths long denied, or erased. Stigmatized truths. Disruptive truths. Healing truths. Joyful truths. Freeing truths.
“Even when they call your truth a lie, tell it anyway! Tell it anyway!” proclaimed Katie Cannon.
“Even when the truth isn’t hopeful,” poet Andrea Gibson reminds, “the telling of it is.”
Queer Black feminist truth teller and wisdom bearer Alexis Pauline Gumbs writes, “We have been taught that lying to ourselves will help us survive, but that is also a lie…For me, the purpose of tapping into our dreams and trusting our intuition, and for sure the work of poetry, is to say what Audre Lorde has already said: we have to tell ourselves and each other the truth if we are going to survive. This allows us to participate in an un-training and a redirection.”
Participating in this un-training and redirection is a spiritual practice, an act of faith, a practice of survival. It is redemption, transformation, salvation. It is the holy labor of liberation.
Truth and trust bear close relation, theologian Catherine Keller reminds us, both displayed in “troth,” as in “pledge your troth.” “‘Truth’ at its root signifies a covenant of trustworthiness,” Keller writes. “To be true to another means to be trusty.”
Faith, in the Christian testament, is pistis. Not belief, but trust. In Hebrew, emet, emunah. Faithfulness, trustworthiness.
To be true, to be trusty, to be faithful is to practice—to keep practicing, to become trustworthy in the practice of—right relation, honest relation, trusty relation, with one another, and with the web of interconnected life in which we live and move and have our being.
Our capacity to trust one another, and be trustworthy with and for one another, depends upon our capacity for telling, recognizing, and insisting on the truth. Living trustworthily becomes possible by living truthfully.
There are so many lies being told by so many people in positions of power. There is such deep distrust, and untrustworthiness. Newly exposed, to some, but not new.
It is worth being explicit at this point: this is not a call for Black people to trust white people. It is further perpetuation of violence to ask people experiencing systemic and systematic oppression, violence, and dispossession—stretched over centuries and ongoing—to trust the people, institutions, and power structures that have proven, over and over again, untrustworthy. Mine is a call, to myself and to all of us who are white, to show up to the process of becoming trustworthy. (And, a humble recognition of the incredible generosity and gift extended when any of us who are white are let in, honored with the truth, and given the chance to become trustworthy by Black, Indigenous, and non-Black POC.)
Much like “ally,” trustworthiness is not an identity or position to assume for oneself, but rather one to be earned, bestowed. Only when it is true.
Becoming trustworthy does not mean being perfect. Perfectionism is fueled by, and does not help dismantle, white supremacy. Becoming trustworthy does mean committing to a lifelong practice of un-training and redirecting the lies white supremacy has taught us about dominance, control, power, fragility, supremacy—about whose lives matter, and whose are rendered disposable by police, prisons, politicians, healthcare systems, or any random white woman in a park ready to weaponize her displeasure and defensiveness. When we continue to show up to the practice of truth-bearing and truth-baring, we become trustworthy to ourselves, and to those with whom we are laboring for collective liberation.
(For an excellent resource by Tema Okun mapping characteristics of white supremacy culture click here )