Social Justice: Articles by Mary Szczepanski

Sanctuary for All

The concept of sanctuary brings to mind a haven of peacefulness free from harmful influences. It might be considered a unique and singular place one would seek when in need of comfort and solace. Some might experience their homes as that place of shelter from the stress of work (before COVID), or create times of shutting out the chaos of the world by not listening to the news or watching events on internet or by minimizing politically charged conversations. A place in nature can provide that reflection of what is good and help us re-balance after stress. Even a stroll down the street in our country of freedom can feel safe, knowing the laws and police protection are available.

All of these options are available, of course, when one is white. A main characteristic of white privilege is to feel a sense of belonging and safety. As whites we can also shut out unpleasant politics and the painful reality of the suffering of others. If they do feel threatened, a white person can generally call the police for help.

Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) do not necessarily have the same options. People of color are more likely to get followed in a store, under suspicion that they will steal. They might get arrested for trying to cash a legitimate paycheck in a bank, and be accused of many other crimes

If we didn’t know it before, we now know that people of color, especially Blacks can get pulled over by police without cause while driving. Recipients of this treatment sometimes call the cause, “driving while being black”. People of color can get killed for minor crimes or no crimes at all, even in their own homes.

These incidents and subsequent reactions make our free country less free and less safe for everyone. However, unrest is a time when many people become more alert. Ways of thinking can be re-evaluated. New understanding can arise. Laws and policies can be changed. That time is now. The first step is educating ourselves. So much information is available about racism, white privilege, and how to make changes – on TV, movie channels, webinars, books, and articles. Many people are speaking out about ending racism. For those of us who are white, the beginning of racism is not our fault, but in these times, it is our responsibility and we are all in this together.

The book White Fragility: Why It’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin Diangelo (2018) gives a good description of the ways in which racism is so deeply rooted in laws, policies and practices that as whites, we don’t even see it. When someone is invested in the identity of being a “good person” i.e. not a racist, it is difficult to accept any feedback about possible unaware racist behavior. It is typical for a person to get defensive, or emotionally upset. Yet until we learn more, we might continue to say inappropriate things or commit acts of “microaggression” toward people of color. A defensive stance makes it impossible for a person to reflect on their behavior or grow. People of color don’t need to hear justifications for someone’s mistakes, so it’s best for whites to support each other through this learning and sometimes hard emotional work.

Another good book for the personal journey is Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving (2014). Like the first book mentioned, the author shares her own vulnerability in learning to be more aware and less oppressive. Both authors describe the immense rewards of building relationships that are more authentic with people of color.

Both authors present relevant historical examples of past unfortunate racist events and examples of changes being made everyday for the betterment of humanity. These are books of hope and healing. They help make it possible to see that in time our entire country could be a sanctuary of safety, respect and freedom.

"Sanctuary for All" was first published in "Alaska Women Speak"

Fiction by Mary Szczepanski

A Path of Healing For the adolescent reader. The unusual story of a teen's perilous coming of age. Gear up with Megan, grouchy teenage rebel, healer in the making, & just a hair's breadth away from true disaster in the remote Alaska wilderness. Learn more...
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Strands Shifting politics, global warming, & rapid social change across the globe set the stage for this futuristic tale. Take one young intuitive healer, add enhanced DNA, precocious friends & puzzled families. Mix well...if you can. This healer must remember where she came from to solve the riddle of her life. Learn more...
In Juneau? Buy it from Mary
Get it from Kindle or print