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Compliant, Complaisant and Complicit

Greetings W.I.N. community,

The black revolution is much more than a struggle for the rights of the Negroes.  It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws:  racism, poverty, militarism and materialism.  It is exposing the evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society.  It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced. – Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968

King’s quote is applicable to all racial and ethnic minorities in America, not just blacks.  The radical reconstruction that King calls us to face would benefit all of us.  Those of us claiming ourselves to be people of faith are the gatekeepers for exposing and facing the institutional changes required to end racism, not just for the sake of the poor and oppressed, but for the sake of the privileged as well.

Last week I expressed thanks for having choices.  I received feedback from a couple of readers.  One was in regards to my insensitivity to the woman from a different culture who did not believe that we do have choices, because in the caste system from which she likely came, a lack of choices is reality.  Another was a reminder that people who are poor have choices different than those who have plenty, and that a choice that might seem offensive for a middle-class person makes sense for someone living in poverty.  What I spoke about was choices that the privileged have.

Speaking of privilege, I have been listening to some of the stories on public radio about financial struggles for people making $100,000 annually.  Mortgage payments, health care, and college education and other programs for their children – all good, but result in their having less than enough.  Yet those working full time on minimum wage are earning $15,288, assuming that they do not have to take off time due to illness or other emergencies.  The family with $15,000 income has different choices than those making $100,000.  Add racism into the equation and the choices are fewer and more challenging. These relate to the social determinants of our well-being and health.

This past week announced the “Word on the Year” – complicit, meaning “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others.”  This is a word that people looked up three times more often than the year before, likely in response to 2017 news stories.

I have my own words I want to lift up: compliant, meaning “inclined to agree with others in power or obey the rules to an excess at the cost of justice” and complaisant, meaning “marked by an inclination to please others.”   I believe that being compliant allows complicity to happen.  Millie Friday, a Northern Arapaho, speaking about the two Undoing Racism workshops she attended, noted that as a result of the workshops she no longer plans to be complaisant when she observes racism.  She teaches youth on the Wind River Reservation about the impacts of historic trauma from boarding school experiences of their grandparents, which, if exposed, allows for healing.  She expressed that white educators are uncomfortable hearing this and want the message softened so as to lessen their discomfort.  But she understands that making whites uncomfortable about racism may be necessary before meaningful change can happen.

To end racism as both Martin Luther King and Millie Friday talk about it means our no longer being compliant or complaisant when we observe racism or else we risk being complicit.

The annual meeting of the Wind River Native Advocacy Center was yesterday.  I thank the WRNAC board not just for the flowers that they gave me, but for their appreciation that when I came about five years ago to the Wind River Reservation on behalf of the Wyoming Association of Churches (now the Wyoming Interfaith Network), I came to listen and not with a preconceived idea of what they needed which has been their experience with many other outsiders coming here.  I hope that I have been a model for how other outsiders should and can work with (and not for) the people at the Wind River Reservation.  I am blessed to be here and have learned and still am learning so much!

Fear not. Be bold. Build bridges. Do justice.


Chesie Lee

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