Challenges of Hospitality

Hospitality and Race, part 2

The work of radical hospitality is to do all we can to learn “What does this guest need?” For whites, this would include reading books by black authors, seeking out essays by black writers about their experience and understanding.

This isn’t about abandoning your own needs, erasing yourself for the sake of others. Putting the question “What does this guest need?” at the center of your life includes treating yourself as one such guest. It’s not always clear to us what our own needs are – as opposed to our passing impulses. And it turns out that developing those skills of attuning to other people’s needs also helps us better attune to our own needs. It’s about caring for everybody – and caring for self counts as part of caring for everybody.

It isn’t about reciprocity. It might not be reciprocal – but hospitality isn’t about reciprocity. Hospitality is a gift – and a gift isn’t a gift if you have to have something in return.

Hospitality across cultural and racial lines is our vital challenge. For the white folks, carrying out hospitality requires keeping in mind the enormous privileges whiteness has conferred. In the book Centering: Navigating Race, Authenticity, and Power in Ministry – one of this year’s Common Read books for Unitarian Universalists – Rev. Adam Robersmith, a Unitarian Universalist who identifies as ‘of multiracial heritage’ writes:
“When is there ministry to ask people to meet me where I am as a person of color? To ask you to see me for what I am and meet me there?”
Given the history of accommodation in this country, it’s the less powerful who have had to accommodate the more powerful. Those of us more privileged are the ones positioned to meet others where they are – and not demand or expect reciprocity.

The idea that whiteness is better permeates our culture. The superiority of whiteness gets into the heads and messes with the minds of white people, black people, and all people. When the African American activist and scholar Cornel West addressed the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly a couple years ago, I was in the audience. Aside from the fact that he mentioned Richard Rorty, the philosophy professor unknown, I’m sure, to the vast majority of the people in the hall, but who was my mentor – so that was a thrill -- the part of Cornel West’s talk that most stayed with me was when he said:
“I've got a lot of vanilla brothers and sisters that walk with me and say, Brother West, Brother West, you know, I'm not a racist any longer. Grandma's got work to do, but I've transcended that. And I say to them, 'I'm a Jesus-loving, free, black man, and I've tried to be so for 55 years, and I'm 62 now, and when I look in the depths of my soul I see white supremacy because I grew up in America. And if there's white supremacy in me, my hunch is you've got some work to do too.'"
When Cornel West, activist for racial justice, said he had white supremacy in him, he didn’t mean that he supported Richard Spencer, David Duke, or the KKK. He just meant that the idea that whiteness is better infects even him – and infects everyone who grew up in this culture.

Let me ask: Does that ring true to your experience? In what ways have you received the message, whether you are white or not, that it’s better to be white? How do you handle that? The division hurts us all.

Martin Luther King, Jr said no one is free until we are all free. And as LoraKim said last week,
“We all are trapped. Our work for freedom is undoing the core oppression for our co-liberation.”
So let me also ask: Does that ring true? Whether you have been the "beneficiary" of racial prejudice or not, have you felt the hurt? Have you felt the pain of the divide created between us by awareness that some of us are systematically granted privileges denied to others?

Even the most privileged of us have sometimes felt like the outsider, like we didn’t belong. That gives us a basis for beginning to imagine what it would be like for that experience to be a much more pervasive feature of life. Can you get in touch with such a memory – a time when you were an outsider?

The challenge of hospitality is steepest when there are cultural differences – when the words and gestures that would make you feel welcome aren’t the ones that work for the other person’s culture. What is your experience with that? When have cultural differences posed particular challenges for you in feeling welcome, and in being welcoming? Indeed, what does being welcomed really mean to you? How do you know when you’re welcome, and when you’ve succeeded at truly welcoming someone else?

The work of radical hospitality is the work of wholeness -- for each of us, for all of us.

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This is part 2 of 2 of "Hospitality and Race"
See also
Part 1: The Circle of Hospitality

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