Why Reconciliation Forums Make Me Wanna Holler

Crime is increasing /Trigger happy policing /Panic is spreading/ God knows where, where we’re heading/

Oh, they don’t understand /Make me wanna holler/ They don’t understand – Marvin Gaye

I wince every time I am invited to a “Forum on Reconciliation.”
We have all heard of these types of events. They typically are organized after tragedies where racism is implicated as an instigating factor. In these forums, we typically have a panel, a moderator, and a time set aside for “Q&A.” The afflicted community is given a “space” to articulate their anguish and grievances. The dominant culture, in return, seeks to stand in solidarity with the representatives of the community by attempting to “strategize” new ways of “forging a better tomorrow for everyone.” Afterwards there is typically an exorbitant amount of hugging, followed by the obligatory wiping away of tears and always concluded by a collective hope that the hour of reconciliation had not caused the reconcilers to miss out on the daily lunch specials. Nothing can heal the cavernous wounds of structural injustice like half-off appetizers, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for reconciliation. My reservations, however, are rooted in our failure to clearly define what we mean by the term and who ultimately drafts the conditions by which all parties are allowed to reconcile. Also, I am often left questioning who/which group(s) have ultimate power over the scope of the conversation, the form of the conversation, and where the conversation ultimately leads. Are the grieving communities truly collaborators in the process, or are they merely mannequins of flesh connivingly propped up in order to propagate a veneer of diversity to those who get a kick out of window-shopping for change?

At many of these forums, the unspoken rule is that “everyone must be affable, serene, and, above all else, comfortable when gathered at the table.” But what if the table itself is the problem? What if the comfort we are trying so desperately to preserve is the very thing that should be destroyed? What I find interesting is that we are always talking about making room at the table, but not all tables should be left standing. Some tables should be turned over and taken out of the room altogether. Moreover, if we were to truly deal with the schisms and injustices plaguing our communities, maybe, just maybe, those in attendance won’t be able to eat immediately following the discussion. Maybe, just maybe, the fact that people are joking and laughing raucously in lunch lines 15 minutes after talking about murder and the visceral pain of an entire community is proof positive that we failed to reconcile a thing while we were seated on platforms weeping behind microphones before a packed auditorium.

Though it may sound as if I am being divisive and raining on our reconciliation parade, trust me, there is no one who desires to see the manifestation of the Beloved Community more than I. However, I am fervently convinced that we cannot have constructive dialogue until we are first willing to partake in deconstructive dialogue. Deconstructive dialogue is always painful dialogue. Moreover, I am all for inclusion; however, when ‘inclusion’ is used as a subtle tactic to eviscerate a movement of all its raw and influential potency, it becomes nothing more than a co-opted tool of Satan and must be extinguished at the root. It does us no good to ornately decorate a table in the midst of a burning house. We preserve ourselves, not by taking a seat at a table that is sure to be consumed in fire, but, rather, by having enough sense to know that sitting down is not what we should be doing as the roof is caving in on us.

With all that being said, I fully understand that removing a table concretized in moral folklore is never easy. Many have taken pride in the so-called table of reconciliation. You’ve told many jokes at this table. You’ve shared countless half-off appetizers at this table. There is no way you can muster the strength or courage necessary to flip over the table of unseen power and privilege. Don’t worry, we see your struggle.

Allow us to help you take it out. We never liked that table anyway. It made us wanna holler.


James Howard Hill, Jr. is currently a graduate student at Southern Methodist University where he is completing his Master's degree in Theological Studies. A subversive theologian who considers himself ontologically Hip-Hop, James is an activist-scholar called to labor beside those commissioned to bridge the gap between the Academy and the community. He is lover of Dostoevsky novels and a connoisseur of 90's black sitcoms.

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