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Racial justice now: 'We cannot be bystanders to hate'
Guest column

Racial justice now: 'We cannot be bystanders to hate'

Heather Harp

Ward 3 City Council representative Heather Harp

All of us suffer. Suffering has a purpose as a lifelong lesson in endurance, character-building and hope. However, the magnitude of suffering for people of color is off the charts compared to those of us nestled in white privilege. Yes, we experience poverty, but we do not walk to the corner grocery in fear of being pulled over because of our whiteness nor poorness. We do not fear our sons not returning from a run. We do not fear the police will kneel on our necks. We do not fear a public lynching.

We as Habitat staff — who it must be acknowledged, all speak from a place of privilege as white individuals — are filled with anger and sadness at the killing of fellow American George Floyd (among so many others) and the systemic racism and oppression that prevails across our country. We are empathetic to your cause. We stand with those who lend their voices and presence to raise awareness of any assault on human dignity and also act to eliminate it.

Since Habitat for Humanity’s beginnings as an interracial farming community in Georgia, our home-building mission is grounded in the idea that to survive and thrive, people first need to feel safe and be able to support and trust one another. While we cannot fully understand what is being felt or experienced by others, our hearts go out to all people of color who suffer from violence, injustice, and the effects of inhumane and unacceptable attitudes and actions. Our hearts are shattered. We cannot be bystanders to hate or disrespect directed at black and African American individuals and communities. We cannot be silent. We cannot be complicit in this hatred.

We are heartbroken that it even needs to be said: Black lives matter. We work against racist agendas and ideologies every day by demonstrating that our religious voices and values — of building shelter through strength, stability and self-reliance — are purposefully intended for all in our community.

We are proud of the diversity in our growing number of partner families, our volunteer base and our community. No matter our faith, we all aspire to uphold the Golden Rule: treat others how you wish to be treated. We will not allow hate into our hearts nor fear, resentment and violence. As part of our commitment to being a part of positive change, we strive to educate ourselves to effectively act as allies to all who feel marginalized and contribute to a safer, more just and equitable world. We must dismantle the oppressive systems and be tireless in our actions.

We must pray. And when God commands us to love our neighbor, we must listen.

Heather Harp is the executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Missoula and represents Ward 3 on the Missoula City Council. 

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