Real Talk with Teresa Holden
Buried underneath the mountains of election news, movie releases and clickbait articles lies an important issue: the Black Lives Matter movement. While some prominent figures, such as Bernie Sanders and Beyonce, continue to draw attention to the issue, it seems to have lost the public’s interest as of late.
What started out as a conversation with Dr. Teresa Holden about some of the books that have changed her life ultimately turned into a discussion of racial inequality. Holden, a professor at Greenville College, not only illustrates past and present divides between people of different backgrounds but shares what she has learned about the principles of solidarity and reconciliation. Listen to this podcast, where she introduces the books that she has found most influential.
“The common thread that runs throughout these books is the whole concept of social justice,” Holden stated, after mentioning each of the four titles piled on her lap.
The first book is “Cry, the Beloved Country” by Alan Paton, which Holden read during her high school years. It was what first caused her to think about inequality and some of the global issues impacting people at the time. She said, “I remember that it had a really huge impact on me. It is a fictional story about apartheid in South Africa. I was in high school from 1974 until 1978, so apartheid was a very real, living thing… This book made me feel like I could be a part of something bigger, and that there were issues in the world that were important for me to be a part of.”
During her senior year of college, Holden was considering attending the University of Notre Dame for her Master’s degree. She visited the school’s bookstore and picked up “Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life” by Nouwen, McNeil and Morrison. The book introduced her to completely new ideas, such as solidarity in a real context. “For some reason that concept of solidarity really gripped me as a way that I could live my life–standing for something, standing with something,” she explained.
When Holden read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” she was in the process of deciding whether to start a doctoral program. During that time, she harbored many questions, particularly about the reasons “why America has problems with the concept of race.” Although she didn’t know much about the topic, she felt like it was something she should be involved in. After reading the biography, she said “This book answered many of my questions, because through Malcolm X’s anger, I learned that side of the story which I had never really known before.”
While in the process of writing her doctoral dissertation, Holden read “The First Woman in the Republic: A Cultural Biography of Lydia Maria Child” by Carolyn Karcher. Child’s courage had a profound effect on Holden, and further reinforced her views on solidarity and racial conflict. Holden responded to Child’s actions: “[Child] wrote the first treatise on why slavery should be abolished. She lost everything because of it. I really admired her gutsiness and her bravery and it told me that I have to be willing to stand in the gap in ways that I previously hadn’t.” Holden was inspired not only by Child’s actions, but by the wave of change they created.
Child was able to stand in solidarity with the oppressed because of her social standing as a woman. In regards to the subjugation of women and African Americans, Holden said, “I don’t think that we can ever escape that as a part of our history–the fact that certain people have, throughout history, counted more than others.”
When asked how the ideas from these books affected her stance on the Black Lives Matter movement, Holden replied “The biggest influence on my support of the Black Lives Matter movement is the fact that I just know African American history. I understand that until very recently, and certainly within my lifetime, black lives didn’t matter… I think it’s been pretty obvious throughout the history of the United States that white lives have mattered, and through a great portion of our history, they’ve mattered more than black lives.”
Holden emphasized the call to action she interpreted from the books. “These all sort of underline the idea that it’s important for all lives to matter, and when we have evidence that this is not taking place, we have to do something about it,” she said.
In addition, Holden shared her own ideas for a possible solution. “If we think of reconciliation, it always has to start with a heart of love. Because that’s what our faith is; at its deepest level, it’s all about love… I think starting a friendship with someone who isn’t like you is a really good starting point. We have to get to a level in our relationships where our neighbors’ cares become our cares.”
These concepts are something that we, as a Christian college, should work on putting into action. Sharing a strongly-worded article on social media isn’t enough–we need to form relationships and start reconciling with our neighbors.