“To Make the Wounded Whole”
Womanist Explorations of Reconciliation
STEPHANIE Y. MITCHEM
“There is a balm in Gilead, to make the wounded whole.”
The Ku Klux Klan staged a march and rally a few years ago in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since Ann Arbor is reputedly one of the most liberal cities in America, the anti-Klan protestors showed up too. One of the Klan marchers—a white male—was isolated and attacked by a crowd of black and white anti-Klan protestors. Television cameras captured a black woman throwing her own body between the protestors and the Klansman, who by now was on the ground. When asked later why she shielded the Klansman, the woman told of her concern that if police were to intervene, the attackers’ own safety might be jeopardized. The image of this woman fending off the mob is seared into my memory; I am struck by both the incongruity and the “normality” of her action. It was incongruous because she protected someone who would have, quite likely, never reciprocated the favor. Yet it was “normal” because of black women’s sociocultural training, which burdens them with saving just about everybody (especially other black people) with the glaring exception of themselves.
The image of that woman’s body as a shield continues to cause me discomfort, but more for its normality than its incongruity. Her work at that moment inspires this chapter, since I contend that she was involved in a radical act of reconciliation. In that act, her body, like that of so many black women, was normally expected to be in jeopardy even as it served as protection for the Black community by warding off retaliatory attack from whites. The gesture expressed the typical pattern of Black women’s mediating role.
Reconciliation aims toward making that which has been wounded or fractured whole again, with a wholeness encompassing body and