There’s a river flowing in my soul.
There’s a river flowing in my soul.
And it’s telling me
That I’m somebody.
There’s a river flowing in my soul.

When I learned this song, I did not know it was written by Rose Sanders, the first woman of African descent to become a judge in Alabama. After I found that out, I began wondering how appropriate it is for me as a white person to sing it. After all, white people are generally conditioned to believe in our somebodiness. Dominant white culture affirms white people all the time.

Or does it?

In his speech, “What is Your Life’s Blueprint,” Dr. King writes to Black people:

Number one in your life’s blueprint should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth, and your own somebodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth. And always feel that your life has ultimate significance.

In a white supremacist culture, white people are made into “king babies,” to borrow a term from Alcoholics Anonymous. However, even a child knows that ultimate significance cannot depend on being white. True somebodiness does not rest in how we compare to someone else. Yet whiteness constructs false somebodies motivated by external validation. 

One of the greatest spiritual challenges for people with systemic privilege is learning that an authentic sense of somebodiness is an inside job, solidified by the love of community that cares about our ultimate significance. When white people’s somebodiness rests in a soul awareness that we have such significance, whiteness will cease to exist.

I am deeply grateful to Judge Rose Sanders for gifting the world with this song. And I am grateful to those who included this song in Singing the Journey (a.k.a. “the teal hymnal”) for honoring the spiritual need we humans have to remember our true selves.

Photo credit: Leo Rivas-Micoud