When something like the murder of George Floyd happens, a rage fires inside me that’s so intense I can’t contain it. I lose my words. All I can feel is this turning in my stomach, over and over again, that burns into my heart. It’s so strong, I feel like my whole being will just blow up and splatter all over the place where I stand. Warrior spirit being born, I’ve been told.
But there’s a shadow side as well. Last week, I was insulated in beauty for days, unaware of what was happening in our country. I can retreat to this place. When I re-emerged, I found myself in this country, that when I think about it, makes me want to sob, rage, and vomit all at the same time. Will we ever learn?
As the mother of a black son and a white son, having been married to a black man and then a white man and having been raised to respect, admire, learn from, and seek diversity, it’s very difficult for me to wrap my head around this brand of racism that keeps happening in intensifying measure. I was raised from 6 - 12 with this actual poster hanging in a space I saw frequently. I was taught to love differences, not fear them. To me, it's what makes our global family beautiful. When I come up against people who choose hate, I just don’t get it.
My shadow side says to run, to deposit myself back into the beauty of a blossoming rose with the sweet smell drowning out the stink of this black & white war we fight in the US. It's seductive. It's tempting. I crave the peaceful feel, the sensuous space it emanates.
Perhaps there is a time for that, but I have lost patience for that default. I look at my children and say “oh, hell no!” This is not the time to lose words. I must use my voice, my keyboard, to help share what I can about how to live in with love and respect I see my children have for each other, the warrior spirit they have shown in this movement, and the way they have taught me (who is most worried about protecting them.)
White people. Do Something. This is the cry we hear and never have 4 words been more en pointe. And this is also true: you don’t know what you don’t know. Where to start, then? Start with your own racism. We all have it, and usually those who think they don’t have more in my experience. It’s time to leave this dualist country we have created behind.
My shadow cries, "I want to see only love and light and beauty in all things, but I want those things to be pretty flowers." Why? Because contention, and fighting, and bullying, and lying, and meanness make me nauseous. I also don’t believe in letting the bully on the playground bully (even though it’s clear to me they do so because they were bullied.) Hurt people hurt people. Compassion has a place in every conversation.
No matter. We must speak up, offer our own voices where they can help activate change. We don’t just pretend it’s not happening because it’s inconvenient to us and/or doesn’t affect us. We don’t say “all lives matter,” because this shows our ignorance of the history of the Black experience in the United States and how that differs from any other. It’s like evangelicals who quote Bible verses without ever actually studying (alas, reading) the Bible. Stop that. It’s not helping. We need to read. We need to go past what our K-12 education has taught us because it’s a one-sided story often not revealed outside of AP classes or college--at least, for white people.
I have called the people in my town that are “in charge” of opening up “cultural conversations” to offer my time. (No calls back.) I have dedicated myself to a deeper education on Black history in this country and am reading, podcasting, watching, talking with my children. We are donating our resources. I am proud of my children who are leading me into this area, showing me this form of advocacy where we walk in the streets with signs even amongst a pandemic to protest this even greater pandemic we’ve witnessed in the heartbreaking murder of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis as the latest tragic evidence of a dualism we must right. And just a short time later, these signs speak on the streets, community murals that tell our new story. (Thank you, Kevin May, for filming this new story and making the shots down the street from your home really count and for letting me show this beauty.)
I’m an optimist. I believe we can do this together. We will never think the same, and this is the beauty of contrast in our world. I wish everyone could sit in a race and ethnicity class, but in my Master’s in Teaching work in the 90s, I was the only white student in there. Why? It’s fascinating to listen to other stories and perspectives. We need to get curious. Talking is only the first step. We need, then, to step into the shoes and move toward justice for all as we so proudly name it. This action step is key.
It’s true that the blind are also color blind, and it’s also true that white silence is violence and that white people (like me), often struggle to understand why and how, but have the voice to bring us together instead of being plain silent asshats because of fear, ignorance, and lack of education. That silence shouts complacency and it needs to stop.
I think most will agree our current state of affairs is not working well for anyone. Then, where to start? Each needs to begin where they are, examining and addressing their own racist corners, and making an action plan to help move forward in a better way. Only then can we really do this thing we’re calling make American great, a country that works for everyone.
My kids will take us down this road. Your kids will take us down this road. They want this movement to be met for deeper meaning, a peaceful but assertive stand.
“The Black community does not need to change. We need to change,” says Gavin Newsome, Governor of California live today. “There is no reservoir for patience here.”
Indeed. We will meet this head on, led by our children. I am more hopeful than ever, and I will not shirk into the rose. I will find the rose in this new today we have waited far too long to breathe in.