Our personal worlds have changed in the past week. Many of us have been rocked to the core as we watched events unfold, and as I write this tonight, I have just witnessed peaceful protestors in front of the White House in our nation’s capital being teargassed, herded, and shot with rubber bullets. This may not be a popular post tonight, and if you are only interested in quilt-y things, I suggest you close your browser now and come back again later in the week. I have things I want and need to say, and you may not like them. You all know I do not generally use this blog as “that kind” of forum, but I believe it is incumbent on us to speak out where we are, and where we can.
As I listened to the news over the past week, I was struck by how many of the African-American newscasters were literally in tears over the events of that day. They spoke through their tears of their fears for their children growing up in this world. Of how little things had changed since the Civil Rights movement. Of how tired they are. They said that they were tired of being angry, had moved beyond being angry because it did not good, and they were just exhausted. They spoke of having to have “the talk” with their children - and no, that’s not “the talk” most of us had with our parents about sex. It’s “the talk” about not wearing a hoodie because you might be considered a gang member or up to no good; about how to act if you are pulled over by a police officer; about how to act in a store so that you don’t get accused of shoplifting.
I have African-American friends with teen children. I have white friends who have adopted black children. I realize that they will have to have “the talk” with their children someday, or have already. It hurts my heart that this is something they will have to do, and that they will worry for their children for reasons beyond what I ever had to.
When my daughter was little, she had a book called Imogene’s Antlers. She loved that book, and would request that I read it to her often. In the book, Imogene woke up one morning with an enormous rack of antlers on her head that stretched from one side of her large bed to the other, and the story follows her through the day, showing all the funny things that happened to her because of her antlers. For some reason, this story came to mind as I considered what I was hearing on the news, and I wondered what it would be like if I woke up one morning and a black face stared back at me from the mirror.
Imagine shopping. Would I be watched suspiciously in a store, with the clerk wondering if I was a shoplifter? Would the checkout girl at the grocery store expect me to pay with WIC? As I loaded groceries in my big expensive SUV, would people wonder what I did to get the money for such a nice car? Would I get pulled over by the police as I entered my neighborhood, with them wondering what I was doing there? These are things that some of our fellow Americans face every day.
So how do we respond to today’s unrest and upheaval? In my opinion we should first listen to our own inner monologue. When you see a black man in a car pulled over by the police, does your inner voice say “drug dealer”? Or does it worry for that man’s safety as he tries to emerge from a routine traffic stop alive? When you hear “black lives matter” do you immediately jump to “all lives matter”? I have been guilty of this, but after a week of thinking about these issues, I realize that although true, it dismisses the original speaker’s statement by superseding it. It turns the focus of the problem from the speaker’s true meaning: “I do not feel like my life is valued as highly as other people’s lives” and focuses instead on “I feel that you are placing black lives above all others, and my life matters too”. In this case, we are not the story. It’s not about us. If we are to change, and affect change, we must look for the meaning behind the words, both our own and other’s. We must listen and respond appropriately, leaving our selves out of the equation.
This. Is. Hard. It goes against everything we are taught - do what feels right, put yourself first, etc. But if we don’t stop, in this moment, and affect real change in our attitudes, I fear for our country. Police your inner voice. Analyze what you are thinking, and why.
The next step is to listen to others. Listen to what people are saying - not just their words, but the underlying meaning of those words. Listen to their heart with your heart. Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine living their life. Mothers who send their kids to the school or the mall, wondering if they’ll make it home safely. Fathers and young men who choose their clothing carefully so they look non-threatening; who feel the need to raise their hands in the air when a police officer comes to their car window after pulling them over for speeding. Kids who work hard at sports because it may be their only ticket to college.
Next, look for the good. Today I saw police officers kneeling with protestors.
I saw a sheriff who asked the protesters what they wanted him to do, and when they asked him to walk with them, he did.
I saw the brother of George Floyd visiting the site of his murder and as he knelt and prayed at the site, all of the protesters knelt and prayed with him. Silence reigned supreme for about five minutes as this happened.
I saw that same man remind the crowd that if anyone had a right to be angry, he did - and he did not want the violence and destruction that has been occurring to be his brother’s legacy. He had one request of the protesters - that they vote. That they vote in not just federal elections, but in state and local elections. That they use their voice and their vote to affect change that would last.
I may lose readers over this post. I hope not, but if this offends you, please feel free to leave. If I have mis-stepped, mis-stated, or misunderstood anything regarding the African-American experience, please chalk it up to my own ignorance. I am trying to learn, grow, and understand but these issues are hard.
How to end this post? Despite all evidence to the contrary, I am at a loss for words much of the time. I want to rail against the fear that causes me to clutch my purse a little tighter or walk a little quicker when a man walks towards me in a parking lot (regardless of that man’s color!) I remember a time in this country when children went out to play on a summer morning and wandered through their neighborhood, playing with all the neighborhood kids and coming home when the fireflies came out. Everyone’s mother watched out for everyone’s kid, and we knew if we did something we weren't supposed to, our mom would hear about it. Somewhere along the line, we lost something. Maybe it’s kindness, or caring for others as much as we care for ourselves. I just hope we can find it again.