I didn’t find out about the killings at Emanuel AME Church until 24 hours after they happened. And when I found out, I was immobilized. By what I’m not entirely sure, but it wasn’t shock. Too much has happened in the past year for me to be shocked anymore. Maybe I was immobilized because the absence of shock was shocking to me. I don’t know. But anyway, this horrific, heartbreaking thing happened. I felt grief, outrage, disgust, shame, but not shock. And I still don’t know what to say about it except this, and it isn’t enough:
A white young man committed a racially-motivated mass murder, an act of domestic terrorism, and I condemn it. He walked into a church prayer meeting and carried out his premeditated plan to murder the people in attendance solely because they were black, and precisely because they were in their black church. He murdered black people inside their church, the one place that is supposed to be safe, if there is any such place at all anymore. My inclination is to call this man’s actions evil, but I think it’s worse than that, more complex than that. I just don’t know what to call it. This man published his racist manifesto on the internet. He spoke his racist beliefs before he terrorized and murdered these people. He had family and friends who loved him, who thought he was “good”. Afterwards, he said he almost didn’t go through with it because the church people had been so kind to him. What in the hell is going on here? This is America. It’s 2015. How can this still be happening? I’m slowly waking up to an ugly truth. Systemic racism and white supremacy still exist – what happened in Charleston is not an anomaly – and I will not ignore it. Not anymore.
In my great confusion, discomfort, growing anger, sadness and awakening since the murder of Michael Brown last August, I’ve reached out to a few of my black women friends in the hopes of engaging in some sort of dialogue around racism and injustice. AS IF I have a clue. They’ve been kind and extraordinarily patient with me, but I’m not AT ALL proud to say I’ve been slow to realize that while this isn’t about me personally, this is OUR issue, you know, we white people. Its not my black friends’ job to educate me or to help me understand or to reassure me. Venting my discomfort and outrage to them doesn’t prove anything and it doesn’t absolve me of my responsibility in what’s happening in this country. It doesn’t lift their burden and I sure as all hell don’t want to make it even heavier. Its just that I don’t know what to do. Lately I feel like I don’t know much of anything at all, that everything I thought I knew was a lie, smoke and mirrors. The only thing I know for sure is that something is very, very wrong and if I’m not doing something to help bring attention to that, I’m part of the problem. I’m consciously listening and learning – maybe for the first time – so at the very least, I can try to empathize and to imagine what it must be like to be black in this country in 2015. I know now its my responsibility to educate myself and to take a good, hard look at myself and my own heart. Only then will I learn about the reality of my white privilege and how to use it to stand in solidarity with people who are rising up against injustice – people who have been doing it for years, for generations, while I didn’t notice – to amplify their voices, to help make space for them to be heard. Lasting systemic and institutional change is still past due. Our lives are intertwined. I’m consciously realizing I need to acknowledge, confront and chip away at MY OWN biases, understanding that while I will continue to make progress, those biases are probably so deeply entrenched by living in this society for 50 years, they may never be fully unlearned. I’ll have to work to confront them every single time I default to a learned reaction/response. It’s my responsibility to stay present in the discomfort that’s arising without letting it immobilize me – because that’s just another manifestation of my privilege, being able to check in and out, right? – and its my responsibility to speak up in my own circle of WHITE friends and family, to talk about what I’m learning, to help wake us up, to help pull them into the discomfort, to be part of the dismantling of these very real and present dangers, brick by brick, layer by layer – physical, emotional, spiritual – facing our brothers and sisters of color. To risk my comfort for real and lasting equity. Its my responsibility. Not in an attention-seeking, delusional, white savior way, not only during one horrific crisis after another, but as a fellow citizen who gives a damn, because it’s the right thing to do, day to day, until this is made right and forever. I admit I’m scared, but I sure as hell don’t have the kind of fear people of color have to live with every damn day.
I’m realizing there’s a fine line between making this turmoil I feel all about me and moving through it to do something constructive with it, to assist in the long road ahead. And I’m pretty sure the turmoil and discomfort I feel is meant to be an in-between kind of place – at least temporarily – of listening and learning before opening my mouth or taking action. I don’t know. But I do know that good intentions and words won’t mean squat if I don’t back them up with action at some point. So I keep coming back to what am I going to DO with all of this? Black lives matter. Black lives matter TOO. Its too bad we have to say it. But we do and I won’t stop saying it until this is made right. I’m learning that when we behave as if black lives don’t matter by failing to listen to, acknowledge, and empathize with their truths and experiences, failing to fully recognize their humanity and dignity, failing to empower their lives in the same ways white people have been privileged to enjoy, failing to defend their civil and HUMAN rights, failing to acknowledge our present condition (no matter how ugly), failing to learn our accurate history in this swirling mess of escalating inequality and injustice, and failing to assist in uprooting racist institutions and systems that continue to marginalize, oppress, and even kill black people, well, then, OUR lives don’t matter in the end either. It’s all or nothing. Or as my rock hero, Bruce Springsteen, used to say during his live shows in the 80’s, “nobody wins unless everybody wins”. That’s what I believe. Will I live it?
I’m grateful I’ve had access to so much good writing on the internet during this nightmare. I will not stop reading, listening, watching, amplifying, so I can learn to be an asset – not a liability – in the fight for racial justice and equity. I commit to supporting the change that must come, the change that IS coming, no matter how long it takes. And as I learn, I hope I will speak up more. ACT more. I intend to regularly share the voices of people of color, as I practice taking more risks myself. So, allow me to share this piece because it’s really good and it’s what prompted me to start getting over my fear about saying the wrong thing and to sit my butt down to write this:
Yes, when we know better, let’s DO better, let’s SAY something. If we have a social media presence, whether it’s on Facebook or Twitter or a blog, we can say something. We can take a stand against racism. We can scream that it’s not ok. We can wake each other up. No matter how clumsily we do it.
We can check out this syllabus and READ:
We can follow some of these people on Twitter and amplify their voices:
We can join an existing group to learn how we can be better partners in solidarity:
@ShowUp4RJ – Showing Up For Racial Justice – if you are white and you care about racial justice, joining this group is a MUST.
I’ll share more as I continue working my way through this and I’ll keep coming back. I’m waking up and I hope you are too.