In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
So much pain and anger and fear. So much confusion and polarization.
Protests and riots; impassioned pleas for peace and justice.
Taking a knee (during the national anthem); taking a life (by taking a knee).
Disrespect and dishonor and disgust.
Police brutality, white fragility.
Implicit bias. Privilege. Prejudice.
Oppression. Suppression. Aggression.
All of this – ongoing and long-standing for many, newly awakened in others.
How do we respond to racial injustice? How do we implement restorative justice?
More to the point, how do I respond?
Let me start by stating it as plainly and loudly as I can: BLACK LIVES MATTER.
That’s the easy part. I believe that in my heart and mind, in my soul and in my bones.
And even that isn’t easy in the sense that, there is the risk of being misunderstood at every turn. I type this and put it out into the world. What does the world make of it? (That largely depends on what lenses we’re looking through, what amplifiers and mufflers we’re listening with.)
Does that mean I don’t think blue lives matter? White lives? Brown, yellow, pink…? Of course not. That’s the point, I value all lives. We all have intrinsic worth as human beings. Every single one of us. We are all, in my belief system, all God’s children. We are all part of the same humanity on this planet. The bumper sticker over my desk reminds me daily, “God Bless Everyone.”
Yet if I just stop there, I remain comfortably, naively color blind.
For at the very same time, we all have very real differences.
We have different opportunities. We have different challenges. We have different lived experiences and perceived experiences and encoded experiences. We have different privileges, and different burdens.
Black persons – in fact, all people of color racialized as other than white in this country – suffer from far more obstacles and less opportunities. (That seems so blindingly obvious when written on this page. – Like, no duh?!)
Painfully, in the United States of America, for centuries, “freedom and liberty for all” has clearly not meant for all. It’s meant primarily for white (especially wealthy and male) citizens.
I, as a white, moderately wealthy, male – have benefitted from that default set of rules in our societal playbook all my life. Sometimes I’m aware of it. Far more often, I’m not. Like a fish swimming in water, I just take the water for granted.
The question now, always really, is what do I do with that? How do I live with it? More to the point, how do I act with integrity in advocating for justice (“freedom and liberty for all”) according to my stated belief systems (“we’re all God’s children”).
For many years I’ve read, reflected, meditated on this. I’ve discussed it with friends and colleagues, largely but not exclusively white, and attended workshops on it. I still have far to go in understanding how I can best advocate for social justice.
But one thing is increasingly clear to me now (please forgive me, but better late than never…):
White silence is violence.
Saw this sign in a recent protest march. It kinda hit me right between the eyes. All these years I’ve worked with anti-bullying programs in schools and in therapy with kids. We talk about the bully, the victim, and the bystander. We teach kids not to be silent bystanders, not to allow wrong to propagate. To be part of the solution, not the problem.
But how convenient for me to be relatively silent for so long on the topic of racial injustices in my society. Why? Lots of rational explanations, and some lame excuses, too. But what now?
If I’m awakening with more awareness and acceptance, what aligned action am I stepping in to?
For many years, I’ve taken it as my primary job to listen and learn on this topic. I’ve listened as deeply as I could to the views of others – from black justice advocates to white supremacists. I’m a pretty good listener, a professional empathetic listener, in fact. I’m always growing in my understanding. Which is a good beginning.
But I’ve been stuck there for perhaps too long. Consciously, I’ve done so out of humility and deference – who am I to have the right answers, to speak up, to tell others what do to about this excruciatingly difficult topic?
Unconsciously, I suspect now, I’ve done so out of fear – fear of being wrong, and perhaps more so of being wronged. Fear of bearing the wrath of my white brethren, of being humiliated and ostracized. Fear for my family, my professional reputation, my source of income. Fear of upsetting the applecart of civility – the civility and comfort that I enjoy as a white US citizen.
And there’s the rub. Talk about an inconvenient truth! I can no longer abide being a silent bystander – propagating violence in that subtle way.
So I begin today by breaking that silence publicly. Black lives matter to me.
I reject not just blatant acts of overt racism and violence, but also the more subtle acts of covert, unconscious racism which permeate our society. I am committed to continuing to learn more, listen more, speak up more, and vote more in accordance with these values that I hold dear.
I believe everyone does deserve an equal opportunity. We still have such a long way to go to get that right. But we must continue to try. And it must begin without us (especially white us) remaining conveniently or fearfully silent anymore.
We all have implicit biases. No shame in that. It’s just what do we do with it? How do we take it out of the shadows and into the light where we can act with love, not hate?
It’s incumbent on us ALL to wake up, to shine light on our individual and collective blind spots, so that we can respond more wisely and compassionately to our fellow humans, regardless of the color of their skin. Or perhaps, especially because of the color of their skin!
I pray we can find ways to repair past harms, restore present trust and good-will, and remake our institutions into something worthy of our aspirations.
Hey, it’s a start. No more silence. No more violence.