The blinking cursor on my blank document seems particularly demanding this morning. I had a piece written last week that was set to go out today, but every time I think to click “Publish,” I know in my spirit that it’s the wrong move. So I return to the blank document with the boldly blinking cursor that asks: WHAT. WILL. YOU. SAY.
I cannot publish a post this week that doesn’t speak to what has happened in Charlottesville. Silence is loud in events like this one. As I wrote on my social media accounts, racism and bigotry are not confined within the Charlottesville city limits. We may all share water fountains and public bathrooms now, but racism and hatred are thriving all throughout the United States. The photos of the civil rights movement I saw in my history book are essentially just in color now—hatred for another person because of their skin color is not an attitude of the past.
I still remember the first time a friend of mine in high school saw me without makeup. I, along with most young teenagers, struggled with acne, so I tried covering up my blemishes with foundation and powder. On Christmas Day during my freshman year of high school, a friend of mine surprised me by showing up at my front door with a Christmas gift. I was makeup-less and mortified. My face was blemished and blotchy, reeling from some dermatological treatments I was undergoing. She gave me a CD and left quickly.
The racism in our country is systemic, and has been around as long as our nation has been around. Some of us might be able to see the situation covered in makeup—it’s not so ugly, it’s a problem of the past, we’ve even had a black president! I know I can do this; I am a white woman living in a predominantly white neighborhood working alongside other white people. Everyone seems kind and level-headed.
And then, something like Charlottesville happens. The makeup is removed. White supremacy groups have a face. The event is raw and blemished and, well, horrifying. It’s horrifying. It’s hate. And it can feel so overwhelming.
I began the work of understanding my privilege and the systemic racism that supports it in 2012. I’m still new at it and I have a lot of work to do. I don’t have the answers, but I’ve been learning from some really wise people and I hope to never stop. Even still, the overwhelm remains tangible. Hatred tends to feel that way.
As my friend, Jenny Rae Armstrong, wrote in our recent anthology, Everbloom:
We can do that. We can garden. I don’t have a green thumb, but I believe in equity and justice and the Gospel for everyone, and that just might be enough for this garden.
Here’s what I know to do right now:
Talk about it. Talk about what happened in Charlottesville. Talk about race. Talk about the real events happening today that perpetuate racism. They may not be rallies with torches, but even the micro-aggressions and covert actions are harmful. Call it out when a friend or a family member says something that perpetuates racism. Maybe they don’t even realize the harm their statement causes, so we need to help each other out.
Bring this up in your churches and at your dinner table. It might feel awkward and terrible and cause pushback, but the silence is certainly not helping. Include diverse voices, even if just through their written words.
Listen about it. We cannot understand what we do not hear. What is life like for your friend of color? Does he/she not want to share right now? Great—don’t force it. Watch documentaries and movies telling the stories you didn’t hear in school about the perpetuation of an unjust system. Read! Read articles and books by people of color. When I look at my bookshelf, it is predominantly white authors. I want to change that. They can be non-fiction or fiction, full of honest storytelling or creative fantasy. Let’s get the words of people different from us in our ears and on our bookshelves. Listen to the stories that so rarely get told in popular books and movies and textbooks. Here are some ideas, compiled by my friend, Carrie:
1. Very Good Gospel by Lisa Sharon Harper
2. Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin
3. Kindred by Octavia Butler
4. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
5. Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
6. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
7. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
8. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
9. Jasmine by Baharati Mukherjee
10. The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
11. Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
12. Southern Horrors and Other Writings by Ida B. Wells
13. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
14. I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi
15. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Lament. In Romans 8:26, it says that even when we don’t know what to pray, the Spirit intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Sometimes that is what my lament sounds like—groaning that cannot be expressed in words. God aches over the hatred and racism shown in Charlottesville, and in all of the places throughout the country where this happens every day. He aches. Lament is knowing something is deeply wrong, either within yourself or within the world (or both). It is bigger than feeling sorry; it includes feelings of anger, grief, injustice, and pain. It’s no wonder that sometimes, groaning is the best we can do when it comes to lament. It is our expression of longing to be restored to God. Call others to lament, as well. Lead your communities into lament, and let Spirit-led action flow from that.
This is a tip of the iceberg beginning. But begin, we must. We’ll never yank out the deadened roots until we begin digging.
I want to leave you today with this article. I found it helpful and hope you do, too. Don’t stop with this one, though. Go to people of color and let their words be heard.
See you in the garden, my friends.