Well hello January! It looks like I’m back to writing — whew! — and I just want to say thank you for being patient with me while I took some time away from the computer and away from writing. I did some good thinking during my hiatus, and although I didn’t come to any radical conclusions about where I’m headed next in life (more on that down the road), it did me good to enjoy some creative space. So thank you for that.
I’m starting off the new year with a piece I wrote just after Christmas for the Lincoln Journal Star. I shared it on Facebook the week it was published, but it turns out the Journal Star has a wonky new policy in which readers are only allowed a certain number of visits to their website each month before they are required to subscribe (for free). So I’m posting the piece here because I doubt many people actually read it online. This is a topic I considered long and hard before I decided to write about it, and truthfully, I was reluctant even then. I tend to avoid controversial topics because, well, I’m a good girl and I don’t like to stir the pot, but the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me off the hook so easily on this one. So here it is: a post about race in America.
One of the things I complain about most relentlessly is my children’s lack of listening skills. Listening is particularly challenging for younger kids. I’ll ask my nine-year-old to do something two, even three times in the span of ten minutes, and more often than not, my request goes unheeded. When I sit him down to chat about the value and importance of listening, Rowan typically doesn’t even wait for me to finish, but instead interrupts with a response that almost always begins with this:
Rowan doesn’t stop to listen to what I have to say because he is too busy launching his defense.
I’m familiar with this “Yeah, but…” response. It’s one I’ve offered more than once over the last few months.
“Yeah, but…” was my response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson this past August.
“Yeah, but…do we know all the facts?” I asked.
“Yeah, but…didn’t people say he committed a crime just moments before?” I countered.
“Yeah, but…wasn’t he confrontational with the police officer?” I reasoned.
I wanted to explain the situation. I wanted it to make sense from a rational standpoint. And, more importantly, beneath all my questions and reasoning, I wanted to set myself apart, to be able to say in good conscience, “Well, at least I’m not responsible for Michael Brown’s death.”
When I first heard about Eric Garner’s death, my initial reaction was similar. It wasn’t until I watched the video [warning: disturbing content] and saw with my own two eyes how the situation unfolded that I realized there was not a rational, reasonable explanation for Eric Garner’s death. It was the first time I entertained the possibility that the issue at hand was much bigger, much deeper, than the question of reasonable and rational.
Watching that video changed something in me. It stripped away my arguments, my defensiveness, and my level-headed reasoning. It left me raw, vulnerable, grieving. That image of Eric Garner on the ground, arm outstretched, palm open, obliterated my last “Yeah, but…”
I was, finally, at a loss for words. I was, finally, quiet.
It’s time to be quiet, friends. It’s time to listen to our fellow human beings, to lament alongside them, shoulder-to-shoulder, hand-in-hand. It’s time to empathize, to show our compassion, to let ourselves feel their pain and anger as much as we are able.
It’s time to stop explaining, rationalizing, defending, talking around, pointing fingers and feeling insulted, threatened and defensive. There is an entire history behind these issues, and we need to understand its human impact. We can’t do that if we react defensively first.
There is a time and a season for everything, as Solomon says in Ecclesiastes. There is a time and a place for questions, dialogue and debate. But first, before everything, comes the listening. The hearing. The acknowledgement. The being present.
Obviously I didn’t kill Michael Brown or Eric Garner. But as a white person who has not listened, really listened, to the anger and the sorrow, the fear and the hurt of the African-American people in my community and in my nation, I have played a role in the racial unrest that is bubbling to the surface and boiling over in our country right now.
I acknowledge and accept my responsibility. I’m done with, “Yeah, but…” Today my prayer is a simple one, and I ask you to join me in it:
Lord, let us have ears to hear. Amen.