Content note: white supremacy, violence, police violence.
Note 1: This is PART ONE of a two-part post. You can read PART TWO here. I had a lot to say and it got long. Sorrynotsorry.
Note 2: This post has kind of a playlist associated with it. I sing to calm myself sometimes, and music is powerful and healing. The songs here (with YouTube links) were ones going through my head, or that I heard/sang with others yesterday.
White people: this is for you.
I am seeing people post on social media that the media is making the events in Charlottesville out to be worse than they actually are.
I am seeing a lot of white people posting about feeling helpless. That they can’t believe this is happening. That they’re angry and sad and (insert other emotion here). That this isn’t their country, the country they know and love, the country they want to live in.
And I get it. I really do. I have been there, am there, walk the fine line of being in that place and actually getting the real issue and attempting to be the person I want to be on a daily basis.
Because the real issue is that this isn’t new. The real issue isn’t Trump or even that Nazis and white supremacists feel emboldened by the new administration.
The real issue is that we – white people – have let this happen. We have turned a blind eye, and the good people have ignored it under the guise of “love” and “prayers.” The real issue is that we have not listened – ever – to people of color when they told us they were literally dying. When we saw them literally dying. Our long history of white supremacy is in us, friends, and it is up to us to actively work against it.
I was in Charlottesville yesterday. I couldn’t not go. There was something in me that would not let me stay home. Do you feel that? Do you feel the need – the moral imperative – to act?
I believe it’s in you. I have to believe it’s in you, too.
Somebody’s hurting my brother, and it’s gone on
far too long, far too long, far too long
somebody’s hurting my brother, and it’s gone on
far too long, and we won’t be silent anymore.
(Yara Allen – “Somebody’s hurting my brother”)
We’re on lockdown in the church. First United Methodist Church is beautiful and welcoming. The woman in the pew in front of me starts showing me cute animal pictures on her phone. Puppies rolling in the grass. Puppies falling off the porch in their roly-poly chubbiness. To my right, a woman cries and leans on her friend. In front of me, a man receives healing energy work while the woman providing it sings quietly. I watch her and feel the love and peace exuding from her. I breathe and wonder what I’m exuding. I hope it is love. I pray it is love. I am here in love. I am on the side of love. I am acting on the side of love.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
When I breathe in, I breathe in peace.
When I breathe out, I breathe out love.
(“Meditation on breathing” performed by Orange County Unitarian Universalist Choir).
The woman in front of me stops the cute animal roll and talks about what it was like to have her church surrounded by white supremacists with torches last night. I listen. I can’t believe this is happening, she says over and over. That’s my church. That’s my home. My church home was surrounded by Nazis with torches. The KKK. White supremacists. This is the second time in two days I’ve been on lockdown in a church.
We’re quiet for a time and then she finds more animal pictures. Bunnies in hats this time. We laugh.
Or we try.
Today, I woke up at 3AM, laid in my bed, cried, and pet the dog until 5 when I got up and made some tea. Then I drank tea and cried until 7. It has been a long two days.
Here’s the thing: I know it’s hard to believe this is happening. I know it’s confusing, and scary, and terrible. But I’m going to need you to name that shit and start showing up anyway. All your reaction means is that you’re paying attention. Look that in the face. Acknowledge it. Tell yourself This has always been here. Now I am paying attention. If you ignore it, it doesn’t go away. It’s there, lurking and deadly, and you won’t be the first person to be hurt.
Are you willing to give up some of your comfort for other people’s lives?
The white supremacists – the KKK – the Nazis – the terrorists — they are people that look and live like you and I. Like it or not, we need to hold these people accountable. When they spew their hatred, they need to see faces that look like theirs staring back at them. If you believe in love and justice – and I believe you do – you need to believe that this is your responsibility. This is not anyone else’s job but yours. If you do not act, no one will. It is that vital.
The people terrorizing Charlottesville yesterday…they looked like me. They were young, white men in their 20s and 30s. They were wearing polo shirts and khaki pants. They looked like brothers and fathers and uncles and grocery store clerks and students and bankers and computer programmers and the guy that works at Verizon. We know these people. You know these people. And unless we loudly, frequently denounce and act against their hatred, they will become more and more emboldened.
Our president is not going to silence them. They had Trump flags waving right in-between their Confederate flags and swastikas.
It is on us, white people. We need loud, active, acting, continuous, brave love.
Are we going to do better this time?
A woman of color is standing next to me as we overlook the park filled with white supremacists. There are police putting on their riot gear below us and we watch a tank roll down the street. A member of the National Guard pops out of a hole in the top of it like some sort of fucked up jack-in-the-box.
She talks about her faith and why she is called here. What she is called to do. God loves them just the same as He loves us, she says. We are all the same in His eyes. God loves them just the same. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m here. I know I’m rambling. I’m convincing myself, not you.
I’m here to listen, I say.
She stops herself. Can I ask you something?
Of course, I answer.
It’s just…I don’t…I can’t…I cannot comprehend their hatred toward us. I’ve wondered…is it because I’m black that I can’t understand it? She looks up at me. Do you? Do you understand it?
I search for an answer more satisfying than just, I don’t. I can’t. I’m sorry. I don’t understand it. I cannot comprehend their hatred. I’m sorry. I’m sorry about the hatred from my fellow white people. In the moment, with the helicopter circling overhead and watching the police in their riot gear circling the park, I could not figure out what to say.
I still don’t know.
She thanked me for not being offended by her question, but offended never crossed my mind. Instead, heartbreak.
Shame and anger and nausea.
She continues talking about her faith and I listen. I’m mostly saying this for myself, she says again.
It’s okay, I say. I’m listening. She nods. Breathes. May I hug you? I ask.
We embrace one another in a big, long, tight hug.
I pray for you
You pray for me
I love you
I need you to survive
I won’t harm you
with words from my mouth
I love you
I need you to survive.
(Hezekiah Walker, “I Need You to Survive” )
“But I can’t go do something like that. I can’t go to Charlottesville. I can’t show up in that way.”
And that’s ok. I’m not asking you to.
I’m asking you to speak up, loudly, in the ways you are able. Not just now, in the middle of an active, violent crisis. But tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that.
We need to love loudly all the time.
Constantly and consistently.
Out loud, over and over and over again.
Even and especially when it’s hard.
And then we need to start over.
I didn’t know if I would be able to handle Charlottesville yesterday. But I knew I had to love actively, loudly, in a way that would not allow me to stay home. It was uncomfortable. It was scary. It was exhausting. And we’re only going to have more of that if we don’t show up now.
Silence is violence. If you do not speak up, speak out, in whatever way you are able, it is violence.
This is our job. These are our people. We need to hold them accountable. It is our job, and lives depend on it. The lives of people of color, the lives of Jewish people, the lives of Muslim people, the lives of lesbian, gay, queer, and trans people. They are depending on us.
There is no passive love. Passive “love” is what has landed us here. Hatred is not passive. It rolled in waves down the street. It emanated like an odor, like something I could reach out and touch.
It feels like fear and it smells like death.
We can be louder, but only if our love is active, constant, and brave. We can be louder.
Can’t we? Can’t we be louder?
(Remember to read part two here).