The selective silence of White folks is a major contributor to the collective grief of Black people. It sends a message that the pain my Black and Brown brothers and sisters experience watching our fellow people be killed in the streets of America for no reason is not more painful than the discomfort felt by White people when there is a desire to talk about racism, prejudice, and bigotry. Instead of confronting it head on, some have just carried on business as usual. This repressing of oppression is traumatic for people like me. It’s a constant consideration of someone else’s discomfort over your own personal pain. It is such work to try to figure out how to get through the day, deal with your own grief, without making someone else upset because you’re sad and hurting. It’s emotionally complex enough to cause physical ails and loss of appetite. Anyone who has ever experienced deep emotional pain-the loss of a loved one, an ending of a relationship, or deeply hurt feelings knows exactly what I mean
The grief we are feeling now isn’t due a singular incident or happening. While the death of George Floyd opened the eyes to what racism in America is for many, (i.e. being murdered in the street), it is not this incident alone that brings me such deep pain. It is a collection of experiences with racism and prejudice. It’s the time my White friend invited me to her birthday party in 3rd grade and at the 11th hour her mother called to say too many people were invited and I didn’t make the cut. It’s my sister’s story of waiting for an office hour appointment with a professor and overhearing him use the N-word. It’s being asked by a candidate running for office in my local community, “Are all the Black principals as smart as you are?” It’s being told by a White friend that her parents were disowning her because she was in a relationship with a Black man. It’s my White friends who are open enough to tell me the jokes that are made in their presence, at the Thanksgiving table, at work, etc, but are afraid to speak up in the spaces where it matters most. It’s their assertion that they don’t feel that way, but their cowardice to say something when they see something. It’s social clubs and organizations that clearly have an understood rule regarding what you must look like to become a member. And… it’s the murder of George Floyd, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey, and Botham Jean-to name a few. When you mix these personal experiences, with this collective national trauma, and a national rhetoric of hatred, it’s an exact cocktail for a pain that runs deep and wide. It hurts-and even writing that seems insufficient to describe how raw and real the hurt is and what it feels like to carry it daily. What the nation has now seen clearly, we already knew very well. Your initial grief is our lifetime of trauma. We’ve already gone through all the stages-sadness, anger, resentment, exhaustion. This isn’t new to us, and we need you to recognize this-and not call it playing the race card. This isn’t a game. It is as real as watching that officer take his knee and press it into George Floyd’s neck while his colleagues stood as bystanders.
This selective silence, especially in the spaces where it matters most sends a deafening message to people like me. I cannot begin to describe the pain I feel from those “friends” who have said nothing. There are no words to illustrate what silence feels like in a time like this. It certainly isn’t safe, and it has led me to evaluate several of my friendships. I’ve tried to reconcile why this is so. Perhaps you care, but not enough to risk your privilege and place in the world. Not enough to lose your advantage at work, at church, and in your community, but I need you to know that your private propositioning won’t help our public crisis. What we need from you now, more than ever, is courage. Nothing is more deeply painful, hurtful, and disappointing than those who see racism and say nothing. It’s not about a blanket statement either. While many organizational leaders have produced those and I think they are incredibly important, your actions in subsequent events will tell the ending of the story. What will you say when you hear an inappropriate joke next time? How will you respond when you see racism happening? Can you be counted on not just to pray it away or to offer private condolences, but to speak up? This lack of courage is the test of America’s soul. If selective silence continues, and does not lead to collective courage, our collective grief will be our never-ending story.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. There were those who were willing to be brave and vulnerable because they believed in the dignity of all human beings. Look them up: Judge Waites Waring, James Reeb, and Jonathan Daniels to name a few. They sacrificed their lives to support the rights of fellow human beings because they weren’t afraid to do what was right. It’s not about whose side you’re on, but about being on the side of what is right. Unity and treating every human being with dignity is a human rights issue. Very simply, racism is wrong. It hurts. It kills. It is traumatic. It’s really that simple.
As educators, we cannot afford to overlook this or pretend like it doesn’t exist because we didn’t do it. We must act now with the courage of our children. We must approach it with clear heads, even clearer hearts and commit to a collective courage that can heal us all and help heal our nation. I hope you’ll join me. Let’s love our way through this. It is the only thing eternal.
Until next time, be you. Be true! Be a hope builder!