It is pouring down rain in San Francisco right now, which seems to be the talk of the city and perhaps the entirety of Northern California. Usually, I embrace the rain. I stand outside in it, I dance in it, I shout my joy to the world and urge everyone to turn off their screens and go out to breathe in the sweet, damp air, the smell of new beginnings. But today, I feel frustrated. Because all the chatter about the weather starkly highlights the absence of another topic that seems to be missing from the lips of the majority of my network: the system of racial injustice in our country.
I am calling out white silence. Starting with my own.
I am late to the party, I know. Since reading about the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner (among others) and watching the protests unfold, I’ve struggled a lot with how to contribute. My whole body aches every time I see a peaceful protest erupt into violence. I have seen videos of protesters throwing themselves on cops and being subsequently arrested in front of a camera as if to say “see? Police brutality!” as I have seen images of cops inciting looting and violence from the inside. Violence is NOT the answer, and when we stoop to violence we lose the righteous ground we stand on. When I see thoughtful, peaceful protests, I rise in hope. Do I think our current system is biased, broken and unjust and needs to be fixed? Do I support equality for all? With all my heart! So why haven’t I raised up my voice until now?
Last week, one of my best friends sent me a text after returning from her first ever long-distance solo kayak ride.
“Do you ever just feel guilty?”
She went onto tell me about her glorious trek on the water, and how she came back to a page of news on the Eric Garner case and broke down crying right then and there. She felt terribly wrong for not only experiencing, but enjoying so much beauty when there was such ugliness happening in the world. “Yes,” I responded, but I wasn’t satisfied with my answer.
Dear Steph, today I would like a do-over.
Guilt is not a productive emotion. What else do you feel? Heartbroken? Frightened? Sad? Full of righteous anger? Great. Find a place of grace within yourself where you can see all individuals as imperfect, complicated, human. Then use your fury to peacefully incite change.
Do you feel joyful? Full of wonder at how beautiful the world can be, and the sheer resilience of the human heart? Humbled by nature and grateful for the little things? Happy, even? Awesome. Celebrate it, don’t push it down. But rejoice with awareness of the privileges many of us have due to our skin color, and use the joy you feel to give you strength to push for a more just system where all lives, especially black lives, are valued.
Do you want some specific ideas? I am a learner here, and am also open to suggestions. But what about supporting black businesses? (There’s an app for that!) Or signing a petition to President Obama to include Implicit Bias Training in his plan to strengthen community policing? Or checking out this eloquently-written list of 12 Things White People Can Do Now Because of Ferguson?
If Jukka Kela and the Lemmenjoki Gold Miners’ fight to keep their culture alive taught me anything, what matters most of all is that we were all given one heart, one brain, one voice so that we can use them. We can’t stay silent, because by doing so we are part of the problem. Today I’m breaking mine. How do you express yourself? Sing, write, kayak, march, dance, calculate, teach, build, create! The world needs your beautiful, weird, brilliant, creative mind to think up a better system, your conviction to share your ideas, and your voice to keep shouting them until you are heard.