I interrupt your regularly scheduled Chookooloonks. If you come to Chookooloonks for light and joy, you might want to skip this post. If you want to read about race, then by all means, read on.
A little less than a year ago, I wrote a post I called "Affected" -- about how, in light of the events that occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, I found myself tired and affected by the pervasive racial climate in America. In that post, I shared stories about how I've been profiled and had stereotypical assumptions made about me in my own life. I mentioned that the Ferguson events and Michael Brown's death were only the most recent in a series of publicized deaths of unarmed black folks, including those involving Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner and John Crawford. And back then, a little less than a year ago, I made it clear that I felt these stories had to stop.
Since then, in less than a year, things seem to have gotten worse.
Since that time, in less than a year, there has been the story of Tamir Rice. And Walter Scott. And more recently, at a McKinney, Texas pool, Dajerria Becton, an unarmed 15-year-old girl wearing nothing but a bikini, was viciously manhandled by cops. And one particularly horrifying story that occurred just last week (which might have escaped your notice), where, at another pool, another unarmed, bathing-suit-clad girl -- this one only twelve -- had her ribs and jaw broken by a police officer. Twelve years old. Just months older than my daughter, Alex.
(The sad thing is that as I write the paragraph above, I'm not entirely sure I'm not forgetting someone.)
And now this past Wednesday night, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white supremacist, walked into a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, Emanuel AME Church. He joined nine members of the congregation during their prayer meeting, prayed with them, and then killed them. He says he "almost didn't go through it because everyone was so nice to him," but he had to, because black people "rape our women and are taking over our country."
Needless to say, two days ago when news of this massacre broke, I was shaken. Yesterday, when I heard the families of those who were slain actually forgive Dylann Roof, I was moved and humbled. And today, when I was writing the first part of this post, I was angry. Really, truly furious.
But then this evening, I visited Wesley AME church here in Houston for a prayer vigil, in honour and memory of the nine victims of the massacre in South Carolina, and their community.
It was amazing. Leaders of all faiths -- Muslim, Jewish, Lutheran, Presbyterian and others -- joined in prayer and support of both the international AME church community as well as Emanuel AME Church and is congregation. It was wonderful and inspirational and by the end, I wasn't angry anymore.
But I still have something to say.
Because while I'm no longer angry, I remain discomfited by the deafening silence among white American friends who have considerable social media platforms. And I'm not just talking about bloggers: I'm also talking about folks who are active on other forms of social media, including Facebook -- folks who are otherwise downright chatty about other things that are going on the world. But when the subject of race comes up? Radio silence, man.
Now, look: I get it. Race is a difficult thing to talk about. It's risky. And it's divisive. But you know what else? It's time to do it anyway.
One of the things that I think is important for us to realize is that unlike when most of us were children and media was in the hands of the few, we are now all media. We all have social media footprints, we all have forums where people can hear our thoughts. And if friends who are members of a minority watch those of you who are white go silent when issues like this come up, your credibility as an "ally" diminishes dramatically. And trust me when I tell you that it's really disheartening to watch. So if you truly want to fight racism, then please, speak out against racism. Make it clear, in your own words -- not just retweeting or resharing the words of Jon Stewart or someone else -- tell folks how you feel. Take a stand, for heaven's sake. (But then, after you've done that, do freely share articles and posts and links to organizations that fight racism. Amplify, amplify, amplify. Because frankly, those of us who are of colour need white voices to help amplify the cause. )
Secondly, when I've spoken to friends of mine about why they haven't said anything publicly, some mention that they're afraid of losing friends and family. I admit, this is the tough one. The fact is that with race being such a divisive issue, it is almost inevitable that you're going to say something that offends someone else (even when you say it as kindly as possible). If you truly want to fight racism, then I'm afraid you're just going have to be okay with this. Don't be rude, don't be angry, but be firm in knowing that what you're saying is your truth and with kindness, and if someone has an issue with it, well, then it's their issue, and not yours. Besides, you can't take on trying to be liked by everyone, and honestly -- do you want to be liked by people who are close-minded and don't seek to address racism?
Thirdly, I've some friends tell me that they don't feel qualified to speak about race: that perhaps it's better to remain silent and listen. They've said they're afraid of offending black folks by saying the wrong thing. To this, I'd suggest the following:
1) In this post alone, I've mentioned ten different race-related stories that have occurred over the last three years. Ten. Surely, by this point you must have formed some sort of opinion on race relations in the United States. I'm therefore certain you're qualified.
2) I suspect that if you're truly worried about putting something the wrong way, well, that's certainly a risk. But in my experience, if you preface anything you say with, "I'm really nervous about offending, so please take this in the spirit in which it is intended," and then you are really mindful about your tone, most people are willing to cut you some slack. In the alternative, ask a friend for feedback for what you're going to say before you publish it.
But at this point? If you have any black friends at all, I guarantee you that your silence is more likely to offend them than your saying something.
Finally, remember that while racism is an issue that black and brown people have to deal with, it is not our issue to fix. Racism is a systemic problem created by those in power -- white power -- and therefore it is an issue that only those in power can fix. So please keep this in mind before asking any of your black friends or acquaintances what it is you can do to fight racism: while the question comes from an instinct that is certainly understandable, as an ally, what we really need is for you to be creative and come up with ways that you can put an end to racism yourself. To be even more blunt: being creative for you is not our job. (An example to help you get started, however: this article describes the wonderful way kids in the McKinney case fought racism; additionally, here's a great article on how to start, and finally, this Facebook update from my friend Glennon is a pretty epic example of what taking a stand looks like.)
I'm sure I speak for all my black and brown brothers and sisters that we are truly grateful to those of you who are white and who make a sincere effort. Really, truly. That said, I'm going to close comments on this post, because honestly, I'm so very weary, and I don't have the energy to debate anything I've said here. Next week, I promise to return you to your regularly scheduled Chookooloonks.
"In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."