I can’t write about LGBT issues today like I normally do. I will get back to that injustice soon, but I can’t right now. I’m too concerned for anyone in this country who isn’t a White European.
But I haven’t known what to say. I’ve written two different posts addressing bigotry and White Supremacy, and nothing feels right.
I finally realized that the last thing I want to talk about is exactly what needs to be said.
I am beginning to understand how deep inequality goes, how much it persists to today in the lives of Black Americans especially, but to all POC. I’m sorry it’s taken so long for me to begin to see.
This knowledge is painful. It makes me think of my country differently. I certainly don’t feel the same way about America as I once did, and there is sadness there. I wish I could believe this to be the best country in the world. I wish I could believe the dream of America was more than a dream. But I’ve learned too much.
Sometimes I have to consciously mourn the view the death of the beautiful vision of my country and the accomplishments of those who came before me. If I don’t recognize that need, and accept the reality of it, I might end up trying to deny it. Instead I want to see the shame of it all, the violence done to native people, Black people, LGBT people, and every single new wave of immigrants.
I’m tempted to explain it away, say we weren’t that bad. Didn’t we fight a war to end slavery? Yes, but we followed it up with Jim Crow. Didn’t we make dramatic changes after the Civil Rights movement? Yes, but we followed that up with mass incarceration in a prison system with ingrained racial inequalities which effectively strip civil rights from poor Black people.
I love America, and love requires no dishonesty. When it comes to POC, we have always taken with the left hand what was given with the right.
Since I won’t deny it anymore, I’m tempted to do what come natural in White culture and try to fix this. I want to understand it, come to the right solution, implement that solution, do it with excellence, fix the problem, restore the image of a whole and beautiful America, erase our shame, correct our injustice. But I don’t know how. Even an attempt at this point, with wounds so fresh, would be wrong.
In White culture we are uncomfortable with our imperfections. It’s not okay for us to be broken, to have shame in our history, to not have the answers, and to be less than perfect. But we are far, far less than perfect. White washing our history only brings more pain.
For my part, I’m learning to sit with the reality of White Supremacy in my family tree, in the people who came before me and set-up the country in the way they did, a way that favors me.
I’m learning to sit in the reality that there are two Americas: The one I get to live in, and the one POC live in.
Owning the shame of my history may open the possibility of a brighter future. Because if I own the shame of White America, I don’t have to hide from it anymore. I don’t have to pretend our country is better than it is.
If we own the shame of our past, there is no need to pretend that the people who tried to tear this nation apart in order to keep race-based chattel slavery intact were good people who deserve monuments. We can learn to be honest about our past, and build monuments to the right people, those who resisted and survived slavery.
I’m also free to believe that our future can be better than our past. I’m free to see that in order to be better, we don’t need to return to the past, we need to transcend it.
In the past, power was kept in the hands of one ethnicity. It’s tempting for us as White people to think that it is our responsibility to solve the racial problems in our society, but we aren’t the ones with the solutions.
People of color have been fighting this fight for centuries. They have been and continue to be my teachers, in person and through the books I read. They are in mourning right now, and I want to mourn, too.
If I am to learn to be any part of the solution, perhaps now is the time for me to enter into sadness. Perhaps this is a time for lament.
I will figure out how to do more. I will keep my eyes open. I will continue to have difficult discussions online and in person. I will look for opportunities not only to search for helpful ideas, but to lift up the voices of POC that we so desperately need.
The solution to White Supremacy won’t come from White people. I increasingly believe that the voices of oppressed people are the moral soul of this country, and if we are ever to learn to be good and just, we will learn it from them.
So let me share first this Jewish Lament, Psalm 13:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
And let me share with you a voice truly capable of inspiration:
After a helpful message from one of my readers, I want to add this caveat: I still don’t think the real solutions will come from White people, but I do think we need to take responsibility, learn solutions from POC, and get out of the way. What needs to happen is to turn over real power and give a real voice to POC. We need to listen to and implement what we learn from POC, yes, but that’s ultimately just a patriarchal way of offering help on our terms unless we learn to actually give up power, give up a voice, give up privilege so that POC can have real influence in ways that are not under our control or our supervision. Solutions offered by those who are privileged tend not to go far enough and not to go deep enough. The first reaction of people like myself to events like this is usually to explain, to say what needs to happen, and solve it, if only intellectually. What White people need is to sit with the gravity and the enormity of this problem that is about much more than one rally, but about a history in this country and in European countries that goes back many centuries. We need to sit with that reality before we act. Trying to come up with solutions in the aftermath is disrespectful, there needs to be a period of mourning, of allowing the gravity to sink in, of feeling the sadness, not of rushing to solutions based on our own discomfort, solutions which will inevitably be superficial.