The day I found out about the death of Ahmaud Arbery was two full months after he was killed. I wept as I pored over the stories covering his murder, watched the video several times, read people’s reactions. I shared from my heart via social media that as long as we remain silent, things like this will continue to happen. I implored anyone who would read my words to leverage their privilege to stop the oppression existing in our own backyard. The words clearly resonated with many; to date, that post has been shared just shy of 17,000 times.
Since then, I have fielded messages, friend requests, and conversations that I didn’t expect to be having; the leader of the Tulsa chapter of Black Lives Matter reached out, a Nigerian man wrote and told me about the hate that is rampant there too, a man living in Kentucky shared that he had been crying all day and didn’t know what to tell his kids.
I was sharing with a friend how overwhelming it has been, fielding these conversations, not knowing what to say, wanting to be an encouragement, a voice of lament, of hope. I found myself exhausted and confused and desperate.
Then, last night, watching a popular TV show from the 80s, a blatantly racist story line comes up. Gaping, I looked at my husband and said, “This is OUR generation. This isn’t something that existed hundreds of years ago and is over. This is happening now.” The truth is, I already knew that. From reading books like Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, and talking to people in my community, and listening to thought leaders share their realities of what it’s like to be black in America, and from reading story after story about the Ahmaud Arberys and Trayvon Martins in our country– from all of this and more, I know systemic and personal racism is alive and well in our country.
But here I was, sharing how overwhelming these conversations have been. Conversations I had been having for 14 days. Conversations about a battle that has been raging for over 400 years.
What a picture of endurance… A nation that forces immigration then denies citizenship to people of color. The bloodiest war in US history. The Supreme Court rules that separate could be equal. Films are made garnering sympathy for the so called “white plight” and implying that slaves were well treated and loved their masters. Desegregation efforts met with devastating violence. Hundreds of thousands march on Washington and from Selma to Montgomery. Hate crimes abound. Humanity denied repeatedly, to this day.
And still, they stand and fight.
“Alongside the litany of suffering that marks the black experience, there is a chant that grows in power in times of crisis. It is in the spirituals and the blues, in hip-hop, soul and gospel music. It is in black poetry, fiction and film. This is a chorus of defiant joy, a refusal to let fear stifle hope.”“Ahmaud Arbery and the America That Doesn’t Exist,” Dr. Esau McCaulley, Assistant Professor at Wheaton College
Individuals live this reality and fight back everyday. Organizations and movements like the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and Be the Bridge continue to do this work. They fight for rights for all. They fight against social brokenness and systemic injustice. They fight to affirm their humanity.
When white people compare the loss of their rights during this pandemic to the rights that were fought for during the Civil Rights Movement, the rights that are still being fought for… When a white woman is arrested at the park for trespassing and refusing to leave the area and is called the “Rosa Parks of our generation”… When words like “oppression and “basic freedoms” are used to describe our current situation, it shows me just how blind we are to what it really looks like to face oppression and injustice everyday. We have no idea.
“We all have stories whereby we are justified, whereby our side is proven to be the right side. But when it turns out those stories don’t square with reality, what then? Do you tell the truer story, or do you clutch at that old story, like a drowning man clutching at a cinder block?
The right stories have the power to align us with reality–a reality that none of us invented, that continues to exist whether we choose to believe it or not.”Truer Stories and a Better America, Dr. Jonathan Rogers
I know it’s difficult, but it’s time that reality was called out and given a long and hard look. It’s time for the truer stories, the right stories to be told.
No more making excuses.
No more saying this is only an issue because we keep talking about it.
No more blindness, intentional or otherwise.
No more shirking responsibility.
No more denial.
No more silence.
Let us open our eyes and ears before our mouths. Let empathy lead us as we lament together. May we not just be allies, but accomplices in this centuries old fight. May we be the generation that sees real change.
May it start with me.
Photo by Nicholas Kampouris on Unsplash