I sent them out the door in the nearly 90-degree heat which is a heatwave here in Northern California. Our relatively liberal little town nestled 30 minutes north of the Golden Gate bridge is the perfect place to be able to walk out the front door and hit open space on foot within minutes. Yet today, I hesitated. They wanted to get out. They needed to get out. Day 75 of shelter in place (and yes, I am a rule-follower). But Jonathan was wearing a hoodie with a ski buff around his neck in case he ran into someone and needed a face shield. A hoodie. In 80+ degree weather. And Desean wanted to bring his pocketknife (which I promptly nixed)- while wearing a mask. And my kids have brown skin. So I hesitated.
They talked about climbing trees at the park and I warned them to be careful. Not because I was worried they would fall – they are 14 and 15 – but because I honestly had to think twice about someone calling the cops on them. Incredulously the youngest asked, “Mom do you think we are going to fall?”, when I voiced myself. Just how do I word that I am worried that someone could call the cops and that it could end badly? I thought, maybe #killedwhileclimbingtrees is not a hashtag I want to add to the growing list that people of color need to think about in order not to get killed. I thought that I have only been at this for 5 years. Only 5 years. My black and brown friends. I am so sorry. I cannot imagine how exhausted you must be. I cannot imagine spending a lifetime in skin that just happens to have a color that can get you killed. Mommas – I see you, every day from the time your boys are past being “cute” and turn into threatening just because. I am so sorry.
I have been playing with what my voice is in all of this for quite some time now. I have written intermittently about raising my boys of color and my learnings but how many more stories need to hit the news that I feel I need to address before I figure out what to do. For heaven’s sake I JUST wrote about Ahmaud Arbery a few weeks ago. And now we have #christiancooper and #georgefloyd. So where, as a white woman, who is slowly understanding her privilege, do I go? No one thinks they are a racist. I can post indignant thoughts and musings on FB and get all kinds of likes but until we as white people and particularly as white Christians start to understand what it is to be black or brown in this country things will never change. It is almost trendy to stand with our brothers and sisters and act outraged (and yes, this is truly an emotional situation for many of us) but unless I am acting on this nothing will change. And I have failed.
Jen Hatmaker wrote a post this week. You can find it here but her wording struck me. I encourage you to read every word because this is reality. Here I sit, under my ceiling fan, typing, in hopes that one person can take a deep breath and address the words that we don’t speak out loud. I think about the words from Jen’s opening paragraph… “I felt threatened” and “he resisted,” and “she did not comply,” and “he matched the description” and “I was afraid for my life” – what she calls code words for modern day white supremacy. All the excuses people make for rationalizing yet another person of colors untimely death or harassment. I realize I cannot begin to change the world until I address the implicit bias within myself. We all have it. The difference is in whether we decide to address it. This part isn’t easy – at least not for me. To challenge the notion of how things should be and how we support the status quo by staying quiet. To challenge myself that I can have thoughts that are intrinsically biased, but I need to look in the mirror and figure out where that came from and to question on what basis they are grounded. To listen to my friends of color. To listen to their stories – to really listen and not just make assumptions that they are paranoid and over-reacting because it makes it easier for me as a white person if this isn’t real. Because folks, this is real. Our brothers and sisters are hurting. They are tired. They are burdened and they are afraid every time they walk out the door. Every. Time.
I have been trying to find a great Bible story that integrates my faith with all of this, and I am coming up blank except that I know that this is not how Jesus would want the world to be. We are living in a broken world and the hope of Jesus is the only thing I can cling to on some days. Some other blogger will come up with the great parallel, but I don’t want to let that hold me back. I don’t want to wait too long to post this before I second guess myself and get chicken. We can scream and shout about our rights being trampled because we are asked to wear a mask or we can’t get our hair cut (and yes, I realize it is more complicated than that and honestly more power to you if that is where you are at) but does this matter one iota if your fear is getting killed when you walk out the door? Maybe you think I am over-reacting. Maybe you claim that you aren’t racist and that there is always a reason that someone of color died. The list of reasons is long. Some thing a person “did” or “didn’t’ do”. But I have never once worried that my or Sam’s (my oldest) lives would be put in jeopardy by leaving the house and that I would have to legitimatize every action I took or every action my kids took to make our lives worthwhile.
Nobody thinks they are a racist. And maybe racism the word is where we go wrong because it is so loaded with our fraught history of taking the indigenous land from the native Americans and our history of slavery. But for the second post in a row I am challenging myself to do better. To do more. This cannot be the story of the America that I love. This cannot be the story of humanity. This cannot be the story of Christians not shouting from the tops of mountains in order to move them. (How is this even a polarizing topic?) I re-read the post from earlier this month and can hardly believe I am writing this again. I breathe a sigh of relief as my boys walk back in the house sweaty and unharmed. My sisters and brothers, I hear you, I see you, I cry with you. And once again, I vow to do better.