There are both too many things to say and nothing to say. I am horrified and yet unsurprised, I am heartbroken for my friends who fear for their children, who have to have “the talk” with their young sons. I am longing for a leader who will work to weave the country back together rather than rip us apart.
I am heartbroken by the violence that has erupted and by the predatory instigators looking to sow seeds of distrust and resentment. I am heartened by the change in reaction we have seen in the last week. Police have knelt with protestors, those they protect, calling out the bad apples in their ranks and refusing to be silent. We have moved from “I’m sorry” to “I see you.”
Now we really have to see each other. Every time we get to this point (and we’ve been here too often lately) I’m reminded of my high school. I went to a public high school in the suburbs of Boston, we still had busing in the late 1990s. I was a teenage activist, co-president of the Social Awareness Club and selected by the guidance counselor to participate in a race relations group. The group was small – I think 3 White girls and 3 Black girls.
The first session was what you’d expect in the 90s – a lot of talk about equality and equal access. The second session was not so easy – we talked about what labels meant – the ones we gave ourselves, the ones we gave others and the ones others gave us. There was yelling and tears, but we came back the next week and the next. Those meetings are what I always think of when I see #Iseeyou, #Ihearyou, because I know that too often we don’t.
Because to hear and to see is hard – it requires asking hard questions and hearing hard truths, it’s about facing the parts of ourselves that we don’t like and that we pretend aren’t there.
From high school memories my mind goes right back to elementary school – my children’s elementary school. Where my children play in a sea of diversity, in a classroom where multiple languages are spoken. It’s those classrooms where my children learned about their heroes: Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks.
When they learned about their heroes. they started to ask hard questions. There aren’t good answers to why grown men threw rocks at a little girl walking to school. But those hard conversations I had in high school taught me that good answers are better than easy ones, that to stop the mistakes of the past from repeating we need to give the uncomfortable answer, tell the uncomfortable truth.
So instead of telling them it happened a long time ago and we are in a better place now – we talk about how important it is to stand up for those who are discriminated against – for whatever reason. We tell our girls that a man named George Floyd died last week because hate still fills some hearts.
We tell them that as White people in America we have a responsibility to stand up to that hate because we might be able to do so without the same fear, that silence should never be the answer. That the fact that we can’t imagine what it would be like to be afraid walking to school, or jogging, or during a traffic stop means that we have the added responsibility to make the world safe for those who carry those fears every day. It starts in the playground by standing up for a friend and one day maybe it may mean standing up for a stranger in the street.
To be an ally is not just to march in the street or to kneel for a moment of silence, it is to teach our children to be responsible for each other. To recognize our own privilege and do better than those who came before us in creating equity. It is to ask our friends and neighbors and maybe even strangers how do we do better and really listen to the answer.
We cannot learn from the past if we pretend it doesn’t influence the present. Ignoring prejudice does not erase it, removing it from our feeds does not kill it, only in confronting it and challenging ourselves can we truly end hate.