When I was a little girl, I often went to the lake with my dad. Dad, a professional fisherman, spent countless hours on the lake with me right in tow. There was one time per year that we didn’t get in the water or didn’t even go there very often. “The lake is turning over, Carrie,” my dad said. By turning over, he meant all the junk and dead waste rose to the top, revealing the unseen ugliness in the depths below. It returned to its beauty and splendor once it finished this change.
Over the past few weeks, the image of a turning-over lake has filled my mind. Fires have raged. Grief has poured out. All of it exposing the soiled parts of our country; the stains of our past and dirt of our present time.
We’ve all watched the debates and visceral reactions to these three words: “Black Lives Matter”. Just three words but enough to bring people’s full attention. Hit hard by the yearning of unspoken voices who no longer want to be silenced. Nor, should be.
When I first started telling people about my hysterectomy and struggle with barrenness, no one said to me, “Well, you know, Caroline. All stories of infertility matter.” While this is true – that everyone’s stories of infertility or hardship matter – saying this in response to a cry for help or someone’s attempt to invite others into their world is so belittling; ignorant of the important message carried within each and every single story.
Throughout this time, I’ve reached out to black friends about their experiences with earnestness to listen..
“Can I ask you a question? I want to make sure I understand what I think I understand” I said.
“Sure”, she said.
“I want to make sure I understand white privilege – that it means I haven’t had to face what you’ve had to face.” Her eyes opened up a bit more. She sighed, and nodded.
Our conversation unfolded into one that broke my heart. She told me the things she worries about and has to do in order to maintain a small measure of felt safety in this world. She then moved on to talking about her children. Telling them how they should talk, what they should avoid wearing, the actions they take, etc.
I lost it. Tears came; breaking down my heart piece by piece. Guilt and shame and profound sadness hit me hard. My friend is a person of color living in this land of the free, home of the brave.
As a white girl, I’ve been ignorant of the things I’m free from:
- being followed around by security guards in stores
- having to prove I can pay for a meal
- being accused of shoplifting because I carry a large purse
- people moving away from me because I sat down next to them in a restaurant
- being called derogatory names
- anxiety when being pulled over
- having to teach my kids what to say, how to dress or act based on the color of their skin (so that people won’t get the “wrong” impression)
- being questioned if I belong in a certain neighborhood
In the foster care and adoption community, we focus on connecting before correcting. A major part of connection is to validate one’s story and to not minimize the impact of trauma on their lives. So, when I hear people say, “Black Lives Matter”, I say, “Yes, they do.”
And then I turn to Jesus. I think of all the various people he walked with; stories of pain, guilt, sin and loss. Jesus was specific when he addressed each person or crowd. If only we could listen like him. As a believer, I know that racism is the antithesis of Jesus; a slap in the face of every single thing that he lived and died for.
A part of our national history is based on devaluing the lives of non-white people. Systemic racism took root in our landscape and has never gone away. Friends, when we fall at the altar of God, will we be able to say we fulfilled the directive of Proverbs 31:9? (Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.) That we sought justice for those in need of it? That privilege blinded us from seeing the existence and experience of others? Instead of sitting in silence, will we stand and shout?
As our nation is turning over, showing us the yuck and filth below, will we choose to look away because it’s more comfortable? I sure hope not. Resistance to discomfort brings change and progress to a stop – in our own lives, in the life of our nation.
As a young girl, I didn’t like looking at the lake when it turned over. It was gross, especially when realizing all the nastiness that was below me when swimming at one point. However, I waited with hope for it to be made anew. Turning over was essential.
Watching our nation turn over doesn’t disgust me. Instead, it moves me to take a closer look at myself, seek out others whose life experience has been different and to listen like Jesus. I’m standing with hope, eager for change and looking forward to a future free from the debris of systemic racism and injustice.
“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.