Sunday, July 10, 2016
I am not exactly sure what to say. But I have to say something.
Whenever these tragedies happen (and God, they're happening way too frequently these days), I am speechless. This is not the world I was taught to believe in. This is not the world I want my children to exist in. But this is apparently our reality, and I need to stop clucking sympathetically, posting a meaningless #thoughtsandprayers on FB, and going about my business.
And I was going to do just that, until a former student called me out. Indirectly, but still.
"I can't help it though, to notice that most of my white friends have said nothing- not all but most. Especially when my former teachers- those that I see as intellectuals and I love following because they always have clever and snappy statuses but yet can't find the words #blacklivesmatter Black. Lives. Matter. And this post is not for all of them and I'm not saying they don't care. Facebook is a platform and your silence is making a statement. We all must remember to use our platform to educate and stand in solidarity with the oppressed."
I think it's very easy for me to say, "Well, I'm a teacher, so I walk the walk. I am not part of the problem. I am actively part of the solution. I did two years of service. I lived in a diverse city for nine years. My friends/coworkers/students of color who know me know that I stand with them."
But I guess they don't. Because how could they when I say nothing?
During the school year, it's easy. In the comfortable womb of my classroom, we have the "courageous conversations". In English class I encourage my students to blog, to discuss, to write write write about injustice and what they believe in. In Drama class we discuss racial inequality in show business, stereotypes in film and theater, and sensitivity around language and trigger topics when writing plays.
At home, my husband and I have long conversations about how sad/enraged/helpless we feel. We've started bringing our 9-year-old into these conversations (and, in age-appropriate ways, our 6-year-old as well). I talk it over with my friends as we shake our heads, sip our wine, and sigh "So sad, so sad."
But on FB? I'm mostly silent.
Why? Well, there are lots of reasons. I'm not saying any of them are right. I'm not trying to justify them. But in trying to examine just why I don't speak out, here are a few:
1) Fear of sounding like a "white savior". My husband and I used to joke, back when we were first teaching in inner-city schools, about the "Dangerous Minds" mentality. (Remember that movie? Michelle Pfeiffer in a leather jacket? Coolio on the soundtrack?) You know--white teacher throws candy bars at her poor little minority students, tells them rap is poetry, busts out some sweet kung-fu moves, and wins them all over by the closing credits? But that is the storyline of so many "white person in the big bad ghetto" movies--viewing people of color as something to be tamed, trained, and "civilized". I cringe a bit at sounding/seeming like that. But is that worse than saying nothing? Are good intentions misconstrued as patronizing or condescending? That's what I'm afraid of. So I say nothing.
2) Fear of seeming racist. Of course my heart breaks when I hear of police--people who actively choose to put their lives on the line for us--being executed in the line of duty. I have a cousin who just graduated from the police academy, and while I'm extremely proud of him, I'm scared of what he's going to face in this current climate. Yet I feel that if I post a simple blue ribbon on FB, I'll be labeled a racist or misunderstood as saying that black lives don't matter. So I say nothing.
3) Fear of sounding stupid. When Senator John Lewis staged the sit-in for gun control a few weeks ago, I was enthralled. What a thing to witness! What a simple, peaceful, but powerful way to speak out! But when I dared to say on FB how impressed I was, I was immediately called an "idiot". I composed a respectful reply and then immediately deleted said "friend". I am embarrassed to say how much that comment affected me, and how upset I got. It was a stupid online comment! But it got to me. (Ugh. Even now my stomach turns.) The sad part is, if this person and I were in a face-to-face conversation, I'm pretty sure it would have gone differently. I don't think we would have changed each other's minds, but I'd like to think it would be civil, maybe even funny, and probably no name-calling. Everyone's so freaking brave behind a computer screen these days. So I say nothing.
4) Fear of alienating people I care about. My mom once told me to never discuss race, politics, or religion. Pretty tall order, and I understand her very good intentions, but I discuss all three of those things on a regular basis. Yet I know who I can discuss those topics with and who I can't. On FB, it's a vast melting pot of a multitude of opinions and experiences. I've always prided myself on listening to both sides of an issue, both views of an opinion. Chalk it up to my Jesuit education--if there are only two known facts/two stated rules/two published stories, the Jesuits will dig up the third and force you to consider it. But I don't see a lot of thoughtful conversation on FB. I see a lot of anger, a lot of pain, and not a lot of listening. I feel like it's shouting into a vacuum--no one's listening and everyone's annoyed. What will it matter if I throw my voice into the mix? Does anyone care? Will people listen? Or will it just piss off people that I know and love? So I say nothing.
Now, it's time to say something.
I am sad. Sad for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Sad for the families of the Dallas police officers.
I am angry. Angry that men of color are held to different standards than anyone else. Angry that some police officers misuse their power. Angry that some people feel the need to kill other officers who are simply doing their job. Angry that those people have such easy access to assault weapons.
I am scared. Scared that there is so much anger in our country, and what that means for our future. Scared of saying/doing/feeling "the wrong thing" instead of owning it and, as I always tell my students, "knowing what you don't know".
I am tired. Tired of reading about yet another killing in our country. Tired of the hate speech. Tired of crying.
I am sorry. Sorry if this somehow offends/annoys/alienated anyone.
But it's better than saying nothing.