White People, Our Silence Is Very Loud

You may have noticed (because I shouted it from the rooftops) that The Huffington Post published my recent blog, detailing my perspective on the racial climate of our culture.

I wrote it because I felt compelled to be a voice of support to the black community.
I wanted to my black friends to know that I see them. I see what they face each day. I see the obstacles the color of their skin present. I see the outrage in their souls when another injustice rocks their community. I don’t necessarily understand it all because I have not walked in their shoes. But I know it’s there.

I obviously could not have known to what degree my words would resonate with people.
I expected some support. I knew there would be some backlash.
I received more support than I could have ever dreamed and less backlash than I would have thought (go, America!).
But what I did not expect is the incredible conversations I’ve had in the last week.
I cared about bridging the racial gap before, most definitely, but after this week, my passion for the cause is immeasurable.

I thought I would write one potentially controversial post and return to life as normal with my suburban mom blog that mostly wonders why boys can’t get their pee in the toilet.

I assure you there will be more urine chat in your future, but for now (and maybe forever), we need to camp out for a bit on my experience with the racial divide.

Even those who vehemently disagree with my blog agree that there is a race problem in America. But what I realized this week is that we have also have a major compassion problem.

Before I explain, I do want to acknowledge the amount of awesomeness from all variety of races that shared my post and talked about their experience (with racism, white privilege, etc.). I read through people’s words with tears in my eyes and joy in my heart, proving what I know to be true: most people in America are not racist.

But what I heard over and over this week is that white silence is very loud.

More on that in a moment.

Back to the compassion issue.

Every single person (literally, every single person) who disagreed with what I wrote cited the exact same argument: “Look at the statistics. Statistics say…” And they would go on to prove their point, the argument rooted in numbers.

The glaring problem with this is that people are more than just numbers. People are stories and histories. We are complex. Smart. Emotional. Spiritual. Prone to fear. We experience deep love and deep wounds. It is impossible to boil people down to a number, to a statistic.

Every race and culture experience consequences of past generations’ poor choices. Statistical data completely removes context. And in the race conversation, context and experience is everything.

Numbers are self-serving and can be skewed in any way your bias chooses.
Numbers don’t tell the full story.
Numbers lack compassion.

One reason we cannot heal the racial wounds in our country is because we lack compassion. We hold so tightly to our own experiences, agendas, political parties, and ideas that we refuse to see it any other way.

I am, of course, not speaking to everyone. I have witnessed so much compassion on this issue. But I am answering those who filled my inbox with their rebuttal:

The root of the issue is you lack compassion. 

Which is why I gave every single person (who gave the exact same argument against my post) the exact same answer: ask your black friends about their experience.

Compassion removes your own pretenses, mindsets, and experiences and looks into the eyes of someone who looks nothing like you and asks, “What is your experience with this?”

(P.S. This applies to every aspect of life, not just race.)

You can tell me every statistic you can find (and how much Jesus they need), but when you look into the tear-filled eyes of a black man or woman and hear their story…those numbers hold exactly no value.

(Sidenote: we all need Jesus. But that has nothing to do with the color of your skin.)
(Because news flash: Jesus wasn’t white.)

The issues of race will not be solved in a day. But we can move toward healing by opening our clenched fists, extending our arms across the racial divide, and saying to a person of color, “Tell me what life is like for you.”

The stories you hear will move you. The ugliness they tell you about will break your heart. The experience they share will leave you changed.

I am always open for dialogue about issues we face, but when you spout off statistics, I know for sure that you’ve never had this important conversation.

Before you send me any more e-mails (I am not even caught up on the ones I have), have this conversation first. Because rest assured, I will not respond until you’ve done so.
(For my back logged inbox, consider this my reply.)

As I said, the negative response to my original post was far less than I expected, and we could definitely all use a reminder of the importance of compassion (including myself). But, as I also already said, I know most people are not actually racist.

But it is not enough for us (white people, I am talking to you) to be “not racist”. Our silence is actually very loud. We must speak out against the racial injustices we see.

Something I heard from my black brothers and sisters over and over this week is, “Thank you. Thank you for saying what needs to be said. It seemed like white people don’t care because so few are saying anything.”

I know the main reason compassionate white people (who stand with black people in their hearts) don’t say anything is because we are afraid to say something unintentionally dumb or hurtful. In not wanting to unknowingly contribute to the pain, we say nothing.

To which my friend, Michele, responded (paraphrased), “Of course you will mess up. But that’s how you learn and grow. Don’t be afraid to mess up. But please still speak up.”

White people, let’s not let fear keep us silent. Even if we fumble and fail, let’s do our best. We say we live in the freest country in the world, yet people walk around everyday who don’t get to be truly free. Be the voice of freedom and the companion of the mistreated.

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I have the same dream of Martin Luther King, Jr. where “my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” My children were born into a race where they aren’t judged by their character, but I dream of a world where no one’s children are. And I can only pray the content of my children’s character is such that they will not stand for racial injustice.

For this dream to be a reality, silence is no longer an option. The amount of times I was called “brave” this week for no longer remaining silent on something that burns deep in my soul is evidence enough that our silence is noticed.

The same caveat I’ve made before remains true: I do not have all of the answers.
But we don’t have to know everything to start somewhere. Start with the previously mentioned conversation. Ask a black person their experience. It will inevitably vary, but the undertones remain the the same.

You will be changed. You will undoubtedly do better because, in the words of Maya Angelou, “Those who know better, do better.”

Let’s do better. Refuse to be silent. Speak up. Learn from others. Open yourself to the idea that you may not know everything. Be willing to change. And for goodness sake, stop reducing people to numbers.

Love is always the answer. Compassion always wins.

I leave you with these words because they are as profound today as they were in 1963:

“I refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt. I refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, I’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. 

I have come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now…Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.”
(Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream”, mildly paraphrased)

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One thought on “White People, Our Silence Is Very Loud

  1. Hi Sarah —
    I didn’t pick up on your previous post (or that it was on HuffPost!!! Congrats!!!) until I read this one, but count me in among the suburban white moms with white sons and a white husband who has been until now afraid that the whiteness of my American life made any supportive words I could say wrong or false. I am so sorry that it took until now for me to realize that my SILENCE makes me complicit. But this month, enough has been enough, and every time I feel a twinge of discomfort when sharing an article or a status or a blog post about these atrocities in the country I used to live in that no longer seems free anymore, it has finally sunk in that that avoiding that twinge is doing nothing to help improve the situation. God bless whomever put the words ”white silence” out there. Because YES that is the category I’ve fallen into, crying my ugly cries in the privacy of my own home. But, Lord help us, that is a category that it is easy to move out of. The more of us who can occupy this space for a while, the better.

    Love and peace — Kim

    Like

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