My Black Children’s Lives Matter

I am a white woman with two grown black children, and I am genuinely afraid for their lives.

The death, violence, and hatred that we have all witnessed this week should concern us all.  As President Obama stated with such great emotional restraint last Wednesday, “These are not isolated incidents. They are symptomatic of a broader set of racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system.”   The events of this week of violence in America concerns me deeply.  More deeply than I have ever acknowledged before.  And, as Obama said, these events should concern and trouble us all.

No mother or father (black, brown or white) should have to have “the conversation” with their black son to “be careful when (not if, but WHEN!) you’re stopped by the police.  Why?  Because you’re a black man in America.”  [This “conversation” has been happening for several generations.  Watch this emotional video.]  My heart is broken and I am weary of the racial injustice that is woven into the fabric of this nation.  As I stated in an earlier piece:

[As a nation and as a people] we have learned precious little.  Not only do we still nurture hatred, suspicion, and bigotry in our children, we also continue to support and sanction state sponsored violence and oppression against targeted groups and minorities.  What the hell are we afraid of?

I will not counter the #BlackLivesMatter movement with that petty, insensitive and ignorant retort uttered by so many white people who feel uncomfortable discussing racism in the shadow of yet another murdered black man.  Feel the discomfort.  Be appalled and horrified by the violence our nation continues to suffer because of poverty, bigotry, and oppression.  And please, I beg you, stop contributing to it with hateful, inflammatory speech and insensitive remarks based on nothing but fear and ignorance.

This world seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket and I am feeling ashamed to be a part of a race that causes so much division, fear, bigotry, racism, and poverty in our world.  I am embarrassed by all of the ignorant comments on social media that clearly come from the narrow perspective of white privilege.  If you have the courage, I invite you to stop and consider what it is like to be a minority in America.  Everyday of your life.  Everywhere you go.  With nowhere to hide from those who fear you based solely on the color of your skin.  I have tried to imagine this and have fallen short, even though I have heard and experienced the hatred and prejudice of white people while out in public with my black children.  It hurts.  A lot.  Imagine being hurt every day of your life for no other reason except that you are black, and devalued by society.

I cannot speak to pain of racism and oppression in this country as my own children surely can.  I cannot speak to the feelings of cultural duplicity that they must feel or the tension of having one foot in one world and one foot in another.  I cannot possibly imagine what it is like to be a black man or a black woman in this country.  Or can I?  I am, after all, a member of the human race, am I not?  My ability to empathize with someone else’s pain is not limited by the color of my skin.  When I read reports and commentary on racism, or when I watch the news in horror, do I not feel a deep frustration at the unjust system that fuels hatred and fear, and targets black men in this country?  Of course I do, and so should every other human being.

But they don’t.

The deaths/murders of two more innocent black men at the hands of white police officers this week has left me feeling inconsolable.  The ambush on police officers in Dallas leaves me feeling hopeless.  The relentless violence that engulfs our nation leaves me feeling deeply troubled, sad and weary.  If we continue to meet violence with more violence, and hate with more hate (MLK speech on “Loving Your Enemies.”), then is it any wonder that this country remains racially polarized so many generations after the end of slavery?  As Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

The whole issue of racism in this country has me questioning everything.  Again.  After all these years I still do not understand it.  I do not understand how civilized people can continue to cling to a system that is complicit with racism and bigotry in an age that is groaning toward a more progressive and egalitarian society that embraces and celebrates diversity in all of its forms.

I just don’t understand anymore, and I’m afraid for our children and their future.

Grant us peace, Lord, for we are in desperate need.

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A Profile of Racism In Our World

 

I began this draft back in February of 2016 when I first read Kristian Davis Bailey’s account of his horrifying experience in Israel and the West Bank.  I’ve visited this draft several times since, but was never satisfied with it overall.  That is until I awoke this morning to the news of yet another mass shooting/killing in Orlando, Florida, in the “good ol’ us of a.”  Again, I am without words to describe my horror, sadness and grief.  And, saying the obvious, “my thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” sounds hollow and small.

How can I relate?  How can anyone relate?  Only those who have lost loved ones to hatred, violence, abuse, and death can relate.  I only know that today I cried tears of compassion and solidarity with the many who mourn the loss of their loved ones, their ideals, their innocence, their joy, and their belief in a world where peace and love always conquer violence, hatred and fear.  I still believe in these values and truths, but today…. I’m a bit shaken.

 

At the risk of offending just about everyone I know, I want to talk about the evils of racism {and, after today’s terror in Orlando, we can add to racism:  intolerance, hatred, homophobia, and bigotry in all its forms}.  Not as a white woman, or as a white woman with children of color, or as any label I may be stuck with, but simply as a member of humanity.  Quite honestly I have always been a bit naïve and/or idealistic when it comes to relationships, so I’ve never understood how societies continue to justify racist and unjust laws, racial profiling, and blatantly racist and ignorant speech.  What disturbs me even more is how these advanced and so-called “civilized” countries turn a blind eye to the poverty and violence such racist behavior perpetuates upon targeted groups.

Again, given the tragic events in Orlando today, I am horrified at the numbers.  The US leads the world in the number of mass shootings.  We have more guns in circulation than any other country, and there are about 40 million more guns than people in America.  Appalling!  I do not, nor will I ever, own a gun.  That means that most gun owners in the US must own more than quite a few guns one gun.  Personally, I do not feel “safe.”
Back in February I read an article on Color Lines by activist and journalist Kristian Davis Bailey.  He was on his way to a conference in the West Bank where he was one of the featured speakers on Palestinian and Black solidarity.  Of course he was racially and politically profiled and treated so horribly and unjustly that I simply have no words to add to his own detailed report on the events that followed.  SeriouslyClick the link and read the article. In Kristian’s own words he has “no illusion about what occurred” to him at the hands of Israeli border agents, nor do I.

I am baffled and deeply saddened by the obvious take-away here:  In the last 100 years (and more!) we have learned precious little.  Not only do we still nurture hatred, suspicion, and bigotry in our children, we also continue to support and sanction state sponsored violence and repression against targeted groups and minorities.  What the hell are we afraid of?  Peace?  Love?  The possibility of authentic joy?

I know that poverty is at the very heart of the violence and hatred we see all across the globe, but I’m naïve & idealistic.  I believe that there is more than just one person in every nook and cranny of the world that has had enough.  I want to believe that we can change this culture of violence & hatred into a culture of peace & love.  I want to believe this with all my heart, but today…  I am shaken.  I am truly shaken.

Holy Week Reflection: Contemplation to Action

I’ve been in “contemplative-mode” these last few days.  It seems like everywhere I look social media, news media, and politics across the globe are all a-buzz with commentary, actions & petitions, and legal battles on everything from gay marriage, & the environment to sequestration, & gun violence. Some of what I’ve read is very good; some of it, not so much.  As someone who advocates for peace & justice, I cannot approach any of these issues from my initial feelings of anger & frustration, or from a position of self-righteous indignation.  I must take time to reflect or my action degrades into nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction.

In a recent Lenten reflection on the example of Archbishop Oscar Romero, Fr. John Dear, S.J. writes about many examples of Archbishop Romero’s actions and includes stories from the new book Monsenor Romero: Memories in Mosaic by Maria Lopez Vigil (Orbis, 2013).  I have not read the book yet, but I was struck more by one of Fr. Dear’s thoughts:

“It’s important not to love ourselves so much that we’re not willing to take the risks that history demands of us,” Romero said in his last homily, one minute before he was assassinated at the altar. That’s an important lesson for all of us — laypeople, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals and popes included. History, and the Christ of history, demand we take risks on behalf of suffering humanity and creation itself. Romero shows us we do not have to be afraid. We, too, can go forward, do what we can, speak out as best we can, and try to make a difference.

When I consider what is taking place inside the Supreme Court this week, or in the Oval Office, or the “back rooms” of Congress with the lobbyists from Monsanto, or what is happening in war-torn places like Aleppo, Syria, or in ordinary places like the kitchens & living rooms of activists, I am overwhelmed with humanity and a sense of humility.  I can read one article and feel angry that such things could happen or that such people could act this way or that.  Then I read another article about something else and I am filled with joy, delight, or a feeling of hope in the basic goodness to be found in people here in the US & around the world.  But then I read yet another article, tweet or news report about more acts of violence involving drones or a handgun and I am filled with despair again.  I either have to stop reading all of this, cut myself off from the world, or I have to adopt a healthier way of responding to it; without fear as Archbishop Romero’s example suggests.

Burying my head in the sand is not an option if I am to “move forward, and try to make a difference”, so I must develop a healthy alternative to riding this emotional roller-coaster.  As an activist & advocate for peace & justice there are many amazing examples of men & women who can inspire me; Archbishop Romero, Ghandi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Fr. Thomas Merton, Fr. Richard Rohr, those I marched with during the CIW march last week, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, and countless others who make headlines only as “protestors”, “occupiers”, or “insurgents”.  I believe it is necessary to feel angry, hopeless, or frustrated at first when faced with injustice, but then I have to reflect, contemplate, and/or pray about how to respond to it in a positive way.  If I don’t reflect and pray first, then I am no better in my reaction than those who perpetuate the injustices that outrage me.

Words are important.  Activists take action against injustices, they do not just react.  There is considerable thought behind their actions so that their efforts do make a difference and affect a positive & just change.  That, I believe, is why non-violence is the key to successful activism.  When we react to injustice without thinking, our words & actions can appear or sound aggressive or violent.

Simplicity is important, too; it is also sometimes the most challenging thing to put into practice.  I like reading Fr. Richard Rohr’s daily reflections (the Center for Action & Contemplation).  His insights are often simple and obvious, but always rooted in love, contemplation, & non-violence.  Fr. Dear’s reflections are also a call to fearless contemplation, non-violence, and action (Pax Christi).

As Christians around the world enter into the Triduum of Holy Week my prayer is that we all reflect on the Passion of Christ, the injustices and pain present in our world today, and how we can respond to God’s call to action on behalf of the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized of our societies.  I hope I don’t ever have to be as fearless as Archbishop Romero or a Syrian freedom fighter, but if I am called to take a great risk, I trust that God will be in it with me.

A Good Influence?

 

I’m not sure if it is a character flaw or a strange gift, but I tend to contemplate on things that I experience on a small, seemingly insignificant level, and then transpose them into a larger context as it may relate to world events.  Sometimes I love the way my mind races, and other times I think I’m just really weird!   Example:  In one of my 5th grade classes I have three of my best-behaved, well-adjusted young girls sitting with a young boy who is very undisciplined & rather disruptive.  (Well, of course my hope is to have some of the “good influence” rub-off!  I’m a positive person and an American with a self-appointed-saviour-complex!)  After a while though, whether you are a child of 10 or a country with good intentions, you might just snap and throw a pencil at the “bad boy” who just doesn’t know how to “play nice”!  (She felt terrible, by the way, and he looked justified when I corrected her behavior.  Not unlike some leaders and their nations in the news of late.) This is probably first year psych-major stuff, but what do I know? I was an art history major!

So, how is it that educated men & women of privilege in positions of political power (i.e. DC lawmakers) don’t see their own flawed ideology when it comes to drone strikes & US foreign policy? We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be outraged at gun violence in our country & the tragic deaths of innocent children while condoning the use of drones in places like Pakistan and Yemen. As we argue for tighter gun control, how many is too many innocent lives lost? What’s the “magic number” that will get us to act? 5? 6? 8? 10? 26? 556? 1,000? At what number do we say “enough is enough” and take action to make some change? Are American lives more valuable than Pakistani lives? Is the tragic death of an American Child worthy of more of our tears than a Syrian or Afghani child? An American citizen, a Pakistani, and a terrorist all have mothers & fathers, spouses, siblings, sons & daughters who will all mourn their loss. Innocent children are being killed by drone attacks, disturbed gunmen, and by the misfortune of being born in a war-torn or impoverished country. They are waiting for those of us with good intentions to act. How much longer will they have to wait? How many more innocent lives will be lost & how many more will mourn the loss of their loved ones before we do act?

Whether we act as individuals, as groups, politicians or nations, we must act. Too often we do nothing because we feel overwhelmed by the scope of everything, but that’s the very point when action has its most powerful effect! We can be the “good influence”, but only if we act compassionately & unconditionally. Below are some sites I found that advocate for gun-control, non-violence, and other paths to peace & justice, especially peace & justice for children trapped in war zones.

As for my 5th graders: I’ll continue to pursue peace talks & other creative means for peaceful co-existence. I think they know that I love them all & only want the best for them, & that’s a start.

American for Responsible Solutions
Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
Drones Watch
War Child Charity
SOS Children Charity
Save the Children-Syria

“Culture of Death” is Not a Culture I Want To Be a Part Of

It usually takes me a day or more (or several) to absorb, contemplate, and respond to the kind of violence we in the US have experienced yet again with the horrific and overwhelming massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. The mandatory Facebook rants, reTweets, and petitions for immediate action have all been read and responded to, or ignored. Of course the customary & predictable political statements continue to be featured in the news, and now the NRA has finally made its incredibly senseless statement in response to the Sandy Hook tragedy. Personally I have run the gambit of emotions this week & I’m drained. For years we’ve all heard the term “culture of death” thrown around, but what does it really mean & how do we respond to it? As a woman of faith and a woman of art I can honestly say that this so-called “culture of death & violence” is not culture at all & I want no part of it!

Lately I find that people in “advanced” western society are more concerned with their “rights” and “privileges” than with something as primitive & common as “culture.” What do these words really mean? How do we define “rights”, and what is “culture”. I’m very fond of the dictionary. As my college Philosophy Professor John Ellsworth Winter, III used to say, “the dictionary is your toolbox”, and as Hawkeye Pierce once said, “If marooned on a desert island, the one book I would want is the dictionary. I figure all the other books are in it.” With that in mind, I opened up my toolbox looking for a bit of culture, and this is what I found: “The training, development, and refinement of mind, morals, and taste.” And (my favorite!): “6. Anthropol. The sum total of the attainments and learned behavior patterns of any specific period, race, or people, regarded as expressing a traditional way of life subject to gradual but continuous modification by succeeding generations.” Well, there you have it!

What I continue to see in our society is a pattern of accelerated regression of our minds, our morals, and our taste in art and expression. For the most part, the very things that help to define culture are not being improved upon; music, art, academia, social norms, government, and basic human rights. Where is our “advanced” sensibility when Hollywood, the arts, and the media glamorize violence? What makes our government so great when our laws show the world that we care more about “gun rights” than we do about “human rights”, our nation’s children, or the healthcare and safety of our citizens? If this is our culture, then I want no part of it.

The definition of “rights” is quite telling as well. The dictionary mentions justice, morals, standards, and truth. Pope Paul VI is quoted as having said “If you want peace, work for justice.” I believe this to be true, for without justice, there is no peace. Just ask any parent who has lost a child to gun violence. Ask anyone who has ever experienced helplessness, fear, anxiety, or anger. This “culture of death” society has made death & violence sexy. This creates a sub-standard, amoral, unjust society. And that’s the sad truth. Again: No culture here.

The United Nations “Declaration of Human Rights” uses words like “freedom, justice, and peace” in the first line of its Preamble. Throughout the 30 Articles of this document I am reminded of just how much more work we have yet to accomplish if we, all of Humanity, want to continue to modify in a positive way this thing we call Culture. Articles 29 & 30 are worth reading as they proclaim that we all have duties or responsibilities to the community, and in exercising our rights and freedoms we do not disregard the rights and general welfare of others. Although Article 3 is familiar to most US citizens (life, liberty, and security of person), I seriously doubt that our nation’s founding father’s or those who drafted this UN document had automatic weapons in mind when speaking about a person’s security.

I want to be a part of a culture of life and joy, and so do many people I know. To change our patterns of behavior we all have a responsibility to work for peace and justice every day. Like so many others I’ve talked to or listened to, I don’t have any answers. I only know that I am deeply saddened by the deadly violence that occurred in Connecticut last week, and I am troubled by all violence, war, and injustice. I will continue doing whatever I can to promote peace and justice, and I will continue to hope & pray that one day we will again be a society where our culture reflects our love & respect for all life.