On Michael Brown, Eric Garner, A Loss for Words, and Hope Anyway

I tried to write tonight, but my heart is stuck.

Kind of pffttt.

A little bleh. 

And I know why my heart is stuck; only, I don’t much like thinking about it because it makes me feel helpless and afraid and like I can make no difference at all. ReleaseNeverAfraidBut I have a sign I made this summer which sits on my desk and reads, “I release the belief that I must never be afraid,” so I’ll write anyway, even with a sticky heart full of fears both petty and powerful.

My heart is stuck because of Michael Brown.

My heart is stuck because of Eric Garner.

My heart is stuck because of Trayvon Martin.

Now, my heart isn’t stuck so much because I’ve Picked a Side, but because I straddle the sides and find myself heartbroken for the less and less subtle racial divide in America, heartbroken for the families of these men specifically, and heartbroken for the many dedicated, honorable policemen and policewomen of all races who faithfully serve both law and peace and yet find themselves on public trial.

I find myself in the middle of this mess, and it’s very personal. It affects my family. It affects my children and the way we live our lives. And I’ll bet I’m not alone, here in the middle. Here with my sympathies running wild and to all sides. I’ll bet I’m not alone, and yet I haven’t heard many voices like mine. Saying “racial oppression is very real” and “the system is broken” and “there are people who should be held accountable” and “there are good people trying to do a good job to treat people fairly and enforce the law.” Both/And. I haven’t heard a lot of that.

Mine is not a story of personal racial persecution, of course. Not my story as a white, middle class woman in America. Have I encountered discrimination because of gender bias? Sure; I’ve had my fair share. But it’s my children – my Asian and Latino babies whose hearts I hold – who’ve pulled aside the curtain and let me see into a world different than mine. Despite living in a house together. Despite eating at the same table. Despite all the advocating I do for them and the advantages I try to give them. Despite their educations and upbringing. They live with one foot in a world different than mine.

photo 4 - CopyMy heart is stuck with my son.

Stuck with my son whose brown skin has already changed how some people treat him.

Stuck with my son because, now in his teens, there are people who no longer see his brown doe eyes or his ridiculous long lashes. They see THREAT. Not Tender Heart or Sweet Soul. They see MENACE. 

My heart is stuck with my son because people find his Guatemalan features suspicious. They’ve called him Spic already, and Retard because he has special needs, and both terrible words will happen again. And again. And again. The deck is stacked against him, and the deck embedded in his skin and in his brain… and in the hearts and minds of people he encounters. The deck is stacked against him, and I can’t fix this broken world or the words we call each other. 

Like I said at the beginning: Helpless. Afraid.

I’m afraid someday he’ll be walking in a store with his hands in his pockets.

I’m afraid someday he’ll be walking down the street in the dark.

I’m afraid someday he’ll commit a minor, stupid crime.

And I’m afraid he’ll pay with his life because THREAT.

So I stand peering through the curtain into a world that’s not my own, living, as I do, in a land of privilege, and I watch headlines that read “Trayvon Martin” or “Michael Brown” or “Eric Garner” but I see them as My Son

Perhaps Helpless and Afraid are some of the roles we mommies simply must play in this life. Perhaps they’re just part of it. Bit parts if we’re lucky. Helpless and Afraid as characters in life’s script. They can steal the show, though, sometimes. Sweep it clean away.

I want the story back from Helpless and Afraid. I want to put my spin on it. I want to beef up the roles of Hope and Help. I want to argue with my fellow playwrights to cast Love and Light as our leads. But our collective story is more muddled than that. More muddled and messy and mired in the muck. 

And so my heart is stuck with all those who have to maneuver through lives filled with injustice.

My heart is stuck with my son’s and daughters’ communities of color. My adopted communities. 

My heart is stuck with police officers who preserve and promote peace, who build up communities, who selflessly put others’ needs ahead of their own every day, but who are on trial by the public anyway. 

My heart is stuck with the Us-ness and the Them-ness of it all. And with my inability to be, fully, an Us or a Them. 

And I’m stuck wondering how we, collectively, move forward in ways that make us, truly, a nation of liberty and justice for all. Not blind to our failures. Not unapologetic or defensive. Not full of unrealistic, Pollyanna style bandaids over gushing wounds. But a people of hope. 

A people of hope.

That’s what I wish for us.

And, with that, I suppose I’ve found my words tonight after all, and I’ll end by sharing this, which I wrote originally on day of the Sandy Hook shooting and reminds me that hope is, after all, always on the way… and Light is with us to the marrow of our bones.

The Light and the Dark

We sit in this season of darkness. Cold. Helpless. Lost. Afraid. Consumed, at times, with our despair and our weakness and our lack of control over life and death and the events in between.

It doesn’t seem strange at all that it’s winter. I can’t imagine today without gray.

And yet.

And yet.

There’s a part of me that cries out against it, this soul-sucking sorrow. This agony and angst. There’s a spark, bright inside me, that quietly waits with its hopes and its wishes and its sweetness and its aches.

This is the season of darkness, it’s true. But I believe today more than ever that one of our most profound acts as human beings, and perhaps our most unifying, is our insistence on celebrating the Light at the exact time it appears lost to us.

Do you know that we all do this? This Light Dance? We do. All over the world, across genders and borders and creeds, we do.

We Swedes wreath our eldest daughters in candle crowns at the Festival of St. Lucia. We Dutch hand our children lanterns in honor of Sint Maarten who showed kindness to a stranger. We pagans light bonfires at the winter solstice and dance naked in the snow. We Jews light the Menorah faithfully for eight nights because we believe that somehow, miraculously, Light will find a way to keep shining. We Christians burn the candles of Advent, anticipating that Light will walk among us, at once as frail as baby and as strong as God.

We celebrate Loi Krathong in Thailand. And Diwali in India. And in doing so, we defy the dark and choose hope instead because we trust, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Light is coming. That Light, in fact, is already on the way.

Everywhere in the world, we rejoice in this triumph of Light over darkness as though we believe it will inevitably come to pass. We are ludicrous, ridiculous, irrational, and unreasonable people to do such a thing. And we are gorgeous and stunning and amazing for celebrating the Light as though we’re already victorious. For celebrating Life in the midst of death. For celebrating Peace in the midst of pain.

So come, Light. Come quickly. We’re ready for you. Especially now. Especially today when the darkness edges close. The spark inside us beckons you home, keeping the faith, and it knows your best secret. The spark inside us knows the darkness doesn’t win in the end.

photo 2 (74)

 

……….

“The Light and the Dark” was originally posted on the day of the Sandy Hook school shooting.
December 14, 2012
In loving remembrance.

 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
14 comments
  1. […] On Michael Brown, Eric Garner, A Loss for Words, and Hope Anyway by Beth Woolsey – “We Christians burn the candles of Advent, anticipating that Light will walk among us, at once as frail as baby and as strong as God. We celebrate Loi Krathong in Thailand. And Diwali in India. And in doing so, we defy the dark and choose hope instead because we trust, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Light is coming. That Light, in fact, is already on the way.” […]

  2. So well said. I am not a Jesusy or Churchy person at all, but honey if you had a church and preached like this, I would come. Love to all.

  3. I am never comfortable talking about this b/c of what a previous poster mentioned; the sheer number of people not interested in having a rational discussion but the opportunity to tell you what a contemptible idiot you are for having a different opinion. But I’m always genuinely shocked when people share stories of such blatant racism. Because seriously, what does skin color have to do with a person’s heart? I literally cannot imagine doing that to someone so why does anyone else? It makes no sense to me.

    And for what it’s worth, I know it’s a black & white pic of your son (with the lake in the background) so any “impact” of his skin color is muted but . . . the first thought I had when I saw that was he looks like such a genuinely happy kid – like good heart kind of happy, not malicious glee – and then my second thought was he has beautiful eyes. I had to read through your post before going back to the pic and trying to imagine somebody viewing him as something less. And it still felt just weird . . . how do people learn to judge like that??

  4. I am of Spanish heritage with German thrown in, my own Mother was dark skinned and I learned from people’s hate early! She passed from this earth young, I could never understand why people would say such crap things about her skin color. I moved to san diego California very young to be with my grandmother who was dynamo of a human being only about 5 feet tall but what a pistol she was, dark skinned and lovely..She held on until I nearly graduated from college and taught me two wrongs never ever make anything right, God knows what people do and he will take care of them, KARMA..With California now the largest state with non-whites why can’t people just get along, we are all the same inside and out no matter what our color is we truly are, I am a baby boomer, living in Portland Oregon graduating from high school in 1966 I think the hatred whites have about blacks and brown colored human beings now in 2014 is worse than what it was in 1966 I really really do. Why can’t people realize we are all the same basically yes we truly are and to hate one for this or hate one for that is just plain ignorant and stupid it truly truly is, hate begats hate and vice verda, how can people say horrible things to others and then claim to believe in any God, they are not what I would say is remotely their brothers keeper..Where is the peace that the bible says to have in one’s life, no where..I read your blog and nearly cried, I am the only member of my family who is dark skinned and I got a lot of shit for it most of my life, thankfully I am married to another minority jewish and he has never cared for anyone or anything that is prejudice fighting for the oppressed his entire life..I could have never married a personw ho did not have peace and justice in their heart and soul..I will pray for your son and your family, I fight the good fight thru kindness and peacefulness, to me it is the only path to happiness..XX()()

  5. Thank you for addressing this on your blog! As someone who benefits from the system of white privilege I was born into, I feel REQUIRED to speak up, speak out, support and be an ally. We can no longer remain silent and comfortable and we need to respond to the call for fairness, justice and truth telling that’s happening right now. We need to trust that the experiences of people of color are largely not the same as ours. I’m feeling lost and stuck and unsure of the next step too, but I recognize that this is a defining moment for our society –to choose to step closer to love and away from hate– and that needs to be respected and honored.

    And so I want to urge all of us who are considered white to not look the other way, not shrink back, not flinch not look for excuses or exceptions and not expect people of color to carry this load for all of us. Because we are all in this together and none of us will truly thrive until we ALL can.

    If any white folks reading this are feeling unsure how white privilege might pertain to you, I would respectfully throw it out there to please google The Invisible Backpack by Peggy Macintosh as a great first step to understandIng how we’ve been born into something larger than us that inherently hurts others.

    May we all walk together toward love and light.

  6. Thanks for expressing what I feel. I too am a middle class white woman. My children are African American. 4 of them are boys. I do worry for them that they will get into trouble based on the perceived THREAT of their race. I console myself that they are light skinned so maybe they won’t be seen as black or mixed but I truly truly HATE that I feel that way.

  7. I tried to express the idea of “both/and” last night on a Facebook thread. I didn’t realize I was having a conversation with someone who didn’t want to exchange ideas or feelings but who simply wanted to express contempt for mine. He ended his side of the discussion with a crude and tasteless poem about the Michael Brown incident that he finds to be funny. I found it heartbreaking. Thank you for this.

  8. My daughter is black, five years old but looks younger and charms everyone – no problem. My son is six and a half, and he’s black – and already he looks much older. For now I can only be grateful that they’ve grown up in Africa so far – but in a few years we’re planning on moving back to the states, and I’m terrified. One side – I so want to give them both the opportunities that living in the US would open up to them. I want to be close to my family. I want them to know what it’s like to get together with family for every holiday. But I am already so scared of having to teach my little man about racism and hatred and slavery and… ugh. Before I had kids, I thought it would be easy to talk about this stuff with them – now I can’t bear to break the innocence on their faces. It sucks. The whole thing SUCKS. On a PS, though, I do believe you can be FIRMLY on the side of the protesters while still recognizing that just because the system they operate within is racist and deeply flawed, doesn’t mean all cops are. I have seen what truly incompetent and downright harmful policing looks like here – the US has a long way to go before they’re that bad.

    1. I agree. Just b/c I’m firmly on the side of the innocent victims and protestors and against racism doesn’t mean I’m saying all cops are bad and always wrong. Not in the least. THESE cops (and Zimmerman) were wrong, murdered people, and should have been punished.

  9. I am glad you are writing this, and I desperately hope things will change. I think they can, although it will be slow going, and apparently an uphill battle when I listen to examples like the one above. I can’t believe we all live in the same country, states, communities, and yet because of the color of our skin we might as well live in different worlds. I am white, as are my children, and I will never have to educate my children on how to behave in public so they don’t get shot. I will never have to tell them not to wear low, baggy pants or people will be scared of them. As you said, I’ll never have to warn them about hands in pockets (!) or running down the street. And the fact that so many people have this as part of their lives? That sucks. It may be reality, but it is not ok. It is not fair. No, I need stronger words. It is abominable! Abhorrent! Do we have to accept that this is “the way it is?” Yes for now, but that does not mean we have to accept that this is the way it will always be or the way it should be. I reject that notion. I am hopeful. I think we can hold all people to a higher standard–especially white people. It is time now. Lets do it!

  10. Thank You.

    Because speaking out is the first step of change. It may not be fast, it certainly won’t be easy, but we all can play a part. No matter how small it may seem (speaking out against it every time we see injustice in action for example) our actions will make a difference. And we MUST make a difference.

    Each time we speak out, each person’s story that is told, each action we take against oppression, is another candle we light in this darkness of ignorance, racism, fear and hate. This is how the world will see the light.

    Thank You Beth.

  11. Thanks for sharing this. I feel this way, too, all the time now. Like my heart is all at once constantly breaking, trying to send the shattered bits in every direction, wanting to heal everyone but helpless to reach anyone. Like the weight of the anger of the world is crushing, but still sticking strong to the thought that hope will rise… if we can just reach out in the darkness, with our tiny candles and hold hands together, we can lift up together. but it’s scary to reach out into the dark, afraid you won’t find the hope you are desperately grasping for.

    I feel lucky to know yours is one of the hands out there in the dark.

  12. My heart is stuck too. Broken into a hundred jaggedy bits. And I feel so alone in this. Because I’m the only one, or it feels like the only one, in my biological family who is furious and terrified and grieving. My pastor was too busy to go the rally we had in downtown Portland, and then he posted an image (that one, the one of Devonte that is so popular for many wrong reasons) on the church fb page and I seethed. I raised my hand during community prayers 2 weeks ago and asked us to pray for Ferguson, and my pastor prayed that “they” wouldn’t riot.

    I feel like we are wounded, our country is one big wound, and I can’t stop crying.

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