A friend posed this question on Facebook regarding racist rhetoric: “In 70 years, haven’t we learned any better?”
Since becoming part of a biracial family, I’ve explored possible answers to this question more times than I ever previously imagined. Events like the recent White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville force the questions. Where one answer resolves, more questions pop up faster than youths at a newly-blessed refreshment table.
Sorting through the quagmire of questions, one truth continues to surface. When white people who care about their brothers and sisters of color say nothing (in the grocery line, on social media, at the polls, in class, church, work, and school), the two voices resounding are the overt racist and occasional victim. The result? More polarization. More pain.
Since the majority of America falls (silently) somewhere in between, what will inspire us? How can we help turn concern into action? More questions, I know. I offer an analogy with the intent to encourage my white brothers and sisters who find themselves in support of those who suffer at the mouths and hands of others’ hate, but don’t know quite what to do about it.
Sometimes people skip a funeral, because they don’t know what to say to the survivors. At some point though, nearly all of us will feel compelled to attend, because we care for one or more of the survivors more than we care about our own comfort. Or, maybe we know what it’s like to lose someone. Inside the funeral home or church, as we wait to approach our grieving friend, we rehearse what to say.
I don’t know what to say…How are you?…Let me know if you want to talk…I’m so sorry…
Nothing will sound right. Nothing will sound like enough. It’s okay that words fail the situation. It’s awkward. Grief and loss are the worst! This is a key time when our presence means more than words. They will remember that we were there, and it counts. It really does.
Today in America, people of color endure heightened threats to employment, liberty, and life, and tragically, some threats become realized. With every white supremacist rally, violent act, or racist-fueled murder, our brothers and sisters of color inside and outside the Church lose something — dignity, security, confidence, and I don’t know what else. Let’s ask. And then, listen.
Like a funeral, we will not receive an invitation to attend their grief. Instead, we must watch for it in tweets, on Facebook, across the Church pew, and anywhere else we notice our grieving friends and family members. There will not be a scheduled time to approach. We don’t have to dress up, or rehearse. Just show up! Say anything to acknowledge their struggle. Their loss.
I don’t know what to say… How are you?… Do you want to talk?… I’m so sorry…
Nothing will sound right. Nothing will sound like enough. It’s awkward. Though, just like at a funeral, our presence will matter. So would our avoidance. Either way, actions speak.
Following the horrors in Charlottesville, another one of my Facebook friends, a black man, posted about his experience in a Utah ward on Sunday:
“I sat in church today with a silent prayer for some indication that God was aware of me and the concerns of my heart. Sacrament meeting was wonderful, and the talks were balm to my soul. Sunday School was timely, BUT Priesthood Quorum–oh Priesthood Quorum!!! Tim Heaton gave what will likely go down in history as the greatest prayer I’ve ever heard and that was followed up by words of encouragement from Bishop Kemp. I think I have one of the most culturally affirming congregations in the church. Redwood Ward, you showed up today!! Thank you!!”
Let’s be the Redwood Ward! Let’s circle around the scared and love the hated. We will get better at it. And when we do, we will wonder why we were ever silent about something as basic as the right to be.
(If you’re already doing what I’m suggesting here and want to do more, check out this article, “Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Resource Guide.”)
How is this working in your ward and community? What are ways we can support our threatened brothers and sisters?