Of blackness and whiteness and systems and gills……

~~~
I’ve been in the thick of a tremendous wrestle;
feels fearful to share because in hurtful ways I may get it wrong
but the conversation seems important enough
to take the risk so please hold space for my fumbling
~~~

Dear black people,
I didn’t actually see you.
Didn’t see your experience, that is.
I never heard clear all the places where your hearts bleed –
didn’t understand the depth of generational trauma.
Sometimes I wanted you to stop acting like a victim,
to stop being so angry.
It became a habit to just not look

I held a secret hard edge
because of the fear I felt in high school
when the frequent fights would break out,
especially when the friend I rode to school with each day
in his sky blue Volkswagen beetle was stabbed and beaten so severely
that he never again returned to our high school.
I felt undone by the loss and bewildered at your rage.

I didn’t see the system we were all swimming in,
the one set long in motion against you.
I didn’t understand that blackness and whiteness were constructs,
and that in this system my whiteness gave me gills.
I never saw how hard you had to fight to surface again and again for air.
I come from people who taught that we all have a reasonably fair swim,
that if you just swam harder…..
(wince and grieve)
I really didn’t see.

That same system stacked against you – to disadvantage you – was rigged to make
us believe there is no rigging.

And the thing is,  I’ve considered myself a progressive.
I recoil at obvious white supremacy.
But when I watched the recent murders with my own eyes
I realized I was seeing something  that was screaming to be recognized
and that I needed to brave behind that curtain and sit in the discomfort of a painful look and listen.
I took an 8 week deep dive into an intensive with diverse and challenging voices;
actually learned some history (not just the whitewashed parts)
and considered the effects of The Doctrine of Discovery,
Reconstruction,  Jim Crow,  Affirmative Action. 13th Amendment,
–  too many to unwrap here –
that “in the U.S. we often let our institutions do our sinning for us.”
I finally see the spirit of racism is a shape-shifter,  and that once chattel slavery ended,
the evil re-emerged again and again through new policy and law,
still at large and armed.

I realize I cherry-picked the hand-full of black voices saying what I already thought,
realized that we still benefit economically as a nation,
from oppressive,  exploitive laws and trauma to people groups,
that the harm has not been addressed- there’s been no formal reckoning.
The wound is still open on a systemic level even if individuals have heroically moved forward.
Few states have formally apologized, and until we have owned it as a nation,  taken responsibility,
and stopped the effects by deconstructing and re-imagining systems,
that just moving on isn’t even biblical (for my Christian friends).
(Do we think that God is at a lack for strategy?)

I’ve considered that this monster, racism, isn’t political;
that both parties have contributed significant pain
(thank you,  Mark Charles.  And deep respect.  You have my heart’s vote).
I’ve considered what we did,  not just to you,  but to Africa,
considered that racism’s power is to destroy everyone’s humanity.
I’m learning to learn slow,  to take the time to search a thing out,
to not move in a spirit of suspicion toward orgs like Black Lives Matter,
even when I can’t buy into all the internal ideology.
I’ve explored the foundation of conspiracy theory and slander and
grown in respect for the 9th Commandment
(and love for the God who I’m re-discovering as Justice and Mercy).
I’m learning to listen less defensive,  to lose more of my flinch
and let entire ideas roll out like carpet and air dry
rather than hurriedly tossing them with my hasty opinion
(example:  defund police to re-imagine public safety,
or statues – what was the context of the erecting of all these statues?
When were the artists commissioned?  What was going on in society at the time?
I committed to practice slowing my roll,  to listen with humility)

I could hardly stay in my skin at times these last 8 weeks.
My stomach hurt and my heart pounded with shock
and eventually lament.
I’ve stood in the breakers of your unheard voices
instead of diving for cover or scurrying back to shore
as I’ve done so many times before.

For now I have just this,
and I’m sorry for the drop-in-the-bucket nature of my words,

Just this,  dear black people

I acknowledge you.

I acknowledge your suffering,
from the cruel effect of of systems created
in order to advantage one group by disadvantaging another.
By disregarding and dismissing your humanity.
I see you showing up still
and it humbles me.
Your patience, long-suffering,  resilience,  courage – it drops me to my knees.
I don’t know how reparations will be made or when or what my part will be
but I will participate wholehearted.
For now, I just want to thank you.
For who you are and how you rise.
Please don’t give up.

– With love and respect,
one white person who is seeing clear enough at last
to get messy in the fight for change.

“An event has happened,  upon which it is difficult to speak,
and impossible to remain silent.”
– Edmund Burke

Time and space are limited here and I’m still digging out words to do justice
to what is burning and churning in my heart;
I’m not lumping all of anyone together – that’s not my intention.
My language is limited and

I’m wrestling still for the words to cobble together.
Please hold space for my inevitable fumbles.

Congrats to Cathy Davis for winning the giveaway;
I’ll be sending you a Tell Me Something Good bundle.
And offering up another with this post – plunking your name in hat with each comment!

 

When people get brushed off like crumbs….

I’ve been doing some deep dives into the shades of fear and dismissal
that are wrapped in the privilege that came with my skin.
I’m discovering some attitudes that I’ll be keeping
and tossing some been hiding in the basement of my thinking,
like forgotten relics
until the roof got torn off in this storm.

Mostly I’m shutting up and listening,
listening hard for what my ears weren’t tuned by my life to hear.
And I’m loving these new voices I’m feeding on
that sound to my heart like thundering waves and cicadas singing  and warm winds stirring and God.
And even though I’ve been in community with people of color for decades,
I have so much to listen and learn
and so I hush.

But I’m feeling it strong to say something
when exposed to the deep black pain that groans
every single time someone twists the knife with the words
“but all lives matter”
because the sting of having deep pain minimized,
well,  for that I have something of a grid.

~  ~  ~

I’m swept back some years into a living room lit dim as women gathered
to explore how to embrace the courage to shed our shame
to learn to process and share the hidden pain,
because shame gathers strength sitting alone in the dark.
I’d held back,  wrestling to say the thing that made my throat close down
and my lungs fold over tight.
When I finally stacked my awkward words on a ledge and pushed them off,
I held my breath as they fell into the light.

During the sharp quick moments after my words
tumbled to the ground
in that space where I longed for someone to hold them with me,
or say “oh Jen” or come alongside to help breathe just one next breath,
there came the brisk sweep of dismissal that felt like a broom
sweeping up some chips I’d just spilled.
Brushed away quick by the leader
who hopped over my share
as if I’d sneezed into a crowd.

I felt humiliated.
I packed my entrails back up
and held it all tight between my un-cried sobs until I could get to the safety of my car.
The sounds I cried in the bathtub that night
didn’t even sound human and it scared me hard
to hurt so guttural and exposed.
I felt banished in that someone had seen the soft underbelly of my experience
and showed no empathy.

And then when I called the leader on it,  privately,  and asked was this was a safe space for me
she was defensive,  dismissive,  deflective,
and minimized all the feels.
And then struck out how dare I “attack” her so vicious.
I’d never known pain like it. Or since.

~ ~  ~

Bearing a wound and carrying the pain unacknowledged,
(especially from leadership)
is a gut-wrenching and isolating place.
When the black community hears over and over
our protests – “but all lives matter”
I want to scream “stop it!”
Just. stop.
Can we sit with our brother and sister
and share the next breath they need to take
alongside of them?

Can we just squeeze their collective hand and say “I’m sorry.”
“I’m here.”
“Keep talking”
“We’re listening.”
Can we just hold some space for the hurting hearts out there?
Without rushing to dismiss
because it’s way un-comfy
and from our little white bubbles we don’t compute.

Can we please grow our repertoire of tools.
Accept our lack of empathy and focus in on learning to listen,
to becoming the humans we hope to be
– can we stop with the defensive posturing
and let black lives be heard?

If someone sobs and rages because we slam a heavy door on their hand,
can we lean in to see and serve the crushed fingers
instead of chiding them for being unruly in their pain.
We’ve crushed some things.
In sitting with this we will suffer.
Are we willing to do the work of humility
to hurt with the hurting
until a fierce tide of healing rolls in?

Oh God grow our empathy.
May we not leave a single soul alone
in their pain.

“Empathy is simply listening,  holding space,  withholding judgement,
emotionally connecting,  and communicating that incredibly healing message
of you’re not alone.
– Brene’ Brown

Congrats to Linda Mann – your name jumped up in the drawing and I’ll be sending
your package in the mail post haste.
Another art journal up for giveaway this week – leave a comment
to have your name in the hat.
And thanks – always thanks – for coming around.
I appreciate you big.