There’s so many things I want to say.
I’ve typed and retyped and typed some more. Only to delete entire paragraphs, delete 100 words and then delete 500.
I’m typing this mid-June. You’re reading it sometime in July. It’s been a month. Riots. Racism. Death. Anger. Emotions. Resentment. Division. So many words for a month that has often left me with no words. There’s a part of me that wants to scream. The other part is engulfed in sorrow.
I researched the history of slavery years ago for a book I wrote. Read history books that made me cry. It was hard to accept the words as true and even harder to think of the America that I love allowing (and justifying) horrific things done to real people.
It’s not really something to ever bring up in casual conversation. But now is the time. To give voice to our fellow Americans who have felt more vulnerable because of their ethnicity and even more vulnerable because of stereotypes. Quiet our voices and give rise to theirs.
What do I even do? I’ve often wondered how to help, how to make things right, but I’ve been left with my head spinning. So I’m watching Priscilla Shirer, an African American woman and leader, go live on Instagram and talk about raising African American boys and the difference between races. She brings on her white friend, Christine Caine, and Priscilla asks her dad the question I’ve asked all along: “Dad, what Christine really wants to know is what she can do as a white girl?” I laughed out loud as she said it with such clarity. The question resonated with me. I wasn’t around for the atrocities committed hundreds of years ago, didn’t live during Jim Crowe, and I haven’t knowingly committed an injustice against another race.
But I still want to help. Not hurt.
Silence isn’t the answer. Understanding helps.
So I’ve read. I would encourage anyone who cares to do the same. Read “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson. Learn what it feels like to be a wrongly incarcerated African American man in the 1980s. Read “The Book of Lost Friends,” by Lisa Wingate. It’s a novel based on actual letters written by African Americans, desperately trying to find lost relatives who were sold and traded off right before the start of the Civil War.
There’s a boy I love who came to our family for about eight months through foster care. He now comes over for weeks at a time, not because he’s in foster care anymore, but because our family loves him. He’s African American and eight. I can’t do anything about how our country has written his history, but my heart yearns to change his future story. To give him chances that he might not otherwise have if no one stops to notice him. To tell him he’s significant and special and so loved. That our family doesn’t look like him, but our hearts are forever intertwined. Maybe that’s all I need to say. I can’t stand on a podium and tell an entire race how sorry I am, but I can reach out to one life and make sure he’s told how valued he is.
It’s scary to even write about this.
Part of me worries that something will be misconstrued, and I’ll just be another person blasted for trying to say the right thing and somehow still getting it all wrong. Maybe that’ll happen, and that will be ok. I can’t stay silent. I don’t want to not care. I want my friends who are African American to know how special they are to me. And I want to listen. To understand. To hear real people with real problems. Allow them space for anger. Allow space to heal.
Say the names. Of those impacted by racism today. And those impacted by racism years ago.
Lisa Wingate writes that there’s an old proverb that says it like this: ‘We die once when the last breath leaves our bodies. We die a second time when the last person speaks our name.’ The first death is beyond our control, but the second one we can strive to prevent.
I recently stood on a field trip at Destrehan Plantation, reading the list of slaves who lived there. Saying their names out loud. You aren’t forgotten. You lived generations ago, but somewhere in this country, your kin people live on, and I’m saying your name. And I’m saying I want to make a difference for those who live today. May we all somehow strive to make this a better world, where we care more about others than ourselves. And future generations see more of the healing and less of the hurt. This pain has gone on long enough. POV