Monday, August 14, 2017

When we don't know what to say

There are moments in life when things come up and it is hard to know what the right thing to say is. A friend is diagnosed with cancer, someones beloved pet passes away, someone expresses feelings for you that you don't reciprocate. I often find it hard to find the right thing to say in these situations and struggle to put together the right string of words that will comfort and soothe the other party. What words are appropriate? What will help the situation? How do I say something that will ease the heartache that others are feeling? That is not cliche?

Especially in situations where I have never been through what the other party is facing, it is hard to know what to say.

However, you say something. You try. Could you imagine standing there in silence, never saying anything at all about what has just happened? Turning conversation to whatever was next or going on in your own life, ignoring it completely because it is not a situation that affects your immediate life? You don't turn silent on those that you care about and you don't say nothing for fear of saying the wrong thing. You approach it with empathy and honesty and you try. You say something.

Lately, I feel like we are living through a time in history that is just one prolonged moment of "I am feeling a lot for you right now but don't know the right thing to say." And just as I would never stand in the face of a friend who brought forth a troubling moment in their life to me and go silent - I don't want to go silent to what I am seeing happen in our country.

This weekend the events that took place in Charlottesville left me feeling heartbroken. And partially speechless because I don't know what to say that hasn't been said by someone more eloquent than me. I don't know what is appropriate. I don't know what I could say that would help vs. just rile up more angry or painful feelings. However, not wanting to be silent, although I don't know the right thing to say, let me just try and say something.

I hate what happened this weekend. I hate that it is happening more and more. I hate that we are living in a moment in American history in 2017 where Nazis and White Supremacists aren't even ashamed to cover their faces when they go out to rally. The images out of Charlottesville this weekend were powerful and shocking. How people can proudly wear and show swastikas is beyond me. And the person who holds the position of supposedly "leading" this country cannot outright name the groups that caused some of the violence - such as driving a car into a group of protesters, killing a woman, is painful. It is painful because we know the hypocrisy behind it, if things had been the other way around.

I feel such anger toward the fact this person was elected because we knew this was coming. We saw it. He indicated this in the way he campaigned, his indifference or support of violent actions through his words, and the beliefs of the people he surrounds himself with. I have had discussions with the people in my circles that had different beliefs than me throughout the past year. Many people smarter than I had documented concern and predictions of the type of culture we were deeming "okay" by supporting and empowering a man like our current "leader" and now we are here. I don't know what to say and I don't know what to do and that frustrates me. I know that the person I am directing a lot of my anger towards did not personally participate in what happened in Charlottesville this weekend. So my anger might seem misdirected. And trust me, I don't for a moment, take away the blame of the individuals who actually committed these actions, but I believe the climate for something like this to take place was due to politics. However, I remind myself to put blame where blame is and to embrace others with love because there is no other way out.

I'm trying to find other ways to get involved as well. I am exploring local politics. I continue to read the news and publications of the parties that are different than me. I work to learn about how people who have different beliefs than me think. I continue to have those conversations. More often than not I end up frustrated and angry. I have more than once disengaged for my own sanity but I need to get better at figuring out a way to stay involved and I need (and will) to continue to find ways to channel that into positive actions.

My skin is white and I am in a majority group in almost all ways. Shocking, I know, right? But with that, I am afforded the privilege that my frustrations and my anger is at least not also mixed with fear based just off of who I am. My skin color affords me that.

This weekend in my personal life was a joyous one. We celebrated love with events for the upcoming wedding of one of my best friends. The discussion of what was going on throughout the weekend in Charlottesville didn't come up much except for a small moment on Sunday afternoon. Two of my friends, both black, were talking about another friend, also black, who had happened to be out of town in Charlottesville over the weekend as these events broke out. She had posted about how despite being in the midst of this national terror, she went out for a run while there, not letting fear and terror stop her from doing what she loved. The comment was made in person on Sunday, "I can't believe she did that - I wouldn't have left the house if I were there!"

The response was, "Right?!" and incredulous laughter before conversation moved on. But I couldn't get it out of my head.

When was the last time that I had to worry about leaving the house for fear just because of what I look like? I couldn't get this exchange out of my head it just hurts me that people that I love feel this way.

I get mad at myself because for not being a stronger advocate. I feel helpless to be able to actually affect any change. I feel ashamed for my country to the rest of the world. I feel scared for what is going to happen next. I feel sickened for Heather Heyer, who was hit by a car while protesting against the white supremacy rally. And for the others who have lost their lives, such as Srinivas Kuchibhotla, due to people emboldened by our current political landscape. We can't forget these people, their names, or what led to their deaths.

We all need to keep learning about the lives and experiences of people different than us. We need to approach one another with love and kindness. We need to surround ourselves with people different then us, not push them away or approach with hate. I write these things as a reminder for myself, because I do feel angry. And I write these things also feeling privilege to even be able to write it. I am white and that alone makes it slightly easier. Black men and women in America, my friends included who I have either bare witness to or have heard stories from, have been having to live with this mindset for so much longer than I have. They've had to think and interact and pay attention to things differently than myself or other white Americans have had to.

This weekend, I reposted on Facebook a post from Senator Cory Booker that resonated with me. I didn't add any commentary around it because I didn't know what to say. But regardless, one single person liked it. I typically get more engagement than that and I think it goes back to what I said at the beginning. So many of us don't know what to say or what to do. Maybe people read it but didn't engage with it because they thought it would be easier to not get involved, to be participate in the dialogue themselves. Who knows? Before the elections, I remember having conversations with people who supported the Republican candidate urging them to reconsider and that I was confident that they were standing on the wrong side of history. Cory Booker finished his post on social media over the weekend by saying, "May we all rise to meet the urgent demands of our moment in history."

I hope that more and more people are seeing that this is our moment in history and following what is happening. Reading articles. Having conversations. Learning about others. Embracing people with positivity, empathy, and curiosity. Let's everyone pay attention a bit more and start talking and doing more, even when we don't know what to say or do. Let's channel the outrage we may feel and do something with it. Let's turn it into positivity.

That's it for tonight from me.

From Cory Booker:

The evil of hatred isn’t just the overt torch-bearing bigots in Virginia. The evil of hate is also the ignorance that breeds it, the apathy that sustains it and the Trump-like rhetoric that gives it license to flourish. 

When speaking about so called “radical Islamic terrorists” last year, President Trump said, “Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country.” 

On Saturday, President Trump demonstrated a hateful hypocrisy in failing to name the Neo-Nazi, white supremacist, Alt-Right hate for what it is: not only the cause of the horrific violence in Virginia, but the evil enemy of our Nation’s hope and promise. 

President Trump’s words in his statement -- “hatred, bigotry and violence that's on many sides” -- not only fuels a misleading account of what actually happened but shamefully puts the counter-protestors on the same moral level and as those carrying Nazi flags and chanting vile racist rants. 

I mourn today’s loss of life. I celebrate the peaceful activists who would not be silent in the face of hate. And for those of us watching these events unfold, simply condemning the violence and hate of today is not enough. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., aptly said, “It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation. Not merely for the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people.” 

It is up to us to do more than just look upon the violence and hate on display in Virginia with disapproval. There is serious work to do in our nation from addressing the growing hate and hate crimes in the United States to dealing with persistent systemic injustices in our criminal justice system. 

Condemnation is expected. Anger is understood. But only action, work, sacrifice and struggle will yield progress. The focus should not just be about what “they” did in Virginia, but what we will do where we are to advance our nation toward greater justice. 

I believe in love.

I believe that love can indeed conquer hate. 

But love is not passive. Love doesn’t just sit back and hope that things will change.

Love demands us confronting our own ignorance or complicity in injustice or our own biases and humbly working to change ourselves and our community.

Love is courageous and relentless and it is indeed what our nation needs now.

I believe in love.

I believe in us.

May we all rise to meet the urgent demands of our moment in history.

[Side note: yes, I know that there was another statement made today. This was written by Cory Booker before that occurred and besides, the speech today was not much better.]

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