This morning, Pearl, Aviva and I went to a “Voices” service at the tiny Goodwin Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church. The theme was “We see something, we are saying something.” Because none of us has answers but we do know that silence is complicity. Silence is violence. It is better not to know but show up than not to know and give up.
It was a privilege to sit in that small sanctuary. We walked over from home, the three of us, a beautiful September morning. We listened to so many voices, indeed. White people. Black people. Young people and older people. People who marched on Washington and felt more hope 50 years ago than they do today. A woman whose great-uncle was shot in the back, running with hands up, by police in the 1920s. A beautiful young woman whose hands were shaking as she spoke of soul-killing racism in what should have been a safe environment. Another young woman read scripture. We listened. An incredible poem that left me breathless, read by a man whose name I wished I had asked before we left, that began, “If they had told me, I would have stayed an angel.” “I wrote this five shootings ago,” he began. Because it’s like that now. And it has been like that all along, but now there are cameras and the world might finally be watching.
America is in deep trouble. I hesitate to write this because it seems so downright obvious as to be pointless. But to not keep calling it out is to throw ourselves into the abyss of the space between the America we learned in school — the one where pilgrims and Native Americans joined hands at the table, slavery ended, the Civil Rights Movement brought equal rights, and we don’t see color — and the real one, the one where 43% of the American electorate wants to elect as president an ignorant, racist demagogue who incites violence against women, people of color, Muslims, LGBT Americans, intellectuals, activists, immigrants, and the working poor.
After an hour or more of listening, Aviva took the mic. She spoke from the heart about the privilege of taking “a break” from the news. I watched Pearl turn around in the pew to see those sitting behind us, and then around again, to listen to the choir sing “Senzenina,” a South African protest songs in Xhosa/Zulu:
What have we done?
Our sin is that we are black?
Our sin is the truth
They are killing us
Let Africa return
We don’t have to know the words. We don’t have to know the answers. It feels like there are none, and it can feel like speaking is futile in the face of one murder after another. But to not speak is its own violence. And this is ours to figure out. This is ours to fix.
When I did speak briefly, it was as a mother and as a Jew, as a gay woman, and most of all as a a white woman who knows in my bones these words James Baldwin wrote to Angela Davis in 1970: “For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night. Therefore: peace.”
We may not be in Tulsa or in Charlotte, but right here, right here in Amherst — and there where you are reading this, Black Lives Matter and white people need to keep standing up. My voice might shake, but this is not about me. This is about justice.
No justice, no peace.