Silence is Violence

Goodwin Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church

Goodwin Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church

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.

On White Privilege and Taking Sides

Tutu“It’s like someone getting killed during a funeral service.” – Scott Woods

I do not want to hide behind whiteness or succumb to numbness. So I am going to tell you a story — a story of white privilege. My own.

“Castile is at least the 506th person shot and killed by police so far in 2016, according to a Washington Post database that tracks such shootings.” :: read more  

These are people’s LIVES. Not hashtags, not statistics. LIVES. The insanity of sanctioned racism and murder has got to stop. This would never have gone down this way if he, Philando Castile, his girlfriend (who was HANDCUFFED while police “sorted things out” — this after she watched her boyfriend die of four gunshot wounds), and her four-year-old daughter had been white. If you don’t believe me, you are part of the problem.

A few weeks ago, I got pulled over for driving on the shoulder.

Both of my kids were with me, Aviva in the front seat and Pearl in the back. I was driving on the shoulder because I wasn’t sure if Pearl’s bike was secure in a new bike rack. I had already stopped to check it once, and saw that one of the clips had popped open. I was nervous and decided to return the bike home instead of risking it. But I was driving way under the speed limit, and thus, on the shoulder.

After a mile or two of this, a police officer signaled me to pull over. He asked for my license and registration. I handed him my license, but before I even took out my registration, I said, “Can I just explain to you what’s happening?” He said ok. I proceeded to tell him that this was a new bike rack, the clips had unsnapped, we were about to drive 200 miles north, and I was returning it home so that we could drive safely.

I was nice. I was charming. I was petite. I was white.

Instead of insisting I give him my registration, instead of going back to his car to check my license and background, and instead of giving me a fine, ticket, or even a warning, this policeman stood in the middle of Route 116 and escorted us across the center line into a gas station parking lot. There, I got out of the car and walked freely around to the back, where the officer HELPED ME get the bike correctly, securely, and safely into the clips. Then he sent us on our way to Vermont.

I realized after the fact that my state inspection sticker had been expired. He didn’t even notice.

This — this is white privilege. I didn’t ask for it, but I reaped its benefits. White people — I — need to be talking about these things instead of just accepting and benefiting from them. We need to be doing more to change this. We need to be sitting down and listening, and also showing up and telling stories like this one. And we need to not act surprised, over and over and over, that “this kind of racism exists,” in the words of Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. We need to take sides and take action.

“Last night, I watched the video of the shooting of Alton Sterling. To me, it looked like an execution. This morning, I learned about the shooting of Philando Castile and asked myself, how many more? How many more people of color will be shot and killed by law enforcement officers before we act to protect all of our citizens? No one, not anyone, can hide behind their badge to commit murder.”  – John Lewis

Dig, do your own research and reading, listen, watch, learn, and share. Start and keep having difficult conversations. Take the time to educate yourself. Now is the time to take sides.

Here are a (very) few suggestions. Please feel free to share relevant links in the comments.