Early in the pandemic, there were piles of memes to wade through on any given day, but there was one which I found to be particularly funny:
Introverts, please check on your extrovert friends during this time of need. They are not OK.
For many introverts, this meme was not only hilarious but pointed out how often introverts are the ones who are expected to adapt in an extroverted world. In a sense, extroverts found a way to make aspects of quarantine all about themselves, their needs, their comfort, or discomfort.
But it’s just a meme, right?
This past week with all the news coverage regarding George Floyd and the woman calling the police on a black man in Central Park, I was flooded with grief.
On Wednesday, I could not get myself together.
I sat dazed in a chair and read a fantasy novel most of the day, now and then glancing at social media littered with hashtags and photos AND videos. I hadn’t anticipated feeling quite so assaulted by the images. I mean, it’s sad to admit but apart of me has become accustomed to this horrific violence. I could spend the rest of this post listing the names of those we know who have been killed because of skin color and leave a lengthy space for the names we don’t know, only their families and loved ones know. Each image, every name, a source of trauma attaching itself to my soul, my DNA.
I haven’t been one who easily picks up a sign or marches for a cause. Maybe I have spent too many years of being polite. I considered myself to be one person in a group possessing a specific amount of assigned power hoping that collectively we might amass some power, some influence, maybe even credibility in this world.
I believed if I dressed a certain way, styled my hair in a palatable way, never put my hands in my pockets while in a store, and chose to let kindness be my guiding principle, then maybe I, this one person, might add a chain link to the legacy of my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles. Extending to my brother, sister, cousins, husband, children, niece, and nephew to shift people’s opinions and obliterate fears about people who look like us.
So when I scroll through Instagram stories and see a quick photo with a hashtag followed by photo after photo of trivial things to me, it is perplexing. Instagram stories last 24 hours but a physical post can last indefinitely. It feels like announcing you are going swimming but only your big toe gets wet. Maybe it feels tolerable to display murder on one frame and a sweaty workout selfie on the next frame. It feels like drive-by social justice, fleeting. It’s like jumping on a bandwagon and deciding when the ride ends. The wheels are still moving for me, for many.
Back to the meme at the beginning of this post, allow me to change it up:
White friends, please check on your black friends during this time of need. They are not okay.
I lost pieces of hope this week. I wish the wearing down of my soul made it smoother but I am unsure. I have never felt more fear for my male family members and especially for my son beginning to tiptoe into adulthood.
I have lived as if racism was my problem to fix. When in reality, it is mine to be healed from and for those who don’t look like me to lend their voices, time, and power to end its deadly message. Racism is not a hashtag. Protests, education, and reading books are valid ways to stand against this evil monster of racial injustice but true healing can only start in my opinion when empathy leads the way.
Empathy is not about feeling bad about something and remaining silent, returning to life as normal because the alternative feels uncomfortable. It is a privilege to be able to return to life as usual without the fears so many people of color bear. It is important to be aware of the privilege of not having to change any part of daily life when it is not the reality for Black people and other people of color.
Can you jog or take a walk without a second thought?
Can you enjoy bird watching without fear of being arrested?
Are you able to drive a nice car without concern you will be questioned about your ownership?
These are rights and shouldn’t be just for some.
My daughters and I have talked over the years about how we unconsciously exaggerate our actions in stores. We want to make it absolutely clear when we touch something that we have replaced it, if we decided against buying it. This is an intrinsic message based on a potential (not imagined) threat during a routine activity of life. This is why I keep my hands out of my pockets, in case you wondered.
Empathy is feeling the pain and refusing to turn away. It is acknowledging your own feelings and turning your eyes from those onto another’s pain. It is a willingness to proclaim your presence beside someone else because their pain is different than your own and experience. Empathy shouts despite the discomfort, it might involve saying the wrong words but affirming a desire to walk together. It’s weeping with those who weep and to mourn with those who mourn. It’s asking “how are you?” and then leaning in, listening without discounting experience, or projecting a defensive stance.
Sometimes it’s as simple as saying I am here for you because I see you.
I wrote this post on Friday and then over the weekend, I had several friends text to check in with me. I was very moved by these offerings. It caused me to debate whether to post this piece but then I remembered one of my aims is to remind people they are not alone. I believe there is at least one other black person who is wondering why there is so much noise online but silence towards them. Maybe they are wondering if they are really seen by those who don’t share their skin tone. They also may fear by a pointed post like this, they will now be avalanched by concern, so many days and years late.
So please be gentle with your black friends and family members.
Check-in by making it about them. Use the correct pronouns. not just how badly you feel.
Listen and then listen some more.
May we walk in love with each other.
May we grieve with each other.
May we share space for uncomfortable words.
May we have the courage to look at one another in the eyes and listen to each other’s histories.
May we have the strength to apologize where we have wounded and may we be people who extend grace to those who simply had no idea.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
II Corinthian 1: 3-4