healing

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{Image is a photo of Dr. Martin Luther King being arrested after a peaceful protest in Birmingham in 1963}

Our white brothers must be made to understand that nonviolence is a weapon fabricated of love. It is a sword that heals. Our nonviolent direct-action program has as its objective not the creation of tensions, but the surfacing of tensions already present. We set out to precipitate a crisis situation that must open the door to negotiation.

I am not afraid of the words “crisis” and “tension.” I deeply oppose violence, but constructive crisis and tension are necessary for growth. Innate in all life, and all growth, is tension. Only in death is there an absence of tension. To cure injustices, you must expose them before the light of human conscience and the bar of public opinion, regardless of whatever tensions that exposure generates. Injustices to the Negro must be brought out into the open where they cannot be evaded.

Martin Luther King speaking to Alex Haley in 1965

I was recently going back and forth via email with an acquaintance who was ribbing me for my liberal political bent. He ended our conversation with a final jibe. “My favorite part about the Obama era,” he said, the words drenched in sarcasm, “is all the racial healing.”

I stared unblinking, the anger behind his words searing my screen and my heart.

There is undeniably racial tension in our country right now, the likes of which many of us have never seen. Because we’ve never seen it, we think it’s new. We think it’s being at best exaggerated and at worst wholly contrived by agitators who shout down presidential candidates, students who oust university administrators, young people who take to the streets when anger and frustration and impotence finally boil over.

But it’s not new. And it’s certainly not imagined.

In 1987, I began my college career at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. An all women’s college, Smith is known as a bastion of liberalism in one of the most socially progressive states in the country.

In 1988, we had a spate of racially charged incidents at Smith. These incidents included the painting of racial epithets on the multicultural center as well as the writing of “N—– go home” on at least two different dorm room doors.

We tried to come together as a student body. The administration emphasized the need not just to respect one another but to report hateful acts. And that was pretty much it. As far as I remember, nothing really came of it. No one was punished. Nothing really changed. We just went on, doing what we had done before.

I don’t remember reaching out to women of color. I don’t remember asking if they were okay. I don’t remember seeing if there was anything I could do to make them feel safer on campus. I don’t remember anything but moving on. Because I could.

Because I wasn’t the one being called an epithet with the power to bring an ugly, violent, angry past into the present. I wasn’t the one being told I wasn’t welcome there. I wasn’t the one fighting a theretofore thinly veiled undercurrent of fear and hate.

All these years later, when the topic of racism on college campuses came up on a Smith Facebook page the other day, the recurring theme from the white majority was, “I didn’t experience it so it didn’t happen at Smith.”

We hear a lot about white privilege. Like the chorus in an overplayed song, even the words themselves have gotten annoying. But tuning out the phrase because it keeps popping up is missing the point.

Being the one who can blithely deny others’ lived experience of prejudice IS white privilege. But pretending it didn’t happen or that it didn’t change the trajectory of lives just because WE didn’t experience it is the worst possible exercise of that privilege. Refuting the existence of racism just because you are blissfully unaffected by it is like denying the existence of the raindrops battering your window outside just because you’re not getting wet sitting inside your house.

So to the man who would snidely say that his favorite part about the Obama era is “all the racial healing,” I would say this ..

We cannot come together without acknowledging that there is a divide. Recognizing — being forced to see, to hear, to understand the fact that racism is not over, that the system is still stacked against huge swaths of our population, that anger and frustration and impotence still simmer just below the surface, has to happen before we can heal a damned thing.

“To cure injustices,” Dr. King said, “you must expose them before the light of human conscience and the bar of public opinion, regardless of whatever tensions that exposure generates.”

Donald-Trump-Protester-Beat-Up-In-Fight-Video-Mercutio-Southall-Was-Shouting-Black-Lives-Matter

{image is a photo of Mercutio Southall being held by security guards after being beaten for chanting Black Lives Matter at a Trump campaign event.}

In Birmingham last weekend, 31-year-old Black Lives Matter activist Mercutio Southall showed up to protest a Donald Trump campaign event. He and two fellow protesters chanted “Dump the Trump” and “Black Lives Matter” in an attempt to disrupt Trump’s speech. In response, he was swarmed by attendees who shoved, tackled, punched and kicked him, and, according to Southalll, called him and two fellow protesters “monkeys” and “n—–.”

When asked about the incident, Trump said, “Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.”

The next day, he tweeted the following:

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{Image is a tweet by Donald Trump rattling off fake statistics on crime attributed to the nonexistent “Crime Statistic Bureau of San Francisco” and featuring a drawing of a black man wearing a bandana on his head and another covering his face, army pants and a loaded ammo belt and pointing a gun.}

I don’t even know where to begin with how many things are wrong with that graphic. I mean, the picture of the guy holding the gun is just reprehensible, but that’s nothing relative to the fact that the whole thing is made up. Hint: There is no “Crime Statistics Bureau of San Francisco.” 

As the mother of an autistic child, I want to curl up and sob when I see false and misleading portrayals of autistic people as violent. When in the wake of yet another disenfranchised white post-adolescent miscreant loading up like Rambo and shooting up an elementary school or a movie theater or yet another college campus and I hold my breath, waiting for the inevitable moment when someone says, “Autism.”

I take to my blog and I write through my terror because I have to find a way to right the wrong, to untie the knots of misunderstanding, misperception, and outright misdirection. I have to DO something.

For the life of me, I can’t imagine how I would feel as the mother of a black child seeing that tweet portraying black men as murderers armed to the teeth and ready to shoot from the leading candidate for President of the United States. I can’t imagine how I would feel watching my son or my brother being kicked and punched and shoved and called a monkey and a n—– for having the audacity to peacefully protest a speech in order to bring attention to the cause of (true) equality. I just know I’d want to DO something.

In that same interview with Alex Haley that I cited above, Dr. King said:

This is why nonviolence is a powerful as well as a just weapon. If you confront a man who has long been cruelly misusing you, and say, “Punish me, if you will; I do not deserve it, but I will accept it, so that the world will know I am right and you are wrong,” then you wield a powerful and a just weapon.

This man, your oppressor, is automatically morally defeated, and if he has any conscience, he is ashamed. Wherever this weapon is used in a manner that stirs a community’s, or a nation’s, anguished conscience, then the pressure of public opinion becomes an ally in your just cause.

This, all of this, is where racial healing starts. With a spotlight on the tension that has persisted for far too long.

Because we cannot heal without first exposing and acknowledging the wounds.
 

 

4 thoughts on “healing

  1. I heard and agree with everything you wrote. We will evolve. We are slowly inching towards a new enlightenment. It will take time and tolerance and all of this is tenfold for minorities. But we will evolve. I have been equally passionate about equality since I was in grade school. And the ignorance was rampant. The inability to relate. These days the people who are incapable of holding multiple perspectives is still large but it’s shrinking. And those who understand the concept of white privilege is growing. And they’re raising children. And we will send them out into the world and the change will come. I don’t think in my life time. But I have hope. I watched a lot of MLK when I was in high school. His words resonated deep in me like a salvation. His hopes and dreams still live in my heart. They haven’t faltered, despite living in the rural deep south. He was right. Thank you for using your platform and thank you for doing the hard work necessary to carry multiple perspectives. And thanks to your mom and dad. They did well.

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