My heart hurts.
That’s about the extent of my ability to explain how I am feeling today. Our current reality in North America is so messed up. I find it difficult to articulate what emotions and fears are surfacing within me. Humans are treating each other like garbage. It’s 2020 for heaven’s sake. What in the actual f*** is the matter with people? Have we all lost our humanity? Did we fall into a dystopian land in some kind of cinematic apocalypse? Can I return this video to Blockbuster? I am not satisfied with the storyline. I wish I could re-do the story with alternate endings, as I could in the Choose Your Own Adventure books of my childhood.
I am a white woman. I carry the privilege of my whiteness in an increasingly heavy backpack a la Peggy McIntosh. Like most of the world, I’ve seen the video of George Floyd. I couldn’t wipe my tears fast enough. The pain was so evident. After a minute I stopped seeing Mr. Floyd’s face and many other faces flashed in front of me. Students, colleagues, athletes, friends… all the beautifully-coloured people of every shade and hue whom I know and love. I have looked at the stories of the black people who have been killed by police – the numbers are staggering and each name feels like another rock in my backpack. I may not have known them, but their lives should be equally as important as mine or yours.
When I find it hard to articulate my feelings, I turn to literature. Usually poetry. Sherman Alexie wrote “Hymn” in response to the 2017 Charlottesville protests and the death of Heather Heyer. Eerily and sadly, it also fits what is happening right now. In the excerpt below, which is the final quarter or so of the poem, there is a call to action that strikes me to my core:
So let me ask demanding questions: Will you be
Eyes for the blind? Will you become the feet
For the wounded? Will you protect the poor?
Will you welcome the lost to your shore?
Will you battle the blood-thieves
And rescue the powerless from their teeth?
Who will you be? Who will I become
As we gather in this terrible kingdom?
My friends, I’m not quite sure what I should do.
I’m as angry and afraid and disillusioned as you.
But I do know this: I will resist hate. I will resist.
I will stand and sing my love. I will use my fist
To drum and drum my love. I will write and read poems
That offer the warmth and shelter of any good home.
I will sing for people who might not sing for me.
I will sing for people who are not my family.
I will sing honor songs for the unfamiliar and new.
I will visit a different church and pray in a different pew.
I will silently sit and carefully listen to new stories
About other people’s tragedies and glories.
I will not assume my pain and joy are better.
I will not claim my people invented gravity or weather.
And, oh, I know I will still feel my rage and rage and rage
But I won’t act like I’m the only person onstage.
I am one more citizen marching against hatred.
Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.
We will march by the millions. We will tremble and grieve.
We will praise and weep and laugh. We will believe.
We will be courageous with our love. We will risk danger
As we sing and sing and sing to welcome strangers.
Maybe the pandemic has people realizing what really matters (or what SHOULD really matter) and they are becoming more vocal, willing and able to stand up and speak out against injustices. “Alone, we are defenseless. Collected, we are sacred.” That’s powerful. But instead of becoming the collected, people are choosing sides when what is really needed is to start the conversations that are so desperately overdue.
I don’t know (nor will I ever profess to have) any of the answers. What I do know is that I CAN SPEAK. Even though as a woman my voice often is considered inferior, I still have a voice and those of you who know me… well, y’all know I have a big mouth. I will speak out against injustice, even if I’m the only one talking.
I can identify my privilege and I can speak out and help others in becoming educated so they understand what they may not yet recognize about themselves or their friends or their neighbours or their elected leaders. Enough with the “All Lives Matter” response. It’s hypocritical and ignorant. ALL lives do NOT matter to all people … and that is the issue. THAT is what is causing unrest. People can only stay silent and still for so long. That energy must go somewhere. It cannot just evaporate. We must LISTEN! And then, when we listen and learn and understand, we must speak out.
As an educator committed to truth and reconciliation and to being an ally to all people of colour and all who are marginalized… I vow to learn more, do better, BE better. I will take my responsibilities as an ally and an advocate very seriously. I commit to having the hard conversations – in my home, my classroom, my community, and beyond.
Please, think about your part in this, because we ALL have a part. There is so much sadness and anger right now … and if you don’t know or understand why people are sad and instead focus on the anger and the hatred, you might be part of the problem.
Sending love and light to all in need…