My week has been filled with conversation about race and racism this week, beginning with Dallas Dinner Table on Monday and including a Diversity Dinner and workshop last night at my children’s school. But here is the comment that keeps coming back to me, over and over again. At that Monday dinner, we were discussing the reaction to Ferguson- in the media, on Facebook and social media. And in my circle, which spans the spectrum from far right to far left, I reported that it was pretty tame. I didn’t see anyone saying awful things, or posting mean comments. Maybe I wasn’t on there enough, but in my neck of the world, things seemed sane. A few friends at the table had different experiences. One friend mentioned that her FB feeds were filled with people of color calling out for justice, posting story after story of similar cases, hosting rallies and marches and calls to action. But there was a noticeable lack of white voices who joined up immediately. Sure, some came along later–even though another friend at the table mentioned the near nonexistence of whites who showed up to the rally in Dallas, which was weeks after (and which, gulp, I didn’t attend)–but in that first initial wave, they felt they were met mostly with silence.
This conversation started by me openly admitting I have no idea what to do about Ferguson. I’ve read those posts about what white people can do, and I know people keep telling me not to get overwhelmed by the guilt and grief of it all, but to be honest, I did just that–for weeks, and months, and even now, really. I’ve been processing what is a really complex situation of power, race, and politics, sifting it through specific circumstances, setting it in the even wider complex web of American culture. How do you put quick words to that? How can I summarize in a tweet or a blog post everything I’m feeling about this unrest? I didn’t know how to answer that, so I ended up not saying anything at all.
For as loud as I am, I sure can be quiet.
That’s why my Facebook feed was so tame, you understand. Many of my progressive white friends were saddened and grieved as much as I am, but our profiles spoke nothing but silence. Maybe we think people already know what we feel, or we don’t want the conversation to be pulled into the vortex of angry commenters and debaters about something so violently serious. Whatever the issue, though, here’s what I learned this week: saying something too simple or too easy or even too weak as a response is still better than saying nothing at all. Because when we’re dealing with issues of race, and all your friends of color don’t see you engaging, I can only imagine how alone that can feel. How polarizing and divisive. In a time like that, whatever we can say to bridge that distance and show empathy and support is worth it.
You’d think I’d know this. As a pastor, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people who are feeling unsure about how to comfort someone who is sick or in pain or grieving a loved one: “Look, let’s just get this out of the way right here. You don’t know the right thing to say. You will probably say the wrong thing at some point too. Avoid these few massive pitfalls of things absolutely NOT to say, and pray grace over the rest of it. Show up. Listen. Bring comfort. And yeah, add words, even if it’s just ‘I’m so sorry’ or ‘I’m here for you’ and it seems like the dumbest, smallest thing in the world.”
The one thing you never do is not show up.
So. For my friends of color who heard only silence from me, I am sorry. I will work on showing up, and showing up fast, even if the fumbling grief of my heart can’t find itself into the right words yet.