I had, or perhaps still have, a process to create empathy. Growing up as I child, I don’t remember any truth of the world stronger than my parents’ deep love for me. Despite the fact that it was unquestioned, it was frequently stated. It did not demand to be a requited love but there was no force in the world that could stop it from being just that. From cradle to this afternoon, it has only grown. It firmly held the closest thing that I had to religious certainty- that if anything in creation really could move mountains, it was the love of my parents.
With that love, of course, came both great joy and sorrow. I am fortunate to say that there was much more of the former than the latter.
When I can’t find empathy for another person, for whatever reason, I turn back to the love of my parents.
And I assume that this person- different from me, foreign to me, even the few but frequent antagonists in my story- has that love in their life too. I think, because I must, that all these people were once held in loving arms.
The parents, grandparents, and loved ones of children of color have been weeping for so long.
In that image- the beloved child of color- was my greatest motivation for doing, what was at the end of the day, a task both daunting in its emotional strain and feeble in its effect in the grand scheme of things.
In thirty days I made honest and introspective claims about white privilege in my life though none of them were world-shaking. It started with the easiest, simplest thesis- “I can never fully understand the struggle of people of color”. And a tidal wave from there:
Under-represented. Under-represented in the media. Under-represented in the classroom. Under-represented in the pulpit. Under-represented in the public square. Black culture is a culture that white people envy and thus embrace even as we too often fail to embrace its creators and sustainers. Question: Why is it that Johnny Cash can write odes to drugs and murder but Tupac should be silenced? Question: Why should Martin Luther King Jr. be silenced? Because, make no mistake about it, if the King you know does not make you profoundly uncomfortable, then he has been silenced. Here are some claims for your mis-edification: The clothes you wear lay bare your true character. As does the place you shop. As does the name you give your child (who, certainly, you hold close). End claims. More questions. Is it a race to see how quickly we can turn a victim into a perpetrator? It is a race to see how quickly we can turn black children into “no longer a minor”? Is it a race to see how quickly we can sweep centuries of history under the rug? Filing under best of intentions- “Unless you are Native American, you are an immigrant”. A sentiment aiming for progress at the expense of a muted narrative and many bodies drowned as they crossed the Atlantic. One more question, though. Almost forgot this one. Is it possible for me to wear my Cavs yellow alternate LeBron jersey and not really care about public education in the inner city? Lmk, thanks. Music! It’s still “we shall overcome SOMEDAY”. Pete Seeger, God rest his soul, did not change those lyrics. More importantly, the forty-fourth president did not change those lyrics. Nor did he conclude “A Change is Gonna Come” because yep, it came. Nope, it didn’t. To the Christians– is “Go Down Moses” in your hymnal? Is “Lift Every Voice and Sing”? To the secularists– can you still defend the humanity around the theology? Almost forgot- Jesus was an incarnation of dark pigmentation. Feel free to steal that phrase, a permission never granted to Elvis. Patriotic quote! “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” That was James Baldwin. Did you read James Baldwin in high school? Shakespeare? Odds are on Shakespeare 100-1. Current events (as if these weren’t all current events)! Do you hear “Black Lives Matter” and toss out the words “reverse racism”? Can you name one instance of systemic racism against white people? What are you doing later? Want to watch “Gods of Egypt?” I’d like some escapism from YouTube dash cam videos. Can we #neverforget #emmett #medgar #malcolm #tamir #eric #sandra #oscar #on-and-on-and-on-and-on?
I’d recommend anyone to write about privilege. It was a hugely helpful task for me. Expect backlash. But expect solidarity and gratitude as well.
White friends, you can write about privilege without guilt.
But you can never claim innocence by way of silence.
If you don’t say a word, the weeping will continue.
(and of course, all this dedicated to my best friend and brother Barry)
(Photo Credit: Carly Romeo & CO)