Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Silence is a Statement

Twenty days ago I ran 2.23 miles. On that run, I thought about a young man, Ahmaud Arbery, who had been murdered while running in Georgia only three months before. I shared the hashtag #runwithmaud and #irunwithmaud. I had conversations with my sons about the privilege they have which they didn’t earn. We talked about how they’ve never been afraid while out running. We sat in that uncomfort. 

I’ve thought a lot about that. I’ve had uncomfortable conversations with others when I’ve used the term privilege, or white privilege. I know I’ve upset people, angered some. Excuse me if it sound flippant, but I don’t care.

I ran because a young man was out for his daily run and two white men felt like it was their right and duty to detain him. 


Last October I attended several sessions at our state reading conference. One was from a friend and amazing educator, Cornelius Minor. After the session was done, I went up to say hello to Cornelious and introduce him to my colleague. In our brief conversation, I shared with Cornelius my frustration, what can I do? In a mostly white rural community, how can I make a difference? Cornelius looked at me and said I make a difference by speaking up. By never letting a racist comment slip by. By speaking up when I see the injustice, not staying silent. He said that racism isn’t a black problem to fix, it’s a white problem to fix. Just as it is not on women to fix sexist behavior, men need to speak up, we white people need to speak up when we see racism around us. 

I’ll be honest, I don’t know what good my lone voice does, but I do speak up. I speak up, I read, I learn. I screw up. A lot. But I show up again and try. I have lots of conversations with my sons. They have likely had more conversations about consent, sexism, homophobia, and racism than any other child in this area. But I want them to be aware. I want them to feel like they can ask questions in a safe place. I want them to speak up when they see injustice, so I need to do the same.

This summer I’ve been meeting each week with a book club on Zoom. Our first book was Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. We’ve read others, but then we read Lifting as We Climb by Evette Dionne. The books have taught me a lot. I still have several books in my house to read. I’m learning a bit more each day. What I learn is not great. I am ashamed of our society. I’m ashamed we haven’t done more. 

Yesterday I woke up to the news that George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis while being arrested. That Amy Cooper had called 911 because a black man scared her when he asked her to put her dog on a leash. I watched the video. I was undone.

Amy says she is not a racist and that she was scared. I read this article from Ibram Kendi and wondered, who in America has the privilege of being allowed to be afraid? I remember back to when I saw my son Luke, then around twelve, staring in the backyard. I asked what he was thinking about. He said he and his friends had been playing Nerf wars in our backyard and our neighbors' yards. The boys had hoodies on, scarves over their faces, as they snuck up on each other. They'd run, played, had neighbors wave at them. Never once was he afraid. He was teary when he asked me if he would have been able to do that without fear if he was black. I looked back and had no words. I thought of the fear a mom must have each time her black son leaves home. I wanted to vomit.

On Twitter, Ibram Kendi shared a link to this document. Kendi has said often that it isn’t enough to be “not racist”, but that we must be anti-racist. I’m learning. 

The image at the top of this post is from Instagram user Sirianna_arathi. The entire caption is worth reading, but one part of it truly stuck with me. Sirianna says, “White folx responding to these status’s by asking ‘how much longer can this go on?’ or ‘when will this stop?’...

And the answer is simple.
It will end when white people take action.”

I’m taking action by writing this post, by donating to causes that I can, by reading books and articles that make me uncomfortable because I feel I haven’t done enough, and by speaking up. By working to be anti-racist.

I hope we can all sit in that uncomfort for a bit, recognize that many of us are privileged, and then do something about it. 

Your silence is not ok. Remaining silent is your statement.