I feel I have to start a lot of my stories this way, but, this really happened, I swear.
One day last fall, after a second cup of coffee, I was pushing the double stroller to toddler tumble time and brainstorming ideas for my blog, and I came up with “Social justice Sundays.” I was thinking of all the cool guest bloggers I’d have, issues I would help us to learn about, and suggestions I’d make for my readers to make the world a better place. Then, no joke, I accidentally pushed the stroller onto the heel of a handicapped, African-American man in front of me, causing his shoe to come off. I apologized profusely and tried to help him, but he ignored me. So I went on my way, chagrined, but still daydreaming about my blog series. Then it came to me — the perfect title and the perfect description of what I wanted to write about: “Social justice for the socially inept!”
Throughout my life I have tried in various ways to be an activist, a missionary, a helper, a world-changer, but most of my attempts have fallen short, often in almost tragically comical ways. I’ve gone to Turkey, Morocco, and Croatia, I’ve been to the sites of earthquakes and wars, I’ve been to church basements and homeless shelters, I did an independent study on Christian social justice organizations at seminary. I’ve awkwardly bought coffee and sandwiches for people on the streets, some who said thank you and some who swore at me. I called 911 when I found a man passed out late at night in a subway stop. I derailed a trip to the Boston Calling music festival with some friends in college because there was a homeless man passed out on the street on the way, and I was like, “What about the story of the good Samaritan? What would Jesus do?!” But all these attempts have felt bumbling and mostly useless. I have chronic migraines, which limit my physical involvement in many things. I am very introverted and get overwhelmed quickly in social situations. I have high emotions and tend towards high anxiety, though I’m working on that. But for me, showing up at a civil rights march would be the opposite of helpful. I’d probably get claustrophobic and panicky, start crying, and need the medics to come give me oxygen.
But there are things I can do, things I am good at. I can read. I can listen carefully and think deeply about what I hear. I can write in a way that lets others know they are not alone. So I thought that instead of flying overseas to have panic attacks at refugee camps I’d try to share a little bit of what I’ve been listening to, and start a discussion about it. If you feel similarly frustrated, wanting to do something but not knowing where to start, please join me and fumble along with me. Here at SJSI, all are welcome, grace is given freely, and there are no stupid questions.
Two of my goals this year are to educate myself about race-related issues and to encourage my white friends to come on the journey with me. Incidentally, the white folks I know (myself included) are horrified at what America is coming to and will come to if Donald Trump is elected, but the people of color I know are saying that this is where America already is, and has been.
This thought has been making me nauseous for the past several days. Our nightmare is their reality. It’s tempting for me to want to close my eyes and go back to not knowing this. But yesterday’s primaries are making that impossible. And I don’t want to live in peaceful ignorance while others are suffering. I want to learn more, and to figure out what my part can be in changing things.
So I thought I’d start off Social Justice for the Socially Inept with a book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. I’ve heard this book is pretty brutal to read, which makes sense if you’re used to believing in the Matrix-generated world of a more or less safe and fair USA. A few weeks ago on Facebook I asked if any of my white friends would commit to reading this with me and several did. My copy arrived in the mail yesterday, solid and heavy in my hands.
Will anyone else join us? Will we take the blue pill and wake up safe and sound in our ignorance? Or take the red pill and find out just how deep this rabbit hole goes?
“The New Jim Crow is a grand wake-up call in the midst of a long slumber of indifference to the poor and vulnerable.” —Cornel West
Yours in the journey,