On Charleston, Hillary Clinton, and black forgiveness

Painting for Mother Emmanuel by Ty Poe

Painting for Mother Emmanuel by Ty Poe

“They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace.”
~ Jeremiah 6:14

I am deeply concerned at Hillary Clinton’s response to the events in Chicago. It is the height of ignorance and, yes, racism, to call for black forgiveness for continued violence against them. Until we as white people have acted vigorously to dismantle racism in America we have no right to call for people of color to continue to absorb its blows.

This is Clinton’s statement:

Rally
Many people of color are speaking out against Clinton’s statement, and I want to join my voice with theirs.

 

 

 

 

 

I would like to repeat, fervently, what I wrote last June after the murders in Charleston. There is no justice in platitudes. There is no justice in crying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. Justice cannot be found in silencing the voices of the oppressed. It can only be found in truly hearing their voices, in calling out with them and for them, and in DOING THE WORK.

On the murders in Charleston

If you only have something nice to say,
Be quiet.

Now is not the time for niceties,
For crying, “Peace, peace”
When there is no peace.

If you have a voice
HOWL

If you have a soul
LAMENT

If you have a prayer, fine.
Say it softly to yourself.

But if you want God to hear you
SHOUT

If you want to pray for peace
WAIL

Rend your garments
Fall to the ground

And stay there until God answers you.
And then get up and do the work.

~ Jessica Kantrowitz

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To my white friends: Four things we can do

Sandra BlandYesterday I watched the video of Sandra Bland’s traffic stop. It is terrifying. It would be extremely upsetting just in itself, but knowing that the jail she is being taken to — for changing lanes without signaling and expressing her irritation to the police officer when he asked her if she was irritated — knowing that she will die in that jail is just too horrible. And there are thousands of black women and men trying to tell us that this is not an isolated incident, that they live in this fear every day of their lives. The least we can do is listen. Friends, the very, very least we can do is listen without arguing.

If you do not have people of color in your life to listen to, find people online. Follow Austin Channing Brown​, Osheta Moore​, Bree Newsome, Karen Walrund, and Yolanda Pierce. Listen to them, and read the links they post. Go to Twitter and look up the hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody and read for as long as you can before your tears blind your eyes.

If you can’t do anything else, just listen.

If you can do one thing more, acknowledge their feelings. Say, “I hear you, and I’m sorry.” It helps to have your pain acknowledged, to know that someone hears you. It matters.

If you can do one more thing after that, lament. Go to twitter and look up the hashtag #welament, and add your voice. You don’t need to write a poem or say anything profound. Just say something. Say the names of the victims of the Charleston shootings. Say the names of Sandra Bland, Yvette Smith, and Shelly Frey, say the name of Dajerria Becton. If you don’t have your own words, retweet the words of others. Mourn with those who mourn.

If you start to understand, and want to do one more thing, acknowledge your own complicity. I’ll start:

I, Jessica Kantrowitz, live in a country that was built on slave labor and has deep roots of racism and inequality. Regardless of how kind and inclusive my own thoughts and actions are, I participate in and benefit from the hundreds of small ways that the system is skewed in my favor. As long as I continue to accept those advantages and remain in a place of privilege, I am complicit in imposing disadvantages and inequality on others.

If you don’t believe my confession above, or don’t think it applies to you, please go back to step one. Please go back to listening. And maybe read this post by my friend Jaime Jennet: A Love Letter to Middle Class White Folks. This is a hard one, I know. I understand if it takes a while. Please just keep listening, keep reading, keep trying to understand. Things are not going to change until more white people understand what racism really is — not a personal attitude, not the way you yourself treat people of different races and ethnicities, but the whole history, culture, and societal structure of the country in which you live. And, do you know what? This systemic, institutional racism is hurting us, too. Listen to how lovingly James Baldwin wrote about it in a letter to his nephew [brackets mine]:

“For these innocent [white] people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it.”

Our own freedom is at stake, here, too, friends.

Listen. Acknowledge the feelings of black women and men. Lament. Acknowledge your own role in institutional racism. These four things can change our hearts. And when our hearts are changed, we can begin to change the tide of history. There is much work to be done, but we can’t get down to work until we really understand what is going on and what our own part in it is.

Thank you for listening, friends.

Much love,

Jessica

On the murders in Charleston

Painting for Mother Emmanuel by Ty Poe

Painting for Mother Emmanuel by Ty Poe

Ever since Wednesday night I’ve been reading post after post by black women and men sharing about what Charleston means to them, and the deep pain and injustice that is still inflicted, every day, on people of color in this country. One theme that has been emerging is the request for white people to do something — to first say they’re sorry for what has happened and listen to the pain and the stories of black men and women, and to then find ways to work to combat the systemic racism in America. Some writers offered suggestions. But many emphasized that it is up to white people to find ways to do it. As Karen Walrund wrote:

“Finally, remember that while racism is an issue that black and brown people have to deal with, it is not our issue to fix. Racism is a systemic problem created by those in power — white power — and therefore it is an issue that only those in power can fix. So please keep this in mind before asking any of your black friends or acquaintances what it is you can do to fight racism: while the question comes from an instinct that is certainly understandable, as an ally, what we really need is for you to be creative and come up with ways that you can put an end to racism yourself. To be even more blunt: being creative for you is not our job.”

I don’t have many ideas yet. But I’m still listening, and I’m trying to be creative. I definitely appreciate that Karen’s call is to be creative, rather than to be organized or to be efficient — creative is more up my alley.

I did have two ideas, neither of which made a lot of sense, but which I did anyway. One was to write a poem, which I’ll share in a minute. And the other was to go to church. If you know me or have been following this blog for a while, you know that it has been a while, and that I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with Christian community. It was just two weeks ago that I wrote about a nightmare I had about going to a church service.

But I just kept thinking about those nine people, faithfully showing up for a Wednesday night prayer meeting, and I knew I had to be brave and go, to honor them. It was a good Sunday to be there, for other reasons that I’ll probably write about soon. It wasn’t particularly profound in terms of the reason I’d come, to bear witness to the men and women killed in Charleston, grieve with the body of Christ, and vow to work towards racial justice in this country.  The pastor spoke briefly about Charleston and said a prayer, naming all nine of the people murdered. The rest of the service was dedicated to something big happening at that specific church which needed to be discussed, and that was fine. But I felt whatever purpose I’d had in going had been fulfilled. We prayed, we bore witness. And the things the church is working through will help it to continue to work for justice and reconciliation.

But there is more to be done. It’s a busy week, so I don’t have time to write much more. But I’ll share my poem. It was inspired by Yolanda Pierce, Osheta Moore, Karen Walrund, Deidre Riggs, Austin Channing Brown, and many others. It was inspired by black women, but it was written to white people, and to myself in particular. What will our response to Charleston be? What work are we being called to do?

On the murders in Charleston

If you only have something nice to say,
Be quiet.

Now is not the time for niceties,
For crying, “Peace, peace”
When there is no peace.

If you have a voice
HOWL

If you have a soul
LAMENT

If you have a prayer, fine.
Say it softly to yourself.

But if you want God to hear you
SHOUT

If you want to pray for peace
WAIL

Rend your garments
Fall to the ground

And stay there until God answers you.
And then get up and do the work.