Things are never usually black and white. And yet sometimes, they are. Are we willing to face what is black and white so that we can move into the gray and begin to heal? Together?
This past weekend I decided to undertake a stupid project. Stupid, only because I didn’t know what I was doing and completely underestimated the difficulty of the task at hand.
In one hundred degree heat and one hundred percent humidity, armed with a large cup of ice water, shovel, multipurpose hoe/rake, trash bag, and aspirations of recreating our landscape, I began to uproot several dozen Hostas that have been lining our yard since we arrived nine years ago, and have likely lived in and under our soil for several decades prior.
Two full days and less than 50% into my current project, I decided to do something that would have been helpful last week. Namely, research how to uproot Hostas to ensure they do not return. Oops!
What I found both intrigued and intimidated me. I had already noticed the root systems were deep and interconnected, but I was sure there would be some tips out there in internetland to help me simplify this backbreaking effort in ways that would also protect the surrounding area.
Not so. It turns out that when living organisms have had the chance to put down deep roots, roots that have persisted through sun, storm, and snow, they aren’t going down without a fight.
I learned that Hostas, though “prized for their beautiful blue, green, chartreuse (huh?), or bicolor foliage, are almost impossible to kill.”
Wait? What? You are not helping me internetland. You always have a solution. What are you telling me?
Oh, wait. I found a few websites that did offer some advice. These are a few (less than) helpful tips for getting rid of Hostas:
- Sell them on Craigslist
- Pour a gallon of bleach over each plant (umm?)
- Light them on fire (wait? what?)
- Pour boiling water on them
While I will probably wind up choosing option 4 from the above list, to limit risk to life or limb, my weekend in the yard provided ample opportunity for me to sweat out some stress and think about the root causes of some issues and hurts currently surfacing in our nation.
Like many, I have been grieving over the senseless loss of life. I have been grieving over violence and hate. Over the ease at which guns are acquired. Over the hurt. The brokenness. The tension. The division. Grieving over the lack of respect for human life. Over the lack of respect for first responders and law enforcement officers. Over what seems to be a growing inability for us to listen to and empathize with each other, even though I am also quite sure white America has never yet truly empathized with black America’s reality.
I have been listening, praying, reading, thinking, and researching. I have been looking at my family, a family that lives life and experiences reality in both black and white skin, and puts on blue each day. I have been asking God what are we to do? What do we do, God, to dig ourselves out of this current mess? What do we do, God, to heal from our collective wounds? What do we do to help the world see and believe how much we need you and each other?
What we are witnessing on the surface is not something that just popped up out of nowhere. It is certainly influenced by current culture and fueled by media, but much like the root systems of my Hostas, the root systems for the violence and chaos we are witnessing were planted hundreds of years ago when we decided to build a nation under the premise that a certain skin pigment is more valuable than another. A nation where white people were, well, people, and black persons were property. Property that was routinely abused, separated from other family, aka more property, sold off like cattle, and killed at will.
And although we have hacked away at some of the problem from the surface and even planted some nice flowers around and on top of the problem, we have yet to deal with the roots. The construction of race as a hierarchical system, our nation’s original sin, and propensity to value judge based on melanin is so deeply imbedded in our society, systems, and often our subconscious thought processes that, unlike that 1960’s civil rights era when it was clear what we were dealing with, we now mistakenly believe the problem has been solved. Obviously, it has not.
Weeding problems out at the root level is hard. We live in a quick fix, drive through, get me mine now society and that is not going to work here. I would love to be able to hack my Hosta leaves off at the surface and pray them gone, but they will return next year and the year after that if I choose a quick, cosmetic fix. Likewise, we can make new laws and command certain behaviors, but what we really need are new hearts. Because we have yet to uproot racism in ways that are reconciling and healing.
Many people today unknowingly confuse prejudice or pre-judgement with racism. That’s an entirely separate discussion but worth mentioning briefly here. Racism is the belief that one race is superior to another and prejudice is prejudging someone or a situation without all the facts. If you are unsure about the difference, it’s worth exploring more.
An entire group of people cannot be told they are “less than” human for hundreds of years and made to feel less than human and/or a separate sort of human for decades more, due to a pigment in skin which influences neither actual human worth, nor intelligence, nor aptitude, nor ability, and then simply be expected to get over it. The human brain and body simply do not operate that way. Not to mention, this is all recent history.
Here’s the thing. As a white woman who grew up in working class Philadelphia as a third generation American, I would have told you to shove it where the sun don’t shine had you told me I was “privileged” in any way, shape, or form a few years ago. In fact, I’m pretty sure I told several people just that. 🙂
Privilege is what the rich kids were afforded, and I wasn’t them. Privilege was money and social class; it was someone else’s Dom Perignon to my Mad Dog 2020. I was the first person in my family to complete college, the first to move out, and the first to move up. I worked damn hard and while I never wanted for anything, I also never had anything handed to me. I joined the military to pay for college, and learned many lessons from the school of hard knocks. I was not privileged.
Or, was I?
Because I certainly did not have social, economic, or class privilege. But for everything I didn’t have, there is one thing I did have that couldn’t be taken from me that I now realize gave me some unearned advantages over my brothers and sisters of color.
It gave me trust, where they were given doubt. It gave me clean, where they were given dirty. It gave me disarming, where they were given cross the road or lock the car door. It gave me honesty, where they were given side glances. It gave me open doors and lower interest rates to pursue the American Dream, where they were given quota allotments and higher interest rates. My skin color meant, even if no one ever spoke it, that my white body was somehow, in some way, viewed as more valuable to society than brown bodies were.
I didn’t ask for it to be this way, just as I didn’t ask for brown bodies to be deemed less than, and even though I took no part in creating this system, I unknowingly benefit from it. I know logically and rationally that white is not better than black, and most of y’all know that too I would hope. And yet, we are living in a society that has not rectified and reconciled this with lived experiences.
What I hear my friends of color asking is that we simply acknowledge that a bias exists, that we listen to how our brothers and sisters have been affected by this injustice, and that we work to create the America that we have always wanted to be, but the America we have yet to become.
In order to get there, and we will get there, we are going to have to be willing to admit that bias exists. If you are having difficulty believing this, I get it. I totally do. I wouldn’t have believed it myself until becoming a white mama to three brown-skinned children. But now, I get the unique, eye-opening, and sometimes depressing advantage of being mama and yet still observing, because no one would place me as mama without knowing.
In order to heal, I believe that white America will also have to ask for and seek forgiveness. I’m not sure it will be quite that simple, but have you ever had an all-out fight with your spouse or significant other and were certain the relationship was over? The end of the road? We will never be able to recover type of over? And then he or she does something simple and yet so profound. He apologies. And while there is certainly still work to be done, all of the pain and anger seem to melt into an ocean of peace and compassion and hope.
We are going to have to listen to one another. All of us. We are going to have to realize that we can’t know what it’s like to live in another person’s skin. We are going to have to be willing to believe others when they tell us their experience is different than ours. Have you listened to Dr. Brian Williams, the Dallas trauma surgeon who worked on the police victims, or Senator Tim Scott speak about their daily reality as black men in America, 2016?
And while being a law enforcement officer is a choice, unlike being brown-skinned, we most certainly could all benefit from listening to the daily realities of police officers, especially those working in high crime and violent districts.
It’s easy and cowardly to be an armchair quarterback, criticizing and demonizing another person or group of people for a line of work most people simply have no frame of reference or expertise in whatsoever. If you have never lived as a first responder, you simply can’t get it. If you are not an expert in use of force laws, violent crime, taser guns, the number of seconds you have to decide whether or not someone may shoot you, or what it’s like to be traumatized by walking into other people’s trauma day in and day out, then asking and listening helps here too. It’s important to remember that law enforcement officers don’t make the laws, they just enforce them and they certainly should not be above them. They are the front line and face of a broader system that often works against their best interests too.
Right now, however, amidst all the pain and brokenness, there is hope. Whereas anger, hate, and violence are parasites that, when allowed to feed, only fuel more of what we all desperately need to stop, Bridge Building is also happening. There are people who are claiming love, reconciliation, and hope over violence and division. Because we are so much better than the violence we are witnessing. We are all human beings created in God’s image, designed to reflect God’s love and God’s desire for us all to be one, just as the triune God is One. We cannot allow fear and evil to further divide us. We need each other. We are all better together.
And just like rooting out the Hostas in my yard is going to take much more pain, labor, and sweat than I had hoped it would, getting them out at the root level will ensure they don’t return. And I plan to do this sans bleach or fire. It is possible. Likewise, it’s past time that we get to the root of the racial divide in our nation, own it, stare it in the face, call it the liar that it has always been, apologize, seek forgiveness, reconcile, and move together as one people toward understanding, healing, and unity.
My sincere hope and prayer is that each of us and all of are willing to turn away from anger, hate, and violence and all that encourage it, and turn toward love and reconciliation. My prayer is that we realize that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil that will always seek to divide. My prayer is that we would all be willing to listen, willing to hear, willing to apologize, willing to forgive, willing to dig deep and draw out the best in one another in order to work together for justice and peace. The two go hand in hand.
Can we commit to not giving up on each other? It is possible to recreate our landscape? And where is church’s prophetic, reconciling, and peaceful voice? Now it a time such as this. Lord, in your mercy…