A couple weeks back Senator Cory Booker appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert to talk about George Floyd and the protests and the reaction. It’s an incredible interview and I encourage you to watch it.
The whole interview is about half an hour, but there’s about a 15-minute chunk that gets away from the current politics and focuses on racism and this moment in America that is just powerful stuff.
Booker and Colbert have been discussing the protests in Washington D.C. and how President Donald Trump cleared out Lafayette Park for a photo opp, and Colbert asks what it’s like in D.C. right now and if this is a harbinger of things to come. Booker launches into a very personal and emotional response that is worth your time:
This morning our family went down to Minneapolis where George Floyd was killed. There’s basically a shrine at the corner of Chicago and 38th that’s blossoming with art and signs and flowers. It felt like visiting the Lynching Memorial, somber and quiet.
We also drove down Lake Street and saw the devastation from the looters.
It’s been a bit wild to see the near-universal condemnation of Floyd’s death and seeing protests erupt in hundreds of cities and all 50 states. It’s like we might actually reach a moment where change happens.
Our family also marched in a protest on Sunday. I carried a sign that said, “No more white silence,” because I’m so tired of white people (myself included) not being outraged about ongoing racial oppression.
But as we’re a week or two removed from Floyd’s death and the violent riots, I’m wondering if I should have encouraged white people to be silent in a different way. I’m starting to see more and more white people speaking up on social media. Some are encouraging, and some less so.
It’s very obvious right now by what people say and what they don’t say where they stand. There are a lot of people who passionately proclaim, “Don’t tread on me,” who have been silent about literal tyranny in our streets. There are people who bemoan the violence and looting, but say nothing about police killing an unarmed black man in the street. And there are lots of white people with plenty to say who have done very little listening to the black community—or at best have cherrypicked a few conservative black sources who reinforce their racist ideas.
We see you.
Look, I don’t have a lot of answers here.
But I am seeing a lot of deeply white conversations about racism, and that’s a good sign that you’re missing something.
Listen to black voices experiencing oppression.
Don’t dismiss them when you find something uncomfortable or an idea you disagree with. Don’t throw out your ‘what abouts.’ Don’t throw up your own offenses—you being offended about the tone of the conversation or an accusation or a metaphor you don’t like pale in comparison to the real injustices the black community face on a regular basis.
This is hard work we have to do right now. I’m amazed at some of the progress we’ve already made—arrests, charges, national protest, etc.—but we have a long, long way to go.
As Ibram X. Kendi says in his book How to Be an Anti-Racist (a hard, challenging read), “There is no neutrality in the racism struggle.”
Or if Kendi is too “radical” for you, how about a fluffier source for the same idea:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” –Bishop Desmond Tutu
What a crap week. It’s bad enough dealing with a pandemic and all the stress and worry that entails. Then police violence and the murder of George Floyd. Then tear gas and more violence and more death and Minneapolis burning. I don’t have the words.
(Speaking of words, people like to quote Martin Luther King Jr. about non-violence, but he also spoke about riots. Some context on those comments is especially helpful.)
Since I don’t have words, two songs come to mind this week.
Let the People Be Free
The first is a protest song by Jayanthi Kyle called “Hand in Hand.” It was written in 2014 and, because of course, the lyrics are still quite relevant:
The day’s gonna come when I won’t march no more But while my sister ain’t equal & my brother can’t breathe Hand and hand with my family, we will fill these streets …
Mr. Policeman I can’t breathe Lay down your weapons and your badges and listen to me
Jayanthi is also in a chorus group called Give Get Sistet that’s pretty amazing. Nobody is doing performances right now, cuz pandemic, but they’d be an ideal group to bring in right now.
The other song I thought of was Ben Kyle’s “Minneapolis.” The lyrics aren’t nearly as applicable, but the mournful “Oh, Minneapolis” captures about how it felt this morning to see images of the city smoldering.
O Minneapolis, I saw you and Saint Paul kiss Neath the moonlight in a Mississippi mist Never saw a thing as beautiful as this Oh Minneapolis
Rain down, purple rain (I wanna hear the sound) I wanna feel the royal rain on me I wanna feel the holy water running like a holy stream I wanna be baptized in the city in the Mississippi
I had a moment at church last week. The reading was Proverbs 31, and I had to read it to the congregation. Just a few days before, at book club, I listened quietly while we discussed two books on feminism. Proverbs 31 came up and the women in the room expressed frustration with the expectations that passage has put on them.
I’ve written about politics a lot lately. Most of it is hyper-local politics, because I feel like anything else is just noise, but locally I can make an impact. But I’ve been reluctant to write about national politics. It’s just so divisive and I feel like I’m only adding noise.
But I’ll do it now because this is one of those moments.
Before I get into it though, I want to refer back to a post I wrote on Inauguration Day. I talked about how this did not feel like “normal” political division. Trump ushered in something new. I have disagreed with the “other side” before, but I have never felt so alienated in my own country. (That’s certainly a statement of privilege, and I own that.)
So while I talk about current political issues, I urge you not to dismiss me as partisan hack whining that his side is losing. This is something much bigger than that.
If you don’t know much about Fannie Lou Hamer, I encourage you to dig into her history.
Like much of the civil rights movement and the wider fight for justice, it’s many of the same conversations we’ve been having over and over and over again.
Such as standing for the national anthem:
“It’s hard for me to stand up and sing the national anthem. I stand up and I work my mouth, but I don’t always come through with the verses. ‘O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed,’ cuz actually the land of the free and the home of the brave has meant the land of the treed and the home of the grave for so many of us.”
Something I love about Hamer is that she says it like it is:
“This is just a lot of crap that folks talk about the true democracy of this country.”
On Sunday night in Las Vegas, a man opened fire on a concert crowd, killing 59 and injuring more than 500. It’s hard to be shocked by mass shootings in America anymore, but I’m taken aback by the sheer efficiency of this brutal attack.
I’m also amazed by the conversation after the fact. There is incredible resistance to any kind of discussion about stricter gun control. That baffles me.
I wish we could break through this partisan divide and come together to discuss real, common sense solutions that could address gun violence.
Part of the frustration is that it seems like we have the same conversation every time. We hear the same arguments, the same responses, every time. My Twitter feed is full of the same ridiculous quotes, followed by the same refutations of those claims.
Wouldn’t it be easier if we could put all the arguments and responses in one place and be done with it? Let’s give it a try:
Now is not the time to debate politics.
So when is the time? Mass shootings happen all the time in America. Gun violence is a daily occurrence. If not now, when?
“Teach her to question men who can have empathy for women only if they see them as relational rather than as individual equal humans. Men who, when discussing rape, will always say something like ‘if it were my daughter or wife or sister.’ Yet such men do not need to imagine a male victim of crime as a brother or son in order to feel empathy.” (29)
This sort of response happened over and over again in reaction to Donald Trump’s “pussy grabbing” comments last year. Men (politicians in particular) were outraged on behalf of wives, daughters, mothers.
Somehow they couldn’t just be outraged. Their outrage only mattered if it had a relational component.
I know others made similar criticisms at the time, but Adichie summed it up very succinctly.
All people are human beings and worthy of dignity and respect. It’s sad and frustrating that we’re more willing to give empathy when we connect to people. I suppose that’s only practical.
But it cheapens our humanity.
It means we can withhold empathy when we hold people at an arm’s length. It’s how we justify lynching and genocide, or simpler things like ignoring homeless people.
In talking about racism and #BlackLivesMatter, I’ve been tempted to use my son as an example. But I realized I’m doing the same thing: I’m asking people to be empathetic because it’s my son, when empathy should be extended regardless.
We should care about injustice to black people because it is injustice, not because it could happen to my son.
We should fight “pussy grabbing” because it is always wrong, not because it could happen to our wives or daughters or mothers.
We need to learn how to practice universal empathy.
The news out of Charlottesville and around the country in the past week has been bewildering. It’s bizarre to watch a president struggle to condemn racist hate. It’s encouraging to see people come together and condemn this hate, but at the same time I can’t help wondering how we got here in the first place.
We’ve overlooked too much, sat by in uncomfortable silence, allowed injustice to go unchecked for too long.
All this talk of taking down statues is helpful, but we need to be careful that we don’t see taking down statues and condemning groups that should obviously be condemned as enough.
“I will say that there is some danger if it simply stops at taking down statues. … I support the removal of the statues, but I just want to make sure that we’re not skipping over a conversation, you know, by taking down symbols and saying, ‘OK, that’s nice. That’s over.'”
We face a real danger if we whitewash our public spaces of any potential signs of racism, but refuse to do the deeper work of ridding our hearts of racism.
It’s easy to condemn slavery and Jim Crow, to look down on the South and the Confederate flag. But racism thrived (and still thrives) outside of the South. When it was founded, Oregon banned black people from the entire state. The 1951 riot in Cicero, Ill., showed that Jim Crow existed outside the South. Even today, Minnesota has the worst racial disparities in the nation.
We have work to do.
We can’t breathe easy just because we stopped some Nazis.
Its time, Beloved. Its time to commit yourselves to learning. Its time to commit yourselves to speaking. Its time to commit yourselves to writing. Its time to commit yourselves to organizing. Its time to commit yourselves to preaching. Its time to commit yourselves to teaching. Its time to commit to understanding American history. Its time to commit yourselves to the work of racial justice. Its time to commit yourselves to love- whatever that looks like at the intersection of your giftedness and influence.
But when I say love, Im not talking meaningless, polite niceties. You can keep that. Im talking about a love that takes risks. A love that requires sacrifice. A love that protests hate.
Its time to unequivocally protest the hate embedded in white supremacy- not just in the events of Charlottesville but around the dinner table, in the pews, in the classroom, in the neighborhood, in the board meetings, in the curriculum, in the books, movies, and media in your house, and most of all from within your own heart, mind and spirit.