Friday, June 19, 2015

Use the "R-Word"

I get really REALLY overwhelmed when things like Charleston happen. I want to collapse and cry. To ward off completely losing it, I turn to the internet. I read. Articles, blogs, Facebook posts. I try to glean as much information as I can. Not just about what happened, but about how people are responding.

And the biggest thing I noticed last night was an absence. Something missing. I noticed an awful lot of white people are doing a kind of tap-dance to avoid a certain word:

Racist. Racism.

I read fabulous articles about how when the shooter is white, the media is quick to postulate about his "mental illness." Empowering, liberating words for those who suffer from actual mental illness. But even these articles, and the positive responses that followed, avoided calling this event (or the shooter), "racist."

I've seen articles and posts about how this is a heart issue. About how this is evil, awful, terrible. Posts reminding us that it is sin. That the boy who did it clearly had something wrong with him.  Posts about how what happened in Charleston is a tragedy.

Can I empower y'all for a minute? We can call it racism. It's not the "R-Word." We can call it like it is: Racist

All of those things are true: the heart issue is racism. The evil, awful, terrible sin is racism. This young man has something wrong with him: he is racist. Shooting people, killing people, because of the color of their skin is racist. The tragedy that happened in Charleston is racism.

I think I know why it's hard to label it. If you are white, you probably don't have a lot of practice talking about race issues. No one told me what language to use, which words are okay, when I was growing up. I had no models for talking about race. My parents, although not racist people, never talked about it at home except for mild references to how awful slavery was, how being racist is "bad."  And I get it, it's an explosive world out there on social media. Say one wrong thing and a complete stranger blasts you. It's not always a safe place.

Racism is hard to admit. It would be so much better if we lived in a world where racism was part of our difficult past. But it's not. Racism is our clear and present NOW. This week, nine people were killed in their place of worship because of the color of their skin.  We live in a time when this happens. I cried the entire way home after I dropped my big kids off at camp. I was listening to NPR and there was a clip from one of the memorial services of one of the victims. They were singing "We Shall Overcome." That's supposed to be a song from our past. A song from back when people were fighting for civil rights, to be viewed as equals.  But instead, it's a song for today. It's a song for now.

I want to teach my kids about slavery and racism as if they are part of our nation's past. But I can't. Instead, we pulled the kids together this morning to tell them what has happened, why our hearts are so sad, and how important it is that we stand up against it. Because we have a black child, we need to prepare all our kids for how to handle discrimination. That's part of the white privilege we've lost - we can't choose whether to tell our kids about racism or not. We have to. Because they will experience it. And they need to be ready.

But here's where we need help. If you have that privilege - the privilege of not telling your children about racism... the privilege of not talking about racism - would you give it up?  I know lots of y'all know me and my family personally and y'all love us. Can I ask you a favor? Will you talk about what happened and use the word "racism"? Will you start telling your kids that racism IS and not that it was?  Tell them it's happening, and then prepare them to stand up for what's right. My kids are going to need some allies. We are preparing them the best we can for the day they need to stand up for justice and equality. That day will be a little less lonesome if they have some buddies to stand next to.

Because this morning, we had a family talk and prayed together. Amani and Allyn both sat in my lap. Allyn threw her arms around her brother as we talked, expressing how the news of Charleston scared her because of Amani. And his response nearly did me in: "this hurts my heart," he said and Riley cried.  And as we prayed, my tears fell on my children, white arms wrapped around black. And it felt lonely. I feel unmoored. I don't want to raise my children in a world where this happens. Yet it has happened and it is happening.

We need some allies. And it's long overdue. Will you stand up? Use the word. Let's call racism what it is. And put an end to it, whatever it takes. We shall overcome.

Want to get some discussion started in your family? My friend, Jose, just started a fabulous Twitter feed, Just Consider Alternate Reasons. It's a small series of questions every Friday to ask your children around the dinner table, based on the Jewish custom of Shabbat. His reasons for starting it: "Just Consider Alternative Reasons. A simple request. Why? In hopes that my kids will be better at asking questions than the adults in their lives are dodging them" 

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