Tell your story. No one can argue with you.
That was the advice given to me growing up in church where I was exhorted to share my faith. The premise was that no one could dispute what I said had happened to me. They weren’t there. It’s my story and mine alone.
Books are dangerous things. I never understood that until this year when my son started reading. I’m handing him book after book I read as a kid that I want him to experience. These are books that shaped me and changed the way I interacted with the world or thought about people.
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
Number the Stars
I want him to be shaped into a person that can listen to other people’s stories. I want him to see that his perspective is shaped largely by his own experience, and his is not the only experience. I want him to read books and be changed.
Books are dangerous. No wonder people work so hard to ban them.
It’s really hard to argue with peoples’ stories.
I’ve been bombarded with a certain kind of story the last two years. It’s a story of abuse of power. It’s a story of devaluing. It’s a story of misunderstandings escalating to murder. It’s a story about how parents are having to teach their young boys “rules” so they don’t end up getting arrested, or worse, shot. It’s a story about a system designed to let certain people, (people who seem to look a lot like me) in; a system designed to keep others out. It’s a story about how even though laws were put in place, the laws fail to protect all people equally.
It’s a story of modern day racism.
It’s a story about systemic racism
It’s a story about how people are dying on our streets for being kids, for playing, for making a mistake. It’s a story about a people oppressed and beaten. It’s a story about how my son probably won’t end up in prison when he makes a mistake, but another’s son probably will.
I can try deny it. But when person after person confirms the truth of this, I prove my ignorance when I deny the reality. Even the facts are on their side, if I’m brave enough to read through them. I live in a safe bubble, on the inside, so of course it’s not obvious to me. It’s not my experience.
But who I am to deny their stories? Who am I to try and silence them?
Because here’s the thing…My ancestors kidnapped their ancestors. My ancestors mutilated, raped, beat and killed their ancestors. My ancestors told them they weren’t real. And even after hundreds of years of slavery, my ancestors begrudgingly let them go, but used the government to continue to oppress them. They were still beaten. They were still killed. They were still mocked and shunned for trying to grasp the inalienable rights that were supposed to have been given to them.
Do we really believe that 52 years ago we paid our penance, learned from our mistakes, the system changed and life is now happy clappy?
Their stories tell me their rights are still denied. Peoples’ eyes look at them and see evil. There is no grace, no mercy for them.
It will take generations to dismantle what we brought on ourselves. Especially when we continue to deny it’s existence and live on platitudes and declare, “we’re not racists.” Because when my kids go to a predominately white school, see only other white kids, play sports with other white kids, and we lock our doors when we drive through the “bad” parts of town where people don’t look like them, or cross the street when we see someone who doesn’t look like us, I’m teaching my kids that the people who look like them are safe, and these others are not. And so when my kids grow up to be the cops, teachers, lawyers, etc., they will help perpetuate an already unjust system.
No, I never held a whip in my hand. But I come from people who did. Their blood runs through me. Their system is my system.
How I can look her in the eyes, she who is made in the image of God, and not fall to my knees and beg her for forgiveness for the sins of my fathers? How can I deny his right to speak about what happened to him? How can I deny my own inert racism? How can I deny that the only person this system benefits, is me? And knowing this, how can I not speak and cry out with them when their children are still being murdered for the color of their skin?
I cannot deny their stories.
Stories are dangerous. They open our eyes; they challenge our status quo. They make us see things in our world we wish we didn’t have to see, because once we see it, we can never go back.
We might even have to do something about it…
So, dear one, my prayer is that we start reading. That we listen and hold space for experiences beyond our own. What will we lose by admitting we are culpable? What will happen if we humble ourselves and bear the sins of our forefathers, actually doing penance for them?
Maybe this is where we start to find life…
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in an Age of Color Blindness, Michelle Alexander
Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race, Beverly Daniel Tatum