We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, which among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…
The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776.
With every headline of violence, bombs and gunshots; with each story of continued injustice; with repeated syllables of hateful rhetoric, my heart breaks all over again.
Last month, on a visit to Washington D.C., I had the opportunity to touch the glass that protects the foundational documents of our country: the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Bill of Rights. My fingerprints left a stain and smudge; layered over thousands of other visitors who did the very same thing.
I peered closely in the dim lighting to catch the words: all men are created equal…
Sighing heavily, I wonder what power our words still have.
We hang our hats on freedom, and yet can’t swallow the idea of equality.
We raise the colors of red, white, and blue but become squeamish when we talk about the reality that #blacklivesmatter.
Diversity is welcome – but only if we can put a quota on categories and markers – as if a “token” individual for a given race is the solution to acknowledging the prevalence of power structures built and ingrained into the fabrics of our systems.
Tears fall heavy tonight as I remember the simultaneous power and confusion I felt when I saw the documents that laid the so-called “foundations” of our country. How have we gotten so far off track?
Tears come unceasingly as I think about the families of people who have died – throughout our history – because of who they are.
I cry because though slavery has ended we are perpetuating slavery by another name.
We are killing each other.
I’ve held no gun, but there is blood on my hands.
For any injustice I have left unsaid; for times I have been a recipient of white privilege without even the smallest inkling of recognition; and for the assumptions I have at times built in my own mind about who people are because of the identities they carry –
My mom tells a story from when I was just 2 and visiting in the waiting room of a pediatric office. We walked inside and as we sat down, I looked across the way and saw another child, around my same age.
With glee, curiosity, and enthusiasm, I shouted to my mother,
“Look! A chocolate baby!”
I don’t tell this story because it’s endearing; I tell it because even as a young girl, I could see a difference and acknowledge it.
The difference isn’t necessarily the problem: it’s the reaction to it.
Blackness is something to be celebrated; a legacy of men, women, and groups of people advocating for necessary, mandated rights to be free in our country. It is an identity, one full of roots, history, and culture that is permeated with strength and the tradition of overcoming adversity. And yet, “to be black” in America today is not something I can even begin to wrestle with. “Black” is a socially-based racial term, used loosely and accepting the separation of equality that it brings.
Yes, uphold diversity, but do not diversify the value, respect, and civil rights that each person holds individually and collectively.
It’s not as if being white isn’t an identity too, but understand that “being white” has been the norm for human societies since the beginning of existence. To “celebrate” whiteness is a lot like cheering for a proverbial NFL team that wins the Super bowl every, single year. It’s the norm and our society structure is built to support this.
As I grew into a young woman in my late teens and early 20’s, I would literally lose myself in books about social movements – especially the Civil Rights of the 50’s & 60’s. I cared far more about Rosa Parks than I ever did about the Spice Girls.
And when I began to become educated, not just in school, but in life and in my faith, I learned about the real oppression happening to other races outside of being “white.”
I saw it, I watched it, and I grew increasingly sickened by it.
To this day, Divine and I often talk about her skin color specifically; she was told on many occasions in her life that she was “ugly” because of her dark skin and that her beauty would never come from her physical appearance.
“To be white,” she once said to me while visiting her family in Rwanda, “is to hold many treasures and coins to life.”
When you hear something like that, you can’t help but examine your own fixed position in the world. You wonder, “why, why was I born like this?”
God has a plan, they say, and though we must live in the tension of not knowing everything, it’s true that we are in the places, times, and seasons for a reason.
So, why don’t we speak truth? Why don’t we take a stand? Why don’t we do the hard thing and look in the mirror, seeking our own bias and positions of power that we may have missed before?
I firmly, and resiliently believe that God does not stand for racial segregation, oppression, violence, separation, and hate. More than that, I think the same is true for anyone – for any living, breathing, human life. Yes, all lives matter, but we can’t acknowledge that fully until everyone – I mean, everyone – obtains real, living equality.
No more lip service. It’s time to stand in solidarity. It’s time to speak truth.
I have committed myself to retracting myself from this endowed, inherited legacy of privilege. It’s sticky. It’s messy. I don’t always know how to weave myself out.
But I will not stop.
I cannot stop.
Jesus’ greatest command was love. Our country’s greatest command was equality.
Can’t we strive for these together? Can we, together, recognize our brothers and sisters in the communities we live within?
Forgive our ignorance. Forgive our disunity. Forgive our separations.
I pray for peace. The kind of peace that trespasses all understanding – the kind of peace that can only heal these kinds of wounds.
Please, please, please come. Make this stop. Please. Make it stop.
We love you. I love you.