Anyone who has been anywhere other than under their covers in bed in the last week cannot help but to have been impacted somehow by the tumult. Protests, rioting, looting, more protests, Covid, church-front photo ops by the President, pundits, preachers and the public all speaking out. It’s been a deafening roar. It’s depressing, convicting, terrifying, agonizing, horrible, fearful, and sobering.
And hopeful. Very, very hopeful.
I remember living through the Watts riots in the late 1960s, and watching Martin Luther King on the news, both alive and post mortem. I remember the assassination of both Kennedys. I remember watching Rodney King saying, “Can’t we all just get along?” as the LA riots of the 1992 burst out with fire, bullets, tear gas. I remember the fury and division, the impassioned preaching of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I remember people saying, “This has to stop. The violence is wrong. The segregation is wrong. The police violence against people of color is wrong.” And I remember, as a child, my parents moving us from Watts where we lived to Bellflower, where it was more white, then again to La Mirada, where it was multiracial but a little more affluent. I remember them not talking about it much, because like so many people of good will but lack of understanding, they simply didn’t know what to say to us kids. They wanted us to be kind, and not be racist, but most of all, they just wanted us to be safe. And safety meant being quiet and moving to another neighborhood and putting the fear out of our minds until the next time.
What I don’t remember is a time when quite so many white people were willing to publicly admit their ignorance and underlying racism. I don’t remember a time when quite so many people of color said that the burden of educating one another about racism wasn’t supposed to be theirs. I don’t remember quite so many times of hearing the words “reparation” and “reconciliation.” I don’t remember hearing over and over again that it’s past time for uncomfortable conversations. I don’t remember so many people saying that we need to listen before we act. I don’t remember being personally embarrassed for my own ignorance and inability to speak up because I’m not even sure what the right words should be. I don’t remember having to talk about humility, about being wrong even when our intentions are good. I don’t remember having the uncomfortable ache in my soul saying that it’s time I get even more uncomfortable, and perhaps less safe, for the sake of others who have gone without safety and justice for far, far too long. I don’t remember staying in the hurt for quite so long.
I don’t remember it hurting so much.
And oddly enough, that gives me hope.
Because pain is, after all, a megaphone God can use to call us to repentance and change, to a willingness to fall down and ask for forgiveness and healing. You may be able to ignore the pain of others, but it’s usually impossible to ignore your own. And here lies the paradox of grace.
I’m not in the bubble anymore, five or thirteen or twenty miles away from the chaos. Moving to another house, another neighborhood is not going to work anymore. I’m depressed, worried, angry, feeling convicted and underprepared. I don’t have answers. Which puts me in the right place to stand before God and say, “What do you want me to do?”
I don’t believe I am alone in this. And the more of us who are moving from being on the periphery to the uncomfortable middle of this problem, the better. Not being able to run away means having to listen more and talk less. It means learning new strategies, new ways of fighting the injustice staring our nation in the face. I feel like a white little church mouse, staring up at a dragon about to eat me whole without even a burp to give after I’m gone. But a dragon can’t eat every mouse in the world. There are a LOT of mice. Church mice, synagogue mice, mosque mice, Buddhist mice, atheist mice, unaffiliated mice. Enough mice, if they put their minds to it, to collectively eat a dragon whole.
I hate where we are. I hate the need for protests. I hate the evil that sneaks in and poisons the work of justice with sidelines of looting and riot. I hate the cynicism. I hate the ridiculous posturing of left against right and right against left. I hate the stupid, divisive memes. I hate the desperation that has crippled the lives of millions of people of color throughout history. I hate the posing of politicians and the empty words. I hate how hard it is for acts of injustice to be seen for what they are, and how long it takes for our courts to respond.
But hope? That’s a thing I will not hate. I’m hanging onto that.
I am hopeful that this pain will be more than we are willing to pass along to our grandkids, more than we’re willing to put a bandage over and forget about yet again. I am hopeful that enough of us unaware privileged, “just trying to be nice because I don’t see color” white people like myself will begin to see ourselves for what we are – white mice, now improbably at the front of the line, with our tiny teeth and our querulous little bodies, finally willing to admit to seeing color, seeing inequity, seeing the monstrous dragon of racism we’ve ignored before, with the power to bring it down – if we are willing to move forward as one. Mice ready to devour the dragon once and for all.
One relentless nibble at a time.