When the murders in Charleston occurred almost two weeks ago, anyone with a brain in their head did a lot of soul-searching. A lot of bloggers, speakers– people with online platforms, whatever they call themselves– put their own soul-searching out there, and challenged others to do the same. One of my favorite thinkers, Brené Brown, said this:
We have to examine and own stereotypes and prejudices. Every single one of us has them…We will need to sit down with our children and talk about privilege…No blaming or shaming, but truth… it’s not honest to deny that many of us are afforded privileges based on who we are and what we look like.
I agreed with that challenge. I promised myself I would have that conversation with my children. I mean, sooner or later.
But then. Other bloggers, like Luvvie, wanted all of us to go even further:
I agreed with what Luvvie was saying. It was just: my platform is small. There’s nothing I could say that wasn’t being said better. And so I thumbs-upped, and I liked, and I retweeted.
But I maintained my comfortable silence.
Last week I was on vacation with my kids at a “family resort” in the Poconos. The sun was out, the pool area was crowded but peaceful. Then, all at once, about one hundred high school kids showed up, on a senior class trip for the day. They were loud, they were raucous, they started cannonballing into the pool, and they sort of took over.
Every one of those high school seniors was a person of color.
Everyone else was white.
“They’re being so loud!” one of my kids said.
“They’re all playing basketball in the pool and now I can’t!” another one of my kids said.
“They’re only here for today,” a woman at the pool bar told me. “Believe me, I checked.”
I thought about McKinney. This was not that. No one was telling these children they were unwelcome. No one was starting a fight. But I couldn’t help but wonder if their enthusiasm felt more out-of-place because of the color of their skin. If it weren’t the observers’ assumptions about race that made their behavior seem inappropriate. Rather than anything they were actually doing.
So I watched these kids. And here’s what I learned: they were having a great time. And they were really loud. And so what. When my kid complained again about their being boisterous, I pointed out that these kids had come two hours on a school bus to spend an hour in the pool. And that they were doing nothing but celebrating.
It’s a small thing. I don’t expect to be patted on the back for that story. Just the opposite: I feel very uncomfortable writing about it. What if I got it wrong? What if I said something insensitive without even realizing it. What if my intentions– to try to see things clearly– aren’t enough to overcome the unintentional biases I still don’t even know I have?
Charleston was almost two weeks ago. The time for writing about racism would seem to have passed, at least for those of us who don’t usually grapple with social and political issues in our writing.
But while I drove our family home from that vacation, while all three of my kids were asleep in the back seat, I listened to President Obama’s absolutely historic eulogy for the Reverend Clementa C. Pinckney. And here’s what stuck with me most:
…it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.
And so I’m breaking that comfortable silence. I’m ready to speak out. And listen. And learn.