A friend recently asked me for children's book recommendations that address race, and sadly, I realized that I didn't have a single book title to offer her. This motivated me to take a closer look at the message I have been giving my kids - at how deliberate I have really been, and to search for new ways to tend to this essential message. It is so important to me to integrate the foundation of equality into the lives of my children. While I am always looking for new and organic ways to introduce conversations about race with my kids, these are some pretty major ways that I already engage. Let's begin with the idea of proximity.
This will always be my go-to solution for the whole issue of the "other." When you're directly involved with people who are different than yourself, you welcome an environment to not only expand your worldview, but your ability to empathize as well. You can overlook the differences by realizing how very much the same all of us humans are. Providing my children innumerable collisions with great BIPOC themselves and introducing them to great black thinkers, writers, preachers, humanitarian and civil rights leaders, educators, and our very own kin, can only reinforce that people are people no matter what color they are. It creates a healthy normal where whiteness is not the standard. Not setting white as the standard inadvertently avoids making POC the deviation. In my opinion, this is the beginning of how to protect the image of those that are BIPOC.
In that same vein of thought, it is our responsibility to call out the cultural stereotypes that present themselves strongly and ceaselessly. Entertainment and advertising are completely tainted with innuendoes that set a social map in our children's impressionable and forming minds. I recently watched a show that my kids enjoy and found (in only one episode) that the Indian kid is genius, the Hispanic kid is overweight, lazy, and hygiene-deficient, the Chinese girl is overworked, over schooled and neurotic, while the lead white girl is rich, dumb, and of great moral standing. These seemingly benign messages cannot be tolerated and must be dissected with our children. If you are one to argue that these works of fiction couldn't possibly lay any real foundation for our children's perceptions, I introduce to you, the Doll Test.
In the 1940's there was a psychological experiment designed to test the degree of marginalization felt by African American children caused by prejudice, discrimination and racial segregation. This was the Doll Test. While the evidence of this study helped shut down the dangerous "separate but equal" ideology for African American kids in the case of Brown v. the Board of Education, it has been reintroduced in recent years to measure children's attitudes about what color has to do with "pretty" or "good"/"ugly" and "bad." The test used identically diapered dolls that only differentiated by color. When these dolls were showed to children of different races between the ages of 3 and 7, the majority attributed the positive characteristics to the white doll, assuring us that racism is internalized, and very early on at that. Black children couldn't explain why the white dolls were better, they just knew that the world reinforced this belief, and so it became their own. We have to talk about what our kids are being propagated to believe.
While there is a deficit in children's literature (that I've found anyway) that specifically addresses racism and slavery, there is a ton of great literature that shows racial and cultural diversity, and this is equally as important as addressing the history of colonialism itself. Around the holidays, I borrow library books that highlight different cultural celebrations so that my children can peak into the windows of other families who exist with their own unique traditions, as my own family does. While reading books together, I identify and talk about those differences, I praise those differences in all of their equal and beautiful ways. Driving the beauty of diversity into their growing minds will help them to see that different isn't bad or dangerous or inferior, it's just different.
While the Doll Test showed some improvements for believed "white bias" in black children since the 1940's, the results of white children have shown that they remain invested in believing stereotypes. Children notice race early in their lives, and so we, as parents, have to help shape healthy views. It is so vital to take every available opportunity to lay the groundwork for your children. Talk about the differences you see, don't attempt to stifle the issue just because you don't know how to answer questions, or address such issues in a way that you fear might offend. Do the work, educate yourself, start conversations to even see where your children are at with their beliefs, and keep the momentum going by showing your children how to cohabit this world in a meaningful and safe way for all.
Sadly, no matter how deep I go with my children, I realize that their experience is whitewashed and that there will always be a certain amount of effort that will need to be put forth to understand logically (never experientially) the burden that BIPOC carry. While the Doll Test showed some improvements for believed white bias in black children, the results of white children have shown that they remain invested in believing stereotypes. This is why it's insufficient to assume that if our children aren't explicitly taught racism in their home, that they can't grow in discriminatory ideologies. Our children will be shown what to believe about race at every turn, and it's our duty to not only avoid racist rhetoric, but to actually take it a step farther and to be proactively anti-racist.
While I am certain I have messed this thing up from time-to-time, or passed up valuable learning opportunities, I am striving to do what I can to learn, to keep my children in recognition of their privileges they have simply from being white, their responsibility in dismantling the corrupt social structures, to raise compassionate, thinking, loving human beings who will never overlook someone for their skin color, but will embrace them more deeply because of it.
Through all of the recent police shootings of black bodies and the inconsequential legal battles that follow, there have erupted many protests, some turning riotous. While I don't condone violence for any reason, we have to be able to look back with some degree of context to understand why these occasions are becoming typical.
The first Africans were brought to the English colonies in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Our country laid legal foundations for the racialization of America starting in 1640: The Law of Hereditary Slavery that perpetuated the slave status to anyone born of a slave (an endless cycle), the prohibition of interracial marriages, the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law which enlisted black slaves to life-long service. These and many others were the groundwork that the first colonies adopted, becoming the moral foundation of our country.
1787, time had passed and we had not morally evolved. There continued to be the creation of laws that undermined the dignity and worth of POC, all while advantaging the white population. In the 3/5th compromise there was a dispute over whether POC should be counted as people or property. There were plenty who couldn't contend to the idea of slaves being counted as human, and the ones that did only had motivations that had nothing to do with the humanity of a POC, but of slave-owning states gaining more political power. In 1790 the first rules about citizenship were written and it basically extended to the "free white person" of good character.
After the Civil War the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were added to the Constitution to abolish slavery, to grant citizenship to anyone born on American soil, and grant African-Americans the right to vote. In response to these victories, (southern) white Americans decided to reclaim their dominance by the constructing of Jim Crow laws.
Our laws have been tainted since the beginning, and our justice system has been reinforcing discriminatory, unjust laws. People look at the Black Lives Matter movement and can't fathom a people who have such animosity when they haven't experienced slavery for themselves, but what's not being understood is that the framework of our country has been unbalanced with injustice. An injustice that is still reverberating through the socio-economic, political, prejudicial and emotional realms of POC.
We look at the rates of African-Americans in prison versus whites and conclude that black people are more criminal. If we look more closely, we see the major factor of discrimination (POC more likely to be stopped, searched, given tickets and arrested than whites) the fact that the bail system thrives on poverty, and the harsher sentencing of POC than whites it is naïve to think that POC are simply "more criminal."
Furthermore, we look at the fact that slavery was only abolished 153 years ago, when it was legal for 246 years and practiced for far longer. The constitutional equality has been written, but equality has clearly never been fully achieved. It takes time to undo the damage, to unravel wrong philosophies, and to provide restitution for those injured.
African-Americans and white Americans have different access to justice, different access to the "American Dream," experientially do not have the voice of those of European descent, the promises of freedom and justice have not been met, and instead of speaking up and being met with compassion, they are further stripped of power by being called "angry" or "terrorists." Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the environment that we are again, experiencing on a massive scale. He said this:
"I think American must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so, in a real sense our nation's summers of riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention."
We have to listen to the language of the riot closely. There are recurring issues that have been vocalized over and over again. The voices are getting louder and more angry simply because their appetite for justice is so big, yet their voices are repeatedly shut down. We are creating a hostile atmosphere when we invalidate someone's message because we refuse to (at times) listen through someone's anger. If we start immersing ourselves in the culture of the oppressed, our perspective will change, our empathy will blossom, and we will be able to help bring this world towards the overhaul of justice that is deeply needed. Let's become a country who listens, not an empire that exerts control. Let's listen to the language of the riots and see where it takes us.
St. Johns, Michigan
Sierra Vista, Arizona
San Bernardino, California
Winston-Salem, North Carolina
New Orleans, Louisiana
Los Angeles, California
Oxon Hill, Maryland
New York City
Sante Fe, New Mexico
Since the beginning of 2018, these are the many schools who have experienced the horror of a school shooting. Sending my three boys to public school creates a certain amount of anxiety for me, as I'm certain most parents feel these days. When my elementary boys came home and told me about their safety drill at school, I broke down.
When I was in elementary school we had fire and tornado drills, once we practiced evacuating in case of a bomb threat. I, never, in my 5-year-old skin was told what to do if a "bad person" came into my school with guns. Yet, my 5 and 7-year-old proceeded to tell me what they were instructed to do, God-forbid something like this make its way to my small community. Barricading doors and windows, hiding as much of their body as possible, throwing whatever their little arms can pick up if a shooter makes it as far as their room. Creating distractions, running around, yet staying as far away from the shooter as possible. Clearing the shelves of the classroom cabinets to hide in, these are all such awful realities to teach to kids who still sleep with stuffed animals and cry over boo-boos. My little boys have a contingency plan.
My middle-schooler has actual drills where the shooters position is announced over the loudspeaker as they follow protocol for every step the shooter could possibly take. He has a teacher who purchased ratchet straps to secure the door, and roach spray as a form of mace. Instead of buying extra books for the classroom, our teachers are purchasing safety equipment with their own money, all in an attempt to protect their students, my three sons. This is the age we live in.
I asked my boys if these conversations/drills made them feel fearful. Thankfully, they all said no. Their teachers told them this likely wouldn't happen, and they are all still young enough, sheltered enough from thinking that this is life. Their belief in the goodness of others makes this information foreign, unbelievable. I feel the need to occasionally drill them on what they were taught, to keep it fresh in their minds. My sweet little kindergartener told me that he doesn't want to throw stuff at anyone, even if he is trying to protect himself. As he said "God made them too." His innocence, his value of human life, his compassion, it broke me and made me want to scream "No! You do whatever you have to!" But I held my tongue and hugged him and agreed that yes, God did make everyone, but not everyone holds that truth in their heart. I told him that some people are so very hurt that they want to hurt others, and that if he doesn't want to throw things, then he needs to be the best hider in the whole school.
These drills create a hypothetical violence that both my sons and I are uncomfortable with. You're forced to think of yourself first (your own hiding place instead of your friend and classmates) how you could potentially hurt another human being, and the horrible dilemma of jumping from a broken window or staring down the barrel of a gun. While my emotions are erratic when learning about these simple drills, I cannot fathom the horror of experiencing what these communities listed above have survived.
We need to get serious about gun law reforms, and help for the mentally ill. We need more prevention and interventions where troubled kids slide through the cracks. We need to see that while these kinds of changes are necessary, that what we really need is a heart change. We need to be better parents, and neighbors, and mentors, and speak up, whether on a ballet or protest, or seeing a kid being bullied. We need to teach our children to be aware of their surroundings, report any seemingly benign threats, to be hospitable and loving to the kids who need a friend, and maybe, just maybe, we won't have to hear about another shooting on U.S. soil again. Hopefully, for my children and yours, this will only ever be a drill.
In 15 days, 21 hours, and 32 minutes a man named Walter Leroy Moody, Jr. will be executed in the state of Alabama. Erick Daniel Davila of Texas will follow in 21 days, then Robert Van Hook in 3 months in my home state of Ohio. Regardless of how you morally feel about the death penalty, isn't it unnerving to put a name to the all-too-abstract, state-sanctioned form of punishment?
The issue of capital punishment has always been a major disagreement within me, and I've been thrilled with the downward spiral of its popular vote in our country. Studies show that only 55% of the U.S. still supports the death penalty. While technically still the majority, it's also the lowest number we've seen in the last 4 decades. It's progress, so I'll take it.
While I've been hopeful that this trend will continue to push capital punishment towards extinction, President Trump is making me think otherwise. His recent stance on wanting to seek capital punishment for drug dealers and traffickers is chilling. Between Trump and Jeff Sessions - our Attorney General who has always favorably pursued executions, even in cases that were riddled with prosecutorial misconduct, racial discrimination, executing the mentally ill as well as the mentally disabled - I know that they can't unilaterally make this decision without the Supreme Court's backing, yet it's harrowing to know the precedent that Sessions set while he served as Alabama's Attorney General. He fought to uphold 40 executions (and only in two years 1995-97). Forty! That is our country's civil rights enforcer.
While I don't dare claim to have the answers for what to do with this drug epidemic, I don't think harsher laws will bring change to a dying country. If the past has proven anything, it's that the criminalization of drug use has no positive effect on the drug crisis. While statistically being ineffectual for the amount of drug deaths, it has actually only escalated the amount of revenue and violence that accompanies serious drug use.
While addicts are faced with the harsh reality of death upon every use, it's a choice they continue to make because of their addiction. If the risks of drug use were the main deterrent, there would be no addicts. The problem is deeper than that. I think instead of listening to policymakers' uneducated and often simplistic "solutions,” we should listen to those who have some authority on the matter.
The Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis has made some great recommendations that include access to naloxone (the overdose-reversal medication), and what they call a harm reduction approach, which includes services that provide testing of street drugs (which could help users detect fentanyl, a component of many overdoses). They also believe that addressing the social ills that lead one to use in the first place would deter many from using. While Trump has supported health care bills that cut opioid treatments for millions, he has recently begun to recognize that this change is something desperately needed. I am hopeful that he will have follow through with these types of policy changes.
Execution should never be the form of punishment we resort to. Aside from the very conflicting morality issue that this topic elicits, let's look at this rationally. Since 1973, 156 people have been released from death row after their innocence was discovered. That's 1 exoneration to every 9 that are executed. That is an unacceptable ratio for those who cannot afford the defense and resources needed to prove their innocence. It takes, on average, 15 years to prove one's innocence once on death row even when there is very compelling evidence pointing in their favor. These are not the odds of a just system.
Then there's the issue of racial discrimination that exists within our justice system. The exact discrimination that was legally acknowledged in McCleskey vs. Kemp, where in a 5 - 4 ruling the judge agreed that there are in fact racial disparities in the imposition of the death penalty, but called them "inevitable," as if this were an unchangeable and accepted fact. Let that sink in. Furthermore, the majority of inmates on death row are there for killing whites, while blacks are the demographic that actually make up the majority of the state's murder victims. Do you see where I'm going with this?
On to the method of execution. Drug Companies are not particularly known for their morality, yet are withdrawing their drugs for the use of lethal injection. While I'm sure that this points more directly at reputation than a code of ethics, they're doing the right thing. This leaves states searching countries like India for supply. It also is contributing to the gross imagination of other alternatives, such a death by nitrogen. Oklahoma, being the pioneer, and states like Ohio, and Louisiana to follow suit.
The issue of "cruel and unusual punishment" comes into play when speaking of the method of execution. No matter the means (electric chair, gas chamber, lethal injection), there are far too many complications which result in suffering for 3% of those killed. From 1890 - 2010, 276 of the 8,776 people suffered during their execution. Research is linking these executions-gone-wrong as "gross incompetence of the executioner," which raises another topic - should anyone really be trained to "competently" murder another human being?
Lastly, executions are expensive - approximately $470,000 and that isn't including the average $90,000 per year on death row per inmate. The cost of the present system (with reforms to ensure a fair process) is $232.7 million dollars a year. Compare that to the $11.5 million a year if the system simply imposed a maximum penalty of a lifetime incarceration. While speaking of the cost-effectiveness of putting someone to death is completely repulsive to me, I said that I would approach this with logic.
There are times when "tougher" just isn't the right way. The types of issues that gets one into the legal system to begin with are not black and white. There are offenders who endured serious abuse, veterans who couldn't get the war out of their hearts when returning home, the mentally ill who need treatment not a prison cell, or worse, a needle. When we begin to look past the list of charges and look into the narrative of a person's life, I think it would be much harder to execute anyone in the name of "justice."
Don't get me wrong, the crimes that are eligible for capital punishment are wicked, terrible atrocities, and the victims are real and deserve justice. But who are we to take the life of a being and to potentially cut their opportunity to repent? Legally killing someone to show that murder is wrong, is simply illogical. Murder is costly (legally and illegally). It costs the executioner his peace, it sometimes costs the lives of innocent men and women, it drains state revenue, and pain and suffering for those who experience a botched execution. It's drags the victims families through decades of court hearings, postponing their healing, and creating more victims in the process (the offenders have families too right?!). I'm no economics genius, but when the cost is higher than the payout, isn't it time to think of a different solution?
Trump could end up leaving a massive legacy in the Supreme Court, especially if Justice Anthony Kennedy retires. He has been a swing vote in the court's efforts to ban the death penalty on the intellectually disabled and offenders who were under 18 when they committed their crimes. If he retires, President Trump will make a decision that could ultimately undo the dying trend of executions in this country.
Since 1996, Congress set a one-year deadline for those sent to death row to be able to appeal to federal courts. In 2014 there was an investigation that showed lawyers frequently missing those deadlines. The death penalty sentence should always make space for the rectification of any errors at any time leading up to execution. A little-known provision of that same law offered states the opportunity to push that deadline back to 6 months, and also for the courts to rule more quickly, essentially pushing death penalties through more quickly, and inevitably, with less efficiency. This provision is currently tied up in legal battle, one that will ultimately be up to Jeff Sessions to decide which path this should take. If we follow his trending trajectory, this could be horrific.
Ultimately, I know that we were created for life, and that until the day we die (naturally), we have a chance at redemption. I have read so many stories of the salvation of men on death row, the healing they have been able to give to the victims' families, and I know a powerful God who can weave healing and restoration into the ugliest of situations. So I won't stop at the kind of justice that gives what is deserved. I will fight for the kind of justice that rights and restores.
I beg you to go forward in these next few months thinking of these upcoming executions by name: Walter, Erick, Robert. Pray for them, for their souls to be redeemed, for the victims’ families to be spared of this horrible spectacle of death that truly brings no closure. Let yourself steep in their names and faces and tell me you won't think of them differently now.
My research is from:
Executing Grace by Shane Claiborne,
I look around at the world today and I have never been more confused. There is so much fear and so much division. At what point was such a definitive line drawn as to who is "us" and who is "them?" And what about those of us who profess our faith in God? Is this the example that Jesus laid when he spoke with the woman at the well, or touched the quarantined leper? What about when he attended to a demoniac and set him free, confronted a stone-carrying mob, or to the women he honored and regarded in a time of complete female subjection? His love carried him outside of the bounds of what was culturally taboo, what was created out of fear. Jesus never eeked away from those who were different. He consistently inched towards people no matter the condition of their social standing, their brokenness, their sin. But we, in our own brokenness, believe the lie that different is dangerous.
No matter your coordinates on a map, your political or economic status, we all have the same blood coursing through our veins, the same chambers in our hearts, the same Spirit breathed into our bodies by the same God who created us all for unity and love. We weren't made to build walls, we were made to love and hold each other. The color of our skin doesn't bear a stigma of our values, but rather a geographical necessity designed for life. We fear because we don't understand the differences, and oftentimes would rather believe the lie than confront the error.
The only way I know to confront the massive divide is to inch closer to the things and the people that we fear. We were never called to do what is safe, we are called to extend ourselves in love. Let's not just say Jesus loves us, let's be the conduit of that love. Can we get close enough to the angry mob to see that the stones they carry are really for their own defense? Let's be gracious with our words, hungry enough for understanding that we leave space to discover that there are no others, but one big, global community of "us."
Today is a sacred day that we have marked in a definitive way to celebrate and remember a great man. One who inspired the hearts of many, and gave a boldness and dream to those who were overcome with injustice. He incited change in a peaceful way, and was met with death. His life surely deserves attention.
The kind of attention that we tend to lend to this subject matter is completely insufficient. Think back on the celebrations you had in school during this time. You'd read books, color a picture and superficially discuss what racism was and how the life of MLK, Jr, seemingly made it all better. It's a gross misrepresentation of the severity of the race war and does our children a terrible injustice. It gives this illusion that there is nothing more to fight against and can make our level of involvement, nil.
I grew up in a white middle-class family, with very limited ideas and encounters with racism. I never felt prejudice toward African-Americans. I had black cousins, there were numerous black peers in my schools, and very close friends were a bi-racial family. I never had any reason to doubt that black people were equal and good, yet I found myself intimidated by black men that I didn't know. Nobody overtly taught this to me. Yet, the structure of our society, in both arts and culture, portray POC as lesser, more dangerous, and I was suggestive to those undertones. We all are in some way, that's how these subtle innuendos even exist, because they are deep within our core beliefs.
EVERYONE has blind spots, biases of some sort to sift through. The problem though, is that we are taught to disregard and bury them. Don't ever talk about them openly, don't question or confront racist remarks, just pretend that the world is Pangea and move on. Today is a good day to reflect on those very things, but it shouldn't stop there.
In Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," he says:
"I HAVE BEEN GRAVELY DISAPPOINTED WITH THE WHITE MODERATE. THE NEGRO'S GREAT STUMBLING BLOCK IN HIS STRIDE TOWARD FREEDOM IS NOT THE KU KLUX KLAN, BUT THE WHITE MODERATE, WHO IS MORE DEVOTED TO "ORDER" THAN JUSTICE."
What is a white moderate anyway? It is one who has a "shallow understanding" of racial injustice and who is therefore a threat to social progress. It is one who propagates racism by pretending that it is individual and therefore relieving themselves of having to intentionally act against it. Our first shallow understanding comes as we're coloring those pages of MLK, Jr standing behind a podium at the Lincoln Memorial, and thinking that everything is better now. Legal strides have been made for sure, but racism is a strong structure that will only fall with active instigators of peace. Coloring a picture and thinking that we're teaching our children the complex nature of such a heavy matter, is ludicrous. Racial inequality, racial injustices, and personal biases are something that need to be hit heavily all year long.
"ACTUALLY, WE WHO ENGAGE IN NONVIOLENT DIRECT ACTION ARE NOT THE CREATORS OF TENSION. WE MERELY BRING TO THE SURFACE THE HIDDEN TENSION THAT IS ALREADY ALIVE. WE BRING IT OUT IN THE OPEN, WHERE IT CAN BE SEEN AND DEALT WITH."
How many of you look to Colin Kaepernick as a peaceful protestor, and how many of you see him as an instigator, a trouble-maker? How many of you crave for him to just do what is expected for the sake of comfort and order? Can you look at your answer with honesty and realize that maybe, this is another way of viewing your world through the eyes of privilege and with "shallow understanding?" When society chastises Colin's activism more than his oppression, there is something profoundly wrong. We need to start with giving ourselves permission to find the ugly inside. We need to run to POC with questions and misunderstandings, and apologies, and do better so that our children stand a fighting chance. We need to hold hands with our African-American neighbors and let them know that although we aren't perfect allies, we are willing to be there with them, to lend our power to their lack, until the day the scales tip and we can no longer worry about whether we are a white moderate or not.
The "Letter from Birmingham Jail" in its entirety
A Harvard created test for hidden bias
Verna Myers - A powerful and practical way to uncover and walk towards our biases
”Me, too” I whispered after the years of intuitions.
Learned insomnia, nicotine-stained fingers and more fear than I could hold.
Me, too. And I changed my outfit since I’d be out past dark.
Avoid eye contact and hope for the best.
Me, too. And he slithered up the stairs and made me a statistic.
Haunted by numbing deja vu’s, me too.
Me, too and I swallowed my voice like glass and turned silent. Only learning to speak to my too-young children about the patterns of grooming in hopes of lowering their chance of becoming a 1 in 6 or a 1 in 33.
Me, too as the hand cuffs and “guilty’s”and restraining order came.
Me, too as I traded in my number the day he was given one of his own on the back of a state-owned jumpsuit.
Me, too. As “justice” was served and didn’t give me a damn bit of peace considering he was just one out of a million.
I am currently undergoing a huge project that I need your help with. I am curating a collection of your experiences with racism. My hope is to educate those who are blind to the discrimination that is all around us; to shine a light on injustices - the ones that left you feeling raw, numb, a little less than human, and completely alone.
I hope to take these tender moments and to create a medium that will honor your heart, validate your hurt, and to shine a light on the shadow sides of life in a safe and honest way. I am hopeful that your stories will instigate a moral reflection that will prompt our hearts to possess a deeper level of compassion, and to empower you by sharing your story.
If you feel compelled to contribute, please contact me through the "About" tab above. If you are brave enough to share these moments of vulnerability with me, I promise to hold them gently. Thank you for reaching in, for reaching out, and for helping us all to see that we can do better.
Nobody needs to say it. We all feel the darkness that we're teetering at the edge of. It isn't about Charlottesville, because that incident didn't happen overnight. It was birthed out of an environment of archaic thinking; from the breeding ground of white privilege and superiority. In a way, nothing has really changed at all, except that people are getting braver about what they reveal in the light. And what we saw in Charlottesville was big and bold and effectually frightening.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (a civil rights advocacy group), there are 917 active hate groups operating across the country in our current year. 917! That may surprise some people, but it somehow didn't really surprise me. Just because slavery is illegal and there is desegregation does NOT mean the ideology of white supremacy was laid to rest alongside of discriminatory laws.
It's easy to ignore racism when we can say we've had a black president, and it's much harder to recognize racism when it isn't wearing a hood and traipsing across the lawns of minorities. We've moved from a violent and explicit prejudice, to a covert, subtle, nuanced form of separatism and prejudice that is much easier to deny, to ignore, and is therefore unequivocally more dangerous. Charlottesville isn't shocking, or atypical thinking, it is a more radical form of what a lot of people already believe in their hearts.
It's mortifying to see that our country seemingly digresses to outdated and inhumane thinking, but the silver lining can be that this radical exhibition of hatred can wake the rest of the country up. It can stimulate introspection and conversations and confessions that I don't think have ever happened. It's terrifying to have a light shine so brightly on our country's skeletons, but it creates an incriminating distinction between what is light and what is dark.
The light doesn't just show the ugly, it also embodies hope. A hope that we can stop denying and ignoring injustice, that we can realize our biases, question our beliefs, and challenge our hearts to love deeper than we have in the past. We all receive and reflect light differently. We can use this moment of truth to point us in the right direction - to turn from our horrendous mistakes, and to create a healthy pattern of light for those that come after.
As my husband and I fumble through this life caring for our family of 7, we have undoubtedly pushed through some difficult financial spells. Although we are in the best place we've ever been, we have hit a rough spot due to some fairly large unforseen's, and some other big expenses. The children can never tell the difference, because what's normative for them, remains. Justin and I, however, go a little hungry. This feels so pretentious even mentioning, because we don't understand true lack. We never go a full day without eating, it's more like cutting back just enough to make the groceries stretch longer, conserving for our children. It's not a gnawing pain, but an ever-present hunger. Even in our "need," our closets are bulging, our corners crammed and compact with yesterday's wants, and the underneath of beds spill with non-essentials.
I only mention these personal details because this is exactly what's compelled me to see how much of an advantage hungering has given me. As the weeks drag on and our finances balance out once again, I realize that to have a stomach that perpetually petitions for food, serves as a gentle reminder of how grateful I should feel for what I DO have, especially when all we usually have to do it pick up some of those (mostly) available hours of labor to compensate for a tough time.
When my stomach churns for sustenance, it pushes me to think of all of those around the globe that have no hope or expectation for nourishment. It gives space to think about how we spend our money and what value of food we're serving our bodies. It also creates a deep place of empathy for those who experience a violent desperation for their basic needs. I've been able to meditate on the truth that when we are a little hungry, it leaves room to seek out things that will nourish us in more lasting ways. Because denying yourself leaves space to look to something greater than ourselves for answers and for provision.
It's counter-cultural to deny ourselves in any way, isn't it?! We have come to believe that the American Dream is more of a position to attain, than an equal opportunity for all. We are a country who has the most, and yet remains the most unfulfilled. Our eagerness to consume, has led us to have the largest trade deficit AND national debt ($40,000 per second) in the world. That's 196 independent countries, and we have the largest amount of "stuff" that we still owe for. Does all of this overconsumption leave us happier? Well, we also have the highest rates of depression, and the most people reliant on pharmaceuticals in the world. I'd say not. We are the most starved, over-fed nation. We dump loads of money on our happiness, when it is simply not something up for purchase. We spent 248 million dollars on Starbucks in 2016 alone, while there are countries begging for aide for their people who are dying of ACTUAL starvation, lack of health services, and poor sanitation. At 248 million dollars a year, I’d say the American Dream is about drowning in our own pursuit of happiness. We are surely acquainted with suffering, but it's not from the deep recesses of hunger and need, but rather, being bloated on the American Dream.
I'm not claiming to be enlightened from an occasional growling stomach, but it sure has urged me to discipline my body with humility and self-denial, so that I don't become another statistic of the over-fed. I'm understanding that my comfort really has nothing to do with what actually matters and fulfills, and that the reality is, physical food only leaves me hungry for more.
I want to be counter-cultural in my efforts to be satisfied. I don't want a bigger appetite for my own desires, but one that enables me to give more deeply, to feed more selflessly, and to be more naturally inclined to deny myself for the sake of others. This is true fulfillment - to give my food to those who are hungrier than I, and feel well-fed because of it.