The Holy Spirit came in a way that maybe a lot of us weren't expecting, but that was needed.
I write because it helps me process. I also write to educate when I can. I also write to document. This week has given us as a world and a country a lot to process, educate ourselves about, and I hope that we will document.
It's hard to comment on what is going on right now because 1) I am a white, privileged woman. But I have found that being silent does not help people get justice and that even if I don't think that my voice is important, there is always someone who is listening that may need to learn, not necessarily from me, but maybe from my research or someone who is smarter or more qualified than me that I can share about.
2.) We are still living in and through this time in history, so it is hard to comment on what will come of it. We have gone from global pandemic (which we are still very much in) to radical movements because three more African American lives- those of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd- were taken due to systemic racism that lies in our culture and in our policing systems.
The purpose of this blog post is to share what I can in hopes that I can maybe help someone who is struggling to understand what is happening right now. It's also my own very tiny contribution because I don't want to remain silent. I cannot possibly sum up everything that we are all feeling. I think one of the downfalls of the internet is that we want to simplify everything into one concise comment or meme and sometimes those things if done right can be effective. But racism in this country is so deeply rooted in our systems, it is going to take more than just what is happening this week, more than one blog post.
On Saturday, May 30, I was attending yet another Zoom party for a birthday of a friend. While I was online, I could hear sirens and helicopters outside of my apartment. I live in Richmond, VA, about two blocks from The Daughters of the Confederacy building and maybe half a mile from Monument Avenue which holds several monuments to white male soldiers who led the Confederacy. I texted some friends to see what was going on and was told that protesters had been organizing and mobilizing and were moving through tagging monuments and even setting The Daughters of the Confederacy building on fire.
This was the moment that I had to process and decide. The George Floyd murder had happened over Memorial Day which was back on May 25. All of that week, up until the protests, I had said nothing. Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor's deaths had actually happened before we went into shutdown and I remember hearing about them and seeing a couple of posts, but I said nothing.
With the protests happening literally two blocks away from me and helicopters flying over my head, I could not ignore or stay silent anymore. The protests forced me to look at what was going on. The protesters did tag and set fire to buildings and structures, but they did so to buildings and structures that stand for a racist ideology and our racist past. I have long agreed with taking our confederate statues and monuments down, but in the capital of the Confederacy? I never thought it would happen. I had tried to talk about the issue of taking monuments down with my students for the past couple of years, I had addressed cases like Trayvon Martin's with them, I had wept for Tamir Rice, and I tried to make a case for Colin Kaepernick with them, but other than those dialogues (which are important and I am glad that I have in my classroom), I have mainly stayed silent.
The morning after the protests, I (like many other white people of privilege, I noticed) walked over to see what had been done to the structures. I took some pictures and posted them, again, to document. And then I went to Church for the first time since the middle of March when quarantine had started.
My parish has been very organized now that Phase 1 has been implemented in Richmond. I had to sign up online to receive a "ticket" to Mass (which certainly felt weird, but I get that we need to document who is attending and make sure we stay at 50% capacity) and answer questions about my health. We waited in line to be checked in and while I was waiting in line, I heard some older white people standing behind me saying it was "such a shame" that the protesters were causing destruction to our monuments. I wanted to turn around and say something to them. But I didn't.
I could've turned around and said: "People are angry." "Those monuments stand for hate." "Destroying monuments is nothing compared to destroying lives." But I didn't.
I went into my first Mass, one that I thought was going to be a joyful end to the Easter season, with a very heavy heart. I was glad that our bishop addressed the movements happening outside our doors and we prayed. I then actually got into my car shortly after the Mass and joined my friend's family for a week in North Carolina for a beach trip. I obviously hadn't planned to leave town when all this was going on- it was the last week of school, we had been just been moved to Phase 1 of quarantine, and now my city and cities around the world were starting a movement- but I retreated. And I'm not going to fault myself for that completely because after two months of quarantine and ending the school year as I did, I believe I needed this past week for some self care. While at the beach, I took time each day to read articles, sign petitions, post on social media about what was happening in Richmond and around our country. I tried not to be silent, even though I was still removed.
Today is a new day. I am back in Richmond and about to head to Mass for the second time. I hope that today, if I hear comments in line, that I will say something. I plan on attending some of the protests that are continuing here in my city. I will continue to post and read and educate myself.
For those of you who might be wondering- why now? Well, "why not now?" And "why hasn't it happened sooner?" might be the better questions. I personally do think that the quarantine has had something to do with it. People have had time to sit and process and also to mobilize since many of us are at home. I also think that having a president who has allowed racism to come to the surface has angered people enough that people will not sit quiet anymore. Similar to the "Me Too" movement and Women's March that mobilized after we elected a president who openly said that he would sexually assault women by grabbing them and making fun of a female reporter's "bleeding", I think in a weird way, this presidency has allowed these issues emerge to the surface where we can't look away anymore. We can't say that theses issues don't exist, because they are in our faces. This is NOT a credit to him in any way, but to the people that are mobilizing and creating movements and who are not tolerating his behavior and I think that is "why now."
Also, we don't want any more black lives to be taken. Too much blood has been shed in this country due to systematic racism. If you don't understand what that means, here is a video I thought explained it well. And if you are someone who thinks we should say "All Lives Matter", here are a couple of passages in Scripture that I think point out otherwise:
- In Paul's 1st Letter to the Corinthians (chapter 12: 12-27), he says that we are all parts of the one body of Christ. But that when one of the parts of the body is hurting, the whole body suffers with it. Right now, black lives are the part of the body is hurting, so we call attention to it. We lift them up. We are still all one body, but that part needs attention and healing right now. That is what the Church's Catholic Social Teaching on Solidarity has long taught.
- The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15)- Christ is the Good Shepherd. When one of the sheep is "lost", He leaves the 99 to go and find it. Right now, we need to attend to that one part of the sheepfold and serve them and help them, just as Christ would.
- The Beatitudes (Matthew Chapter 5)- We know that all are "blessed", but Jesus calls out and separates those who are truly blessed. The poor, the mourning...aren't these the communities crying out now?
So what can we do to help? I have actually heard from people in the black community that we should not ask them what we can do right now, but rather we should research for ourselves. Read books and articles by black authors. Support black business owners. Follow black artists and advocates on social media. Listen to podcasts by black content creators. Hear their stories.
We live right now in a "cancel culture" where we hear of something that we don't agree with and we immediately want to write off that thing or person. I have struggled with this concept for the past couple of years. There are some things that absolutely need to be cancelled- things like the confederate monuments that were put up during the Jim Crow era to remind an entire demographic of people of the war and people that wanted to oppress and enslave them, for example. In the "Me Too" movement- people like Harvey Weinstein who had assaulted hundreds of women- needed to be taken down so that he wouldn't assault another woman again. But most of us, in most cases, we need room for growth and forgiveness. We need time to educate and learn and reconcile. I have heard from at least two friends that seeing people's posts about Black Lives Matter has made them change their ways of thinking. Having open dialogues does work. But so do large demonstrations that people can't look away from.
I believe the Church and ultimately Christ have always taught me what I need to know for difficult situations that I may not know how to deal with myself. Christ does say in the Gospels that if something is leading you to sin (or in this case influencing evil in the world), to cut it off. But Christ's whole mission and Paschal Mystery (his suffering, death, and resurrection) was about forgiveness. He died so that we could have redemption. He says in the Scriptures to correct your brother if he has wronged you, and to go to the Church or the courts if he has wronged you, but not to harm him or humiliate him or tear him down.
I know that this time is confusing and we are all processing a lot. This is just the beginning, just a start to hopefully some great changes. But it isn't going to be easy. Tough conversations are going to be had. We are going to have to rely on those gifts of the Holy Spirit if we want to see the fruits.
I'm going to end with a quote that I found this week that sums up some things that I have been feeling well:
Black Lives Matter.