“Stay close to Mommy, grab your sweater, you are loved beyond measure, are you buckled in?” These are a few words that I, like so many other Moms have spoken. We protect our children. It’s a natural reflex and jokes are often made about being careful to not awaken the “Mama Bear.”
When Morgan my oldest daughter was graduating from High School, I was sitting next to another mom at Baccalaureate and started uncontrollably sobbing- the ceremony hadn’t even started yet!
I was kneeling on the church pew, soaking in the moment with joy, gratitude, and so much pride for her accomplishments. Then it hit me. Every day since the day she was born I asked God, the universe, my own soul for the same three things. Please give me the wisdom to guide her, the words to help her see her gifts, and the strength to protect her.
Out of habit, my heart began to speak those words silently to my soul and to any and every spiritual entity who listens. In stillness of my prayer, I heard the word, protect, that was the moment I sobbed. When my friend asked me what was wrong, I told her literally gasping for breath though my tears. “She won’t be near me, I won’t be able to protect her.. she is leaving for NORTH CAROLINA!. Oh my God.. I can no longer protect her.”
In retrospect, it was a false belief that I could always protect her. At least not from an evil named Racism that I tried desperately to deny existed. I am white, my daughter is black, a biracial young woman who I always told how lucky for her that she had “the best of both worlds.” Her dad is one of my close friends, who happens to be my ex-husband, and we didn’t talk about black, or white or brown. We didn’t discuss race at all.
The world around us, unbeknownst to me until last week, had revealed the ugly truth of bias, and bigotry to her many times in her 25 years of life. As well as to her younger sister. Each of which has an undeniable strength, intellect and character that forged mightier against the tide of those challenges. This week I learned that being naive is not an excuse, denial is not an excuse. I wanted so badly for systemic racism to be a part of a shameful history that we learned from, not something we carried with us like backpacks and hand me downs. But wanting it doesn’t make it so. And it also doesn’t ignite change.
Today I ask for three things for my children, to those spiritual entities that listen. Please give me the wisdom to navigate the hard, undeniable truth, the words to inspire change and the strength to hold tightly to hope.
Today as I am writing this it is Saturday June 6th 2020, and hope carried us through a day of marching in protest. My legs are shouting at me, they ache a bit with use, a welcome reminder that change should be uncomfortable.
It is important that I share my sense of responsibility, why my white voice is one that needs to be heard. My friend Rana, shared with me the sentiment that sexism will end when men take a stand for women, and racism will end when the majority takes a stand for the minority.
The picture on this blog post that says, “The Mamas Heard you George” touched me the most, especially on the heels of recognizing the common instinct and desire we have as moms to protect. In case you had not learned yet, that while he was dying, George Floyd yelled out for his Mama. All of us know that even as adults, Mama’s represent refuge and safety. The person who would do anything to save you. In addition to equality and justice for all humanity, it is that yearning to safeguard children, people, the disenfranchised, the oppressed that propels action. So, I marched with my family, friends, over 6 miles in protest, in hope, in sorrow and in love. There were thousands of us … a sea of humanity making waves for change. The young man organizing the event spoke into the microphone and shared a few thoughts. He invited us to take a moment of silence. Not a novel concept. We have all done it, many times in honor or memory of a fallen friend, hero or person of fame. This was different. This was different because we were remembering someone who also represented many others. He represented injustice. He represented brutality. He represented discrimination. He represented bigotry. He represented every person we have failed to protect. He represented the stain of racism on America. A stain we have barely even tried to remove. His name is George Floyd.
This moment of silence was also different because we were invited to be silent for the same amount of time that George Floyd was degraded in broad daylight, pinned down on his stomach, handcuffed and murdered by the knee of a monster pressing into his neck. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds.
Before our moment of silence, the young man requested that we repeat after him. ”I can’t breathe.” Louder he said “I can’t breathe……I can’t breathe.” By the third time I repeated those words, my eyes had welled up with tears. I encourage you to try it. Say out loud, “I can’t breathe.” As if you are begging for your life, and try not to begin feeling the panic. The pain. The fear. The disgrace that four uniformed men whose job it is to protect and serve stood by while George Floyd was killed in front of everyone, including a camera.
Then we were silent. All three thousand plus people of all ages and colors, along the San Diego Bay boardwalk stood in silence for eight minutes and forty-six seconds. The first two minutes felt familiar. My head was bowed, eyes closed and hands folded together. Around minute four, tears welled up and came tumbling down, streaming along the sides of my cheeks. By minute five, my head was shaking slowly, silently indicating “No…No…No Way..” I had on my heavy, fabric mask because of the pandemic and it became hard to breathe and cry behind the cloth. The irony did not escape me. By around six minutes, I looked up at the sky, tears rolling and my heart raged with the pain of imagining the anguish. There is simply no way to describe the remaining minutes, the eternity it felt like and the torment the exercise represented.
I implore you to re-enact these eight minutes and forty-six seconds of silence. Why am I asking you do this? Why am I giving you a minute by minute description of this powerful experience?
Because not everyone will attend a peaceful protest where they will be asked to do this.
Because most of you who are hearing this or reading this are white, and it is up to us to learn, to understand, and to finally participate in the healing and the eradication of that stain of racism once and for all. We will mess up. We will make mistakes. I am no expert. But forward movement even if it is imperfect is progress. And empathy is our greatest hope for healing, understanding, change, peace and equality. Empathy allows us as mothers to tap into the Mama Bear that wants to defend our children, and protect human kind. Acting on that protective instinct is what all of us can do, and imagine the thousands of instances of racial profiling, and brutality that have been happening for eons and not caught on camera.While we cannot change the past, we can change the future. The basis for unity and harmony is simply to treat others with the respect, kindness and compassion deserved by every living being.
I wrote this short poem as my heart cracked open on behalf of the black community, including my family, who have endured so much, so often, and in silence. I teach people to open their mouth and their hearts at the same time. I am doing what I teach. While I cannot impact the past, I will do everything I can to inspire and influence change now and each day forward.
After sending this blog, which is really a recounting of my experience, I will defer to the voices that deserve to be heard. The black voices that have been speaking up for decades, upon decades. It is now time for me amplify those voices on this subject and not my own. I am learning and unlearning and will allow my example to lead the way.
A poem to invoke the end of our silence. We can no longer stand on the sidelines.
Colorblind. Silent. Paralyzed. Deaf. Closed. NO!
If we close our eyes to you, then we will not see …the injustice that you face each day, no more “them”… from now on it’s WE.
And if we close our eyes to you, then we could not see …the beauty of the love you give- lest love may never be.
If we close our lips to you, then we could not speak…the words that you deserve to hear, that say-we’ve been so weak.
And if we close our lips to you, then we could not say…we may not understand your pain, but can stand by you every day.
If we close our hands to you, then we can’t extend..the holding of your hand in ours, to show we want to mend.
If our arms stay down for you, then you will not feel.. the warmth of our embrace, that let you know – it’s real.
If our ears stay deaf to you, then we can ignore …the cries that you have tried to share. We need to listen so much more.
And if we do not hear your words that tell, we cannot learn/ unlearn the lessons to make us well.
If our hearts are closed to change, then we won’t be whole; your value, your life, your gifts we need …for you complete our soul.
If our hearts are open to learn and grow, together we will change our world and tomorrow our children will know. See. Speak. Act. Listen. Open. YES!
3 Resources to help learn and unlearn:
- Book – How to be Anti-racist. Author – Ibram X Kendi
- Read James Baldwin Essay On Being “white” and other lies
- Instagram to follow @austinchanning (Writer, speaker, author, racial justice)