For the past ten days, each breath I’ve taken has felt triumphant and treacherous. In the same breath I would inhale hope and exhale despair. With as many breaths taken, I somehow still felt as if I was suffocating. A lingering heaviness remains in my chest, yet I persist in taking long, deep breaths of hope to survive. This is the only way I know to describe the unavoidable collision which occurs when the topic of racial injustice becomes a national (dare I say global) conversation and you live, work, or worship in a space where “White Gaze” is dominant or ever present.
My time in Memphis has been unique, particularly in the new relationships developed; majority of my deeper friendships in this city are with white women. I am thankful for these women, but pandemics and protests have revealed that their love for me had better not be based on a feeling or we’re in trouble. Feelings alone won’t sustain a friendship.
Unity feels good, when all appears good with the world. However, when people are protesting racial injustice in all 50 states and social media profiles are repeatedly highlighting the stories of #GeorgeFloyd and #BreonnaTaylor, those high and lofty feelings dissipate and we are left with the ugly truth of our bias. Sometimes our biases are stronger than our belief. Our belief in Christ and love of neighbor is superseded by an eye of interrogation of the Black life. “What did he/she do to deserve this?” Superseded by ideals of white savior-ism and notions of rescuing black friends from racism. “I don’t know what to do…just wish I could make all of this go away…” Superseded by complicit silence for fear of not “knowing what to say” or “having the right words.” “I really didn’t want to say the wrong thing to you as a white person, so I didn’t say anything…” Superseded by a strange premise that demonstration of love or support to a Black friend is different than that of a white friend. “You’re black…and I’m white…and…I just don’t know how to love you in this time.”
The myriad of responses from many of my white friends during the most recent unrest caused me such sadness. I then began to ponder, when I have nothing to give emotionally, intellectually, socially, spiritually, (fill in the blank), will these friends still demonstrate love towards me? When we’ve lost that loving feeling, how then will Christ be glorified? When tears and pain are my constant diet and the warmness of presence you’ve known of me seems to be no more. When my enrage of of the devaluing of black lives is communicated will you see me as just another angry black woman? When I can no longer help you bear your burden, will you rise to help me carry mine? When I present you with the depth of my pain, will you rise and meet me in that space or will you retreat? When my actions don’t “feel” loving, will you still love me?
I have one prayer during this time for my white friends and it is that you would rise. RISE to meet your black friends in this fight for justice. We are tired of hearing you say you just didn’t know what to say. Say something and be vulnerable in your humanity. We are tired of hearing you say it’s not your personality to say something. Courage is not about personality (ask this introvert). We are tired of hearing you say it’s hard. We know. YOU can do hard things. We are tired of you saying you just don’t know what to do. Educate yourself first. Listen (to Black people) second. Lastly act. We are tired of your excuses. It’s time to make moves. Join the movement.
Recently, so many of my white friends, whom I love, have retreated if they weren’t praised for their actions (posts on social media, watching a documentary on race, etc.); if the pain was too great; if I didn’t initiate dialogue. After years of these types of conversations and consistent complicity from white christians from city to city, I almost decided to taper my expectations of white people during these times. I’ve decide not to do that. I will continue to push my white friends to live out the shared values of faith espoused.
When our belief in Christ and love of neighbor is stronger than our bias, we will rise and not retreat. Our deep conviction to see the gospel manifest will drive our action in public and in private. Below, a dear friend of mine articulates what this exhaustion might look like.
White christian friends, I am hopeful that your courage to stand for justice is a reflection of your deeper conviction (as a follower of Christ), not your desire for my validation as your Black friend. Some days I won’t be able to validate you because I am literally trying to catch my breath in this marathon of justice. Ask yourself – when the pressure increases (and it will), will you stop standing with me when I stop validating you? Only you can answer that.
I don’t know what love feels like to you, but I do know what it looks like to me. It looks like rising; a progressive upward movement towards the goal of justice. Don’t run away from your Black friends when they are in pain. That doesn’t look like love. Don’t ignore or try to escape from their pain. That doesn’t look like love. Don’t settle for inactivity in their pain. That doesn’t look like love. Be present. Be active. Be purposeful. The average number of breaths per day is 23, 040. Imagine exhaling despair that many times per day. It’s exhausting. I am are tired, but I won’t quit demonstrating my love for the marginalized. I hope you don’t either. Let’s do work.