I have come to this conclusion: if we are not helping our neighbors now, we will never help our neighbors.
If we’re not loving them now, we never will love them.
If we’re not actively looking for ways to make systems more equitable and just, we never will look for ways to do it.
If we’re embedded in and committed to complacency and selfish ambition, this is where we shall remain.
All of which is, of course, unfair to say and perhaps not entirely correct, given that humans can grow and improve and change, but even if it’s not fair or correct on a micro scale — not fair or correct for every individual — I believe it is accurate in the aggregate and on the macro scale. If we, as a nation — as a society, as a culture — are unable to see the suffering of the masses in our midst and aren’t proactively compassionate and helpful while people of color are crying out for justice, and refugee children are stuck in cages at our borders, and our schools are closed for in-person learning which will disproportionately affect students who experience poverty and disability, and our economy is in free fall for those without stocks and property investments, then we are willfully ignorant.
We are living, Diary, in a time of social upheaval, and the way we behave right now — the things we see and the actions we take — define who we are. We know now how we will behave when crisis is upon us. We know now whether we are people who are expansive and welcoming, more eager to give than to receive, looking out for those among us who are vulnerable and need help, or whether we are exclusive and afraid, looking out for ourselves before others, shutting down and blaming the “other” for the harm and hurt they’re experiencing.
I often wondered how folks who lived through the 1960s were able to emerge from those years even more racially isolated and entrenched in camps that allowed them to fall so gleefully into systems that expanded their own personal wealth and power at the expense of people of color. I wondered how we emerged from the Civil Rights Era with churches more segregated than ever. And I’ve wondered only recently — after discovering my own profound blindness to injustice — how we managed as a white culture to collectively convince ourselves we’d already overcome racial disparity.
But I don’t wonder anymore.
I can finally see incredibly profound tools our leaders and mentors have wielded to keep us complacent and ignorant and quiet. And I can finally see how I’ve participated in all of the systems to ensure the Wealth and Privilege Ship stays on course.
It starts with tribalism — the idea that if we push back against our tribe, our church, our family, our town, our friends… if we challenge the status quo in any way — we’ll be rejected. Excommunicated. Booted into the wilderness. Forced to fend for ourselves and survive on our own. And that’s a powerful tool. We’re biologically driven to remain ensconced in community. We understand intuitively that we’re safer in greater numbers. So we fundamentally balk at the idea of moving beyond what we’ve been told is “safe.”
And then, of course, the tribe utilizes whatever tools it has at its disposal to create pressure to stay inside the boundaries. An Us vs. Them mentality (“they” will harm you). Using God’s name in vain (“God told me to tell you to behave like this _____.”) The stick of fear (you’ll be outside of “God’s will” or headed for Hell) coupled with the carrot of reward (you’ll one of the “faithful” or headed for Heaven.) Manipulation. Passive aggression. Shame. Control.
It’s no surprise to me, the more I study these tactics, that a) those in power use them, b) we’re so very susceptible to them, and c) they’re so effective. I mean, we’re trained to these structures from infancy. The surprise is, I suppose, that we can ever overcome them. That we can reject coercion and control and even attempt to view our world through a different lens — one created from love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.
But every once in a while, we’re given the opportunity as a culture — as an entire society — to see through the veil. Every once in a while, the curtain is lifted for those of us who are the product of privilege. Every once in while, we’re gifted a glimpse of the lives of those whose entire existence has been behind the facade of Everything’s Fine. Every once in a while, we’re given the eyes to see and the ears to hear.
We’re living through such a time right now.
The shroud has been pulled away.
Even those of us born with rose colored glasses can see the rampant racism running at speed through our nation. Even those of us who’ve been oblivious have been gifted the opportunity to see the plight of immigrants and refugees. Even those of us who’ve never wondered whether there will be dinner on the table are being shown the strictures and stressors of poverty and an economy that’s stalled for everyone except those who already have plenty.
If we can’t see it now — if we’re still desperately holding the scales to our eyes, afraid of what the light will reveal — that’s on us.
We’re making the choice right now.
Who have we been?
Who are we?
Who will we become?
And where will we throw our lifelines?
With love and waving in the bright light of day,
P.S. I’ve struggled for a few weeks now with writing. Primarily, it’s because everything right now feels Very Big, and I don’t know how to break it into bits small enough to consume. I think about the protests in Portland just a few miles from my house, and racism in my tiny town, and enrolling my children in public school to try to counter the folks dropping out so that there will be funds left for kids who don’t have the options we do, and how to take specific anti-racism action, and involvement in local politics, and whether I should feel guilty I’ve totally stopped making food for my family, and on and on and on and on and on. I’ll write more in the days to come if I can manage to remind myself that snippets and spurts are sufficient and than ANY writing for me (which is an emotional and mental release) is better than NO writing, like how brushing my teeth for 30 seconds is better than not brushing them at all. Wish me luck.