On a day that everyone is giving thanks for family and turkey and football and apple pie, there’s something else I need to write about first.
Monday night I was feeling under the weather. I was fast asleep before 9 PM. I woke up, adhering to my self-imposed social media blackout (besides a quick scan of my feed) in order to get a pressing work project finished, then at about 1PM I went through my stream.
It was like waking up the day after 9/11 and realizing your world had imploded, and you had missed it.
It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I had no idea until an entire afternoon later about the Mike Brown grand jury verdict or its impact. I had no idea about the riots, they mayhem in Ferguson, the protest marches being organized, the rightful, overdue outrage and the pain searing a swath across the nation. I had not followed the previous night’s events unfolding live, and so I had not built up hours of my own anger and passion and frustration. I no idea about the raging social media fights that ensued, the anger, the spate of unfriending and fighting.
I just didn’t know.
I had so much to catch up on; a minute is like an hour in social media time. 16 hours? A lifetime. So I read. I read more. My eyes opened wide. I followed the social feeds of people of color I know, and people I’ve never met. I joined a few Facebook conversations started by others.
There were a few thoughts that formulated in my mind. I wanted to jump in but the truth is, I still felt behind; too uninformed to say something of substance that hadn’t already been said better.
Those of you who know me know that it’s not like me to say nothing when there are things that need saying. For better or for worse. However what I didn’t think about at the time, is that when someone like me who tries to stand on the side of social justice says nothing, it is evident. Not to everyone–I’m not nearly egotistical enough to think that the world gives a damn about my every thought–but to people who matter to me. To my friends.
The first time I wrote about Ferguson here, I said:
Like a friend you haven’t called back for weeks which becomes months which astoundingly becomes years because no one dares to make the next move, I simply didn’t write. I wanted to say the right thing about Ferguson. I had no right thing to say.
Then I realized that my silence, though not intended as silence, is not benign. It hurts.
Silence says more than it doesn’t.
And here I was in this position again. I hate that.
I was thinking, where do we go from here? How do we fix this? How do we rally the most people behind this? And so, I wanted to talk about dialogue. I wanted to talk about how we make this an “everyone’s problem” instead of an “our problem” or a “your problem.” I wanted to talk to white friends who, like me, might be hesitant to speak up for fear of saying the wrong thing. I wanted to acknowledge the amazing friends of color I have, and how masterfully–and kindly–people like Karen Walrond and Kelly Wickham and Heather Barmore and Kimberly Coleman and Stacy Ferguson are able to correct us and teach us when we do get it wrong. They opened my eyes and heart so much over the years.
And like a dumbass, I thought I could do all of that in just 140 characters.
White ppl need to speak up about #Ferguson injustice too, even if we say it wrong. POC: If we say it wrong, correct us. Kindly.
Oh, the irony: In a tweet about getting it wrong, I got it right for some people, but wrong for other people who were already in a world of pain; the last people I’d ever want to hurt more.
And so I slowly backed away from the computer, all the while the heaviness in my heart growing until it was almost unbearable. I cried all night. When your voice is your strongest weapon, and you feel it dulled and rendered unusable, what do you have then? When you have let down people you love and care about, where does that leave you?
I read–then reread–Heather Barmore’s piece asking, Why Don’t My White Friends Talk About Race? Here’s What They Told Me. That’s when I started counting the minutes until I would be home from an early Thanksgiving at my mother’s, with Internet actually working (damn snowstorm), so I could write.
Yeah, I may still say it wrong, but tough. I can’t worry about that anymore.
Yeah, it’s a few days late. I can’t worry about that either.
I want to say that respectful dialogue on both sides goes further than angry attacks. It’s a fact. That may piss you off. Fine.
I want to say that yes, intent does matter; and if someone is trying to take your side in support of social justice, even if she says it wrong, find a way to allow her in and teach her so you gain an ally. That may piss you off. Fine.
I want say to every white person I know who is trying to justify that there was no racism involved in this case, I find it very hard to find anything likeable about you right now. That may piss you off. Fine.
I want to say that if you’re focusing on rioters more than you’re focusing on the message of the protesters. then you are part of the problem too. That may piss you off. Fine.
I want to say that anytime someone of any race, says about the other All you people always… or See, that’s the problem with you people…. I want to scream. That may piss you off. Fine.
I want to say to those of you who wish the news would talk about something else already, you are the people who need to hear it the most. This is not about a single grand jury trial, it’s symptomatic of something larger. In fact, I am fairly certain that for many young adults and teens, that this will be a major turning point that impacts the direction of tens of thousands of young lives, perhaps compelling more young black men to dedicate themselves to politics and government and law, so that they might be part of the solution from the top down.
And I want to say that it’s never the wrong time to say something that needs to be said.
Not even when it’s late. Not even when it’s Thanksgiving.