For everyone who wants to write about Ferguson but hasn’t.

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.

I tweeted:

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.

So.

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.

{15 Comments}

15 thoughts on “For everyone who wants to write about Ferguson but hasn’t.”

  1. Thank you for posting. It seems like you are apologizing for lateness, but the wave of voices will need to go on and on. There is no late, there is only action.

    After a half-hearted and sad post the morning after, I re-posted a Facebook post from my husband after my initial literature-based response. It was much more thought out and meaningful than my urgent response. Sometimes waiting is not the worst thing in the world.

    Even so, with a much needed spotlight on incidents of brutality from public servants and civilians alike, we all need to sit up and pay attention even if — perhaps especially — it doesn’t directly affect us. Because we are all implicated, whether we stand silent or not. And adding silence to the mash-up is acquiescence and acceptance. Maybe not in our own minds, but in the public sphere it is. It is.

    We much choose to confront what we want changed. And I firmly believe that it has to happen with optimism and exhausting hope.

    1. Thank you Cynthia. I’ve talked to my mom so much about this who always told me that they marched so we wouldn’t have to (war, feminism, racism, equality). I can only imagine your own perspective.

  2. I feel like I’ve started a post on this so many times, after so many horrible incidents, and then I can’t find words that are enough. I will try again. Thank you for saying your version what many of us are struggling to say ourselves.

  3. In so many ways, I find myself feeling that the problem isn’t in not talking, it’s in not listening.

    Or maybe it’s not having it happen to you. Not having it happen to someone you love. Not being able to empathize.

    To me, Ferguson is emblematic of the long-standing trend of police treating their communities as if they were the enemy. It’s about the lack of transparency and the lack of truly independent investigations. It’s also about accepted training and policy that ensures mistakes and malfeasance are nearly indistinguishable.

    The Ferguson community deserves to be heard. It deserves to ask tough questions and get real answers. Not lip service.

  4. I was camping in Joshua Tree when the decision not to indict came in. My cell phone was off most of the time due to lack of signal. So, like you, I got the news late- although I knew it was coming. I was disappointed but not surprised to read the news when I got back in range of cell phone towers.

    But then I came home to the happy chaos of getting ready to host Thanksgiving and then I hosted it… and it is only now that I have time to write anything. I don’t really know what to say beyond what I’ve said in earlier posts, but I will include something in today’s Weekend Reading post, along with links to things other people have written. I have to say something because we have a serious problem in this country and young Black people are being killed because of it. The very least I can do is acknowledge that problem.

    I have one comment to add about the tone of the dialogue. I agree wholeheartedly that respectful discussion is more productive than anything else- but I also know from my own experience of being a woman in a very, very male-dominated field that sometimes the people who are most hurt by something just do not have the emotional reserves to have a respectful discussion. I know that the experience of sexism and the experience of racism are not exactly the same, but I try to take what I feel as someone on the receiving end of a lot of sexism and apply that to how I respond to people who are on the receiving end of racism. I also do the reverse, and try to take what it feels like to be the person with implicit biases who unintentionally says or does offensive things and apply that to how I respond to the well-meaning men in my field.

    I don’t have any profound insights from this, but basically it boils down to: I try to patiently explain why X is offensive to men who ask, even if they are the 53rd man I’ve explained that to this week. When someone in another marginalized group tells me something is wrong or hurtful, I try to shutdown my own emotional (and probably defensive!) response and listen to the content and not be put off by the anger or frustration in their tone.

    I can’t always do either of these things, but that’s what I aim for. To be honest, sometimes I just don’t have it in me to explain something that seems basic to me to the 53rd dude that week. The emotional work of keeping yourself sane and happy in an environment that is so often hostile- even if the hostility is unintentional a lot of the time- is real. It is exhausting. So, I think it is fair for those people for whom the environment is not hostile to take on some of that emotional work by absorbing some angry and hurt responses. When it comes to matters or race, that means me.

    Anyway, great post. I’m glad you’re saying something.

    1. Thank you Cloud, I also use that example in my own life as well. Your points are very well taken. It’s infuriating to hear that there is no sexism, no need for feminism, when I’ve had (male) clients ask me (and only me) to get them coffee. Certainly it’s a terribly analogy in a lot of ways, like you say–my life is not on the line, nor are my children’s. But it’s the closest I can come to trying to understand a different, discriminatory perspective. And so yes, I understand the frustration. Which is why I felt terrible to have inadvertently hurt anyone.

      This is so complex–and will become more so, before the goals and tactics are clarified. Now, even a week later, I’m feeling the movement towards protests and marches and vigils, especially here in NYC.

      I’m glad you’re part of the journey. I always learn from you.

  5. I agree with Cloud about taking the lessons of being on the receiving end of sexism to racism. Men don’t get to mansplain feminism to us. We don’t get to tell racial minorities what they should do about racism. It is not their job to educate us about racism. They don’t have to be kind about it. And definitely the emotional response to having to explain the same old @#$# over and over again.

    I can open carry without being shot on sight. Being told I said something wrong, even if it’s rude, pales in comparison to the idea that I or my son could get shot just for walking outside unarmed and the murderer be praised.

    Saying, on the one hand, it’s bad to murder people based on their race, but on the other hand, those minorities shouldn’t be rude to me when I try to say people shouldn’t kill minorities for being minorities… that’s kind of a false equivalence. Only one results in death. (And it’s not even a gamergate level of “rude” with threats– it’s usually just pointing out something was said poorly and which the speaker’s feelings because deep down ze knows ze said something wrong but still wants points for trying.)

    One caveat– I do dislike it when white women are held responsible for all of sexism (ex. Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer), all of racism, etc. when white men are given a bye (and praised just for trying or sometimes just for not being explicitly -ist). They’re the ones with the power and the ones who can make real change. They should hold at least some responsibility.

    1. I hear you Nicole, and I always appreciate your passion and perspective. I’ve heard others with similar points of view, too. To be clear, there’s no equivalency at all here. It’s not “my feelings” vs “racially-motivated homicide” and I’m not entirely sure how that comparison comes into place My feeling are irrelevant, as I said specifically on Twitter, and I have never used the term “rude” nor would I. I never pointed to any sort of “rude” remarks. My goal, innocently (or naively or inappropriately or horribly, depending on your pov) was to broach the subject of dialogue and coalition building.

      What I have learned however over the last several weeks is that there it is early for that conversation for a lot of people. We may all be on the same side, against injustice and police brutality, but there are many positions within that realm. Some people want to figure out how to build a strong, bi-racial coalition; some people want to speak out against white people or the government as a whole, rising up in (justified) anger from generations of systemic subjugation and worse. I have heard people say they don’t want white people involved in this; this is “our” fight. I can still disagree with that sentiment while appreciating and respecting where it comes from.

      I can’t say things that will guarantee offend no one. Not sure any of us can. I can only say what I want to say, hoping that people I know and respect know my heart and my intentions are good, and try to listen and learn and adapt and grow my own thinking along the way.

  6. Oh my. I’m only reading this today, after posting a pretty similar sentiment on Facebook the other day: that silence, in this case, isn’t nothing.

    Love you, Liz, for so many reasons, including your willingness to be open like this.

    1. I’ve been remiss in responding to comments because I have been listening more than talking. So yes, trying to be open to more perspectives, and there are a lot. Love seeing you here Asha.

  7. This is probably only the second time I have had to say this in more than 8 years of blogging, and it sadly bears repeating: I never have and never will approve comments that include ad hominem attacks (on me or other commenters), trolling, taunting, or off-topic remarks.

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