Race, Racism, White Privilege, Guilt
Freedom, Justice, Peace, Equal opportunity
Negroes, African-Americans, Blacks, BIPOC community
So many words, so little time.
How do we talk about these topics that fill our current news cycle? They are not new at all, yet, rather than take the chance that we may inadvertently offend, or expose our ignorance, or (heavens!) feel uncomfortable, we stay silent. And haven’t we stayed silent too long?
For most of my life, writing has given me the opportunity to clarify my thoughts, sort out my emotions, or understand better my dreams. Does writing work that way for you too?
Our mind is a rather remarkable self-protection app. A topic gets too serious, too heavy, too close? No problem, our mind bounces us off to another (safer) topic. I fall victim to this often and find that when I take the time to commit my thoughts to paper, I find a clarity I often wasn’t even aware I needed.
Talking serves a similar purpose. When I share in a group where vulnerability is welcome, when I hear myself putting words together that I may have never combined before, I also learn. The words don’t necessarily come out elegantly. Sometimes they come out jumbled or even just wrong. So it is with most anything new. We fall alot when we’re learning to walk; we are jerky and weird looking when learning to dance.
So too will we stumble when talking about a topic we’ve never really explored before. And that takes a certain amount of courage. Are you up for it?
A Metaphor Might Help
“People Get Ready, there’s a train a coming,” sang the Chambers Brothers not so long ago. Their recording is my wake up music when I need to set my cell phone’s alarm and, as I write this today, I recognize it was just this morning that this song once again, woke me up. I find it a fitting metaphor for my life in this era when the idea of becoming “awakened” to new ways of seeing is omnipresent.
From the mid ’60s when this musical reflection of that “growing sense of social and political awareness” first hit the radio waves, the lyrics grabbed me and haven’t let go. As I’m writing this essay, I hear the strains once again. Here’s the opening chorus.
People get ready, there’s a train a coming.
You don’t need to no baggage, you just get on board.
All you need is faith, to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.
Generally though, waking up to this haunting melody, I see the time, hit the STOP button, and get on into my day. The second verse generally escapes me. It’s a good one.
People get ready, for the train to Jordan
Picking up passengers coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board ’em
There’s hope for all, among those loved the most.
Like the chorus, this verse pleads an appealing all-inclusiveness. We climb on board from “coast to coast,” all we need is the “faith” that a better world is possible. It also seems to me this train is pulling through the station and it won’t be here for long. We live in a brief moment in time before this particular train pulls away once again. Do we really want our lives to go back to how they once were?
Jordan is that promised land where, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr, “content of their character” rules over “color of their skin.” And, as this train to Jordan moves along the track, I’m gratified to see the passenger list grow. I have been on this train for a very long time, since college, though I recognize stepped off for many years. Others I know are relatively new. It doesn’t matter when we each got on. What’s important is that we’re on it now, together. For “Together, we can do what we cannot do alone.”
The Chambers Brothers sing another verse before ending with the chorus. Oh, to deconstruct this next verse.
There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind, just to save his own, (believe me now)
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there is no hiding place, against the kingdom’s throne
Who are those who “would hurt all mankind?” Is “pity” accurate? Perhaps that’s as good a place as any to begin to talk about racism. We will stumble, we may offend, and we’ll certainly feel uncomfortable. But we begin by being our authentic selves, for, I believe, we cannot afford to stay silent any longer.
I wouldn’t leave you without a link to the Chambers Brothers rendition of the Curtis Mayfield song. Here’s People Get Ready.
HOW ABOUT YOU? Are you on board yet? Do share your story with us.