On Speaking Up and Standing Up, However Imperfectly

by Abby on June 4, 2020

In my last post, about my memories of a friend who has passed, I said that I write in order to remember, to share, and to heal. This week, the world has changed again, and I have asked myself what my role is as a writer. At times I have written to encourage and inspire. At other times, to entertain and connect. Today, I am writing to record, respond, and show solidarity.

It’s not enough and it won’t change the world, but after grappling with my fears of saying the wrong thing, I’ve decided that this is what I have to offer in this moment. And while no one needs it or is asking for it from me, it’s what is going on in my heart and in my home. My fear of anyone thinking that George Floyd and black lives are not on my radar or don’t matter to me is far greater than my fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.

I have spent the past week reading, watching, listening, hurting, and going way too deep into Twitter comments and IG Lives. All day on Tuesday I grappled with whether or not to post the “black square.” After much research and consideration, I finally decided that it was problematic and I did not.

I scrolled past list after list of links, resources, and books and thought about adding my own, but I did not. I thought about taking inventory in my own home of books, music, art, and toys showing diversity and posting a picture, but I did not. (I did take inventory, and came up with many books by and about people of color, plus a Black Panther T-shirt, but I did not post about it.)

Unfortunately for those of us in Baltimore, this is not new. The outrage over the death of an African-American man at the hands of police, or the related issues. In 2015, our city experienced what is now called the Baltimore Uprising, but was then simply called riots and looting after Freddie Gray died in police custody. I wrote about it here. It was not the first time I had talked to my children about racism, but it was the first time I had to figure out how to talk to them about police brutality.

I was in high school when the video of Rodney King being beaten by the LAPD came out; it was on the news but it was not on a phone in my hand. It was not in my hometown. My kids were 9 and 6 in 2015, and attending a school with a nearly 50% minority student population. Many of their classmates lived in the neighborhoods affected by the riots. Most kids were on or exposed to social media. There was no ignoring or avoiding the news.

In 6th grade, my son had a teacher who based the entire curriculum on Black Lives Matter, which this teacher called the modern-day Civil Rights movement. Most of what they read, discussed, and wrote about centered on this topic. I’m not going to lie—it was controversial. Many parents, white and black, clashed with this teacher and questioned the curriculum. I did not love that my 11yo was reading first-hand accounts of violence by imprisoned teens, but would I shield him from books about slavery or the Holocaust? No. In the end, my son did well in the class and I am glad he had exposure to issues I certainly wouldn’t have brought up on my own at the dinner table. And it laid the ground work for the dinner-table discussions we’re having today.

What I’m continuing to learn is that avoiding issues like systemic racism and police brutality is a privilege. Addressing them is imperfect and uncomfortable. Talking about them in your home is hard enough, and on social media feels near-impossible. There’s no shortage of people to shout others down, criticize them, call them names, or worse.

So why address it at all online, you might ask? Because silence doesn’t help anything. And because that’s where the conversation needs to happen.

I turned to one of my favorite podcasts for guidance: in Episode 156 of the Edit Your Life podcast, host Christine Koh interviews Amber Coleman-Mortley, director of social engagement at iCivics, Inc. on how to talk to kids about race. Amber shares what she said when her daughter commented that “all the black boys” on the playground played rough, and her video-game analogy for explaining privilege to her sons.

In response to a question I asked Amber on Instagram (@momofallcapes) about engaging apathetic teens who think “why bother speaking up?”, she replied:

“It’s so important to empower your teens to have courage to stand up. I’m finding that group chats, TikTok and Snap Stories are prime spaces where racism and racist cyber bullying is happening. Talk about community responsibility. Contextualizing allyship as ‘being a good friend,’ often resonates more. We must be vigilant.”

She also quoted educator and activist Angela Davis who said, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

As beloved ex-royal badass Meghan Markle said in a video she recorded for students graduating from her former high school in LA, “The only wrong thing to say is to say nothing.”

LINK O’ THE DAY: I really appreciated this video by ex-NFL player and ESPN commentator Emmanuel Acho, which I shared with my sons. He gives thoughtful responses to questions he’s been asked, like “What good does rioting do?” and “Why is it OK for you to say the N-word but white people can’t?”

LAUGH O’ THE DAY: I can’t help it. It must be in my DNA to seek out humor, even if it’s dark. This reply to an “all lives matter” commenter made me chuckle:

“I’m curious, what is it about the statement ‘black lives matter’ that might suggest other lives don’t matter, or that other groups don’t also deserve respect? For example, if I said ‘save the coral reef,’ should one take that as a suggestion that I think all other reefs can go to hell?”

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