Most mornings I set my alarm for 5:40, so I can have an hour (or two, if I’m lucky) of interrupted time to read and write before Selah wakes up. Part of my routine is to read a small chapter of Writing Motherhood and then do whatever exercises come at the end.
But on this past Wednesday morning, I struggled to pull myself away from social media. Charlottesville was dominating my thoughts, and on some level it felt flippant and self-indulgent to turn to my personal writing. Still, my eyes were starting to burn from too much screen time too early in the day, so I hesitantly set my phone out of reach and opened to chapter 20 of Writing Motherhood.
One of the writing exercises at the end of this chapter was to make a T-chart of heavy words and light words and to use this list as an ongoing resource, drawing from it appropriately depending on the tone and topic of a particular essay. The author explained that some words are not just heavy or light in connotation, but that linguistically, some words carry a heavier weight based on how the sounds are formed. “Typically, heavy words are made up of hard consonants formed at the back of the mouth (r, g, k). . . . Heavy words bear down on your lower jaw.”
I made my T-chart and began the pleasant task of filling in the side for light words: glimmer, breath, twirl, peace, cloud. Then I turned to the heavy column, and I felt my body tense as my mind flooded with words to describe what I’d seen in a video that morning: news coverage of the white supremacists marching on Charlottesville, footage of the car that sent bodies flying, spittle shooting out of men’s mouths alongside words of hate and threats of violence.
I put my pen to the paper, letting myself feel all the anger and frustration and overwhelming sadness, letting the venom flood out of my fingers in the form of words like hatred, Nazi, horror, darkness, and AK-47.
I didn’t feel any better or lighter or freer after making this list. Getting the words out held no magic or healing today, the way writing sometimes does. But in a small way, I felt like I had done something right by bearing witness to what’s happening, even within the confines of my floral-covered writing notebook.
These ugly words continue to leave a bitter taste in the back of my throat as I consume as much news coverage as I can, until I make myself sick. They clang around in my head, drowning out my everyday concerns and priorities, striking chords and causing dissonance when they collide with my privilege.
Just as deafening to me as this mass of clunky words is the volume of the silence I still sense, despite many of the outcries I’ve seen on social media. Inside this silence I feel the weight of a thousand questions and assumptions and doubts.
Maybe you don’t know what to say. Maybe you take it as assumed that this is generally condemned behavior in 2017 America. Maybe you think you can duck your head until the moment passes. Maybe you want to say something, but you don’t know where to begin. Maybe you feel afraid of how charged the conversation is already. Maybe you feel like you’re receiving conflicting messages: speak out against hate, but be a listener first.
I know you fear that your words will sound too loaded, or too permissive, or too loud, or too soft. Our words do carry enormous emotional and linguistic and cultural weight. They have the potential to bring darkness or light, death or life. They have the ability to reshape history and remake our society into something better. They have the capacity to lighten a load that has been heavy for our brothers and sisters of color — far too heavy for far too long.
I know you don’t want to say the wrong thing. I know you feel inadequate. I know you’re still trying to make sense of your own privilege. Tell us. Ask questions. Confess your confusion. Share your experience. Name what is evil. We need every single voice to call out and rail against the atrocities unfolding before us.
Sometimes even more powerful than speaking a light and hopeful word is joining someone in the heaviness, bearing witness to the weight and bearing it on behalf of someone else. Let’s use our collective strength and solidarity to shoulder the burden of speaking up. In response to Charlottesville, my friend Anne posted these important words on Instagram: “One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that when it comes to a history of white silence, racism, and white supremacy, the burden is not on the oppressed to teach us. White friends, the burden is on us to be students and to be honest with ourselves about the biases and the real history we come from. We must repent.”
As a white Christian woman, I carry the weight of privilege — a pack so light that for many years I didn’t notice it. It was there all along, but other backs bore the burden for me. For this I have two words: No more.
We need your voice too. What do you say?
Keep Learning. Get Woke.
Here are some excellent resources if you want to keep learning and aren’t sure where to begin. This list is far from comprehensive but I hope it provides an accessible starting point.
If you want to learn more about racial identity development: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Dr. Beverly Tatum
If you want to better understand how systemic racism works: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander; Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson; Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult (a masterful novel in its own right, but so relevant to the conversation today).
If you want to learn more about what we can do to pursue racial reconciliation (and reconciliation across multiple lines of difference) in the body of Christ: Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland
If you want to know more about what it means to be a white ally: Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves by Christena Cleveland; 70+ Race Resources for White People by Leslie Verner; Whiteness 101 from Be the Bridge
If you want some great ideas for how to get the conversation going with your kids: Baby Proof: Bedtime Stories about Race and Social Justice by Erin Boyle; Raising Race Conscious Children