An Echo of Pain and Injustice
Updated: Jul 27, 2020
I hadn't posted anything on Black Lives Matter on here on Magpie because I thought it would just be assumed I support it. I've attended some marches both in Indy and here in DC, as well as using my social media platform to share educational resources. Also I'm a part of a transracial family so all of this hits close to home.
But the part of myself who doesn't quite know how to answer "what should I be doing right now as a white American?" wanted to cop out and say that my platform just isn't important. There are so many amazing resources that are being shared that speak so powerfully, with thought-provoking righteousness, by black and POC writers and thought-leaders. But I realized while my voice is not by any means the most important, if I don't adamantly speak out in support, my silence counts as complicity as best, violence as worst.
There is no quippy listicle to recap the pain of these past few weeks. There's no illustration aesthetically pleasing enough to soothe white Americans into falsely equating that acknowledging the systemic racial oppression of black Americans comes anywhere close to the reparations and massive equity upheaval necessary to achieve justice. I don't have any funny .gifs to express the mortification of examining my own internalized biases and those of my community. There's no any amount of satire to distract us. We are reckoning with America's reality and it hurts.
I wanted to share this short writing excerpt I did in the week after George Floyd's murder. I was unsure to share it because it's centered around my experience as white person but maybe it's my white friends who could gain something by reading it. And because again, my experience is in no way the only or most important, I've shared a ton of resources at the bottom from authors I highly recommend ((if anyone would like to discuss them or have any other recommendations, please let me know!!).
The night I found out about #MeToo sweeping a righteous reckoning across America, I was in the Philippines, on a rescue operation with Filipino law officials to remove a child victim of online sexual exploitation from danger. As Americans were opening their eyes to the impunity of powerful men, I was witnessing the other side of their dehumanizing, violent appetite as perpetrators of this brutal crime.
Now years later, there's another cataclysmic event that is pulling the veil off our society and I'm once again stunned to where I've found myself witnessing it. In our living room, my family and I watched George Floyd's graphic murder being shown on every single channel, plain as day, as his murderers easily commit the crime under the assumed protection of their badge. There's was no denying the brutality nor the assailants nor the gross injustice that this only occurred because he was a black man in America.
I watched the unfolding videos of the protests, peaceful marches, and violent riots on national news more often than not bouncing a foster baby on my hip, trying to shoo away my younger siblings from hearing it. They don't know about any of this yet and we're having discussions as a family on how to talk about race in America, as white parents and siblings to black children.
In our family, on our farm, I believe we have healthy view on how race and family uniquely intersect for us. My little brother and sister, both biracial, join a family that includes different nationalities, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. They watch shows with kids who looks like them, read books about black excellence and history, and have their hair cared for by my sisters who spent hours researching and perfecting their braiding skills. At our house, melanin is beautiful, black hair is celebrated, and at the end of the day, we're all just McMillans.
That's just on our property though. The rural Indiana town that surrounds it has the occasional trailer that flies a TRUMP 2020 flag and yes, even a handful of Confederate flags have been spotted. There have been racist events at the local schools and I will admit, I've been nervous around certain people when I take my siblings out for ice cream. But the cruelty of the world towards communities of color feels like a dark haze that can't permeate the loving forcefield around the farm.
Until we opened up our home recently to an eight-month foster baby. To let him in, we opened up the door and the haze came in before we could slam it shut.
We just had the baby for a little over a week as his longer-term foster parent was getting surgery. His mom had been working extremely hard to secure housing and a stable income. She had been hitting milestones early, desperate to get her baby and 3 year old back in her loving arms. It was an honor getting to care for her son to help this family avoid the child welfare system, which is something this family absolutely did not warrant being involved with.
Also, we just loved having the baby around. My littlest sister took to "babysitting" immediately, like he was hers and hers alone. She pushed him around endlessly in his stroller, feeding him cold snacks to soothe his teething gums, and promptly handing him back for any diaper changes. And at night, he alternated sleeping in a crib in my room so I could do the dreaded 2 am bottle and diaper change.
In the quiet of the night, holding and rocking him, it's only natural to dream over the little (okay fine, he was quite a cuddly chunkster) bundle in your arms. I thought about everything this little baby would do in life and prayed and wished over him that he would get every single thing someone so precious and innocent deserved: a long and happy childhood, safety from the tip of his soft curly-haired head to his roly-poly toes, joy and laughter growing up with his brother, the security of his mother who loves him so much, a supportive community, and open doors for whatever brilliant path he wanted to one day go down. I prayed that so many people would surround him in life, encouraging, and pushing him forward; I was so blessed to be just one pair of hands contributing to the tapestry of this new life with just my little stitch.
Then, I'd check my phone. And I'd see the real world.
My idealistic vision for this child deflated into reality. Does the world build up a little black boy? Or does it tear him down until he only knows fear, expects disappointment, and is limited to aspiring not to be another hashtag, instead of his innate potential? What did the world do to George Floyd? Or Tamir Rice? Or Michael Brown? Or Trayvon Martin? Or Emmett Till? Or the names we don't know?
In the tender hours of dawn, finally getting the baby back to a deep, restful sleep, I'd felt seized with a fear for him. It hit me so hard, so sudden, so fully. I realized that it was an echo.
It was an echo of what every single black mother in America must feel. Every time their child leaves the home. Or plays with a plastic water gun. Or doesn't answer their phone immediately. Or makes a mistake. Or is wearing a hoodie on a walk in their own neighborhood. The constant, unwavering fear that the world doesn't see the curly eyelashes of the baby they held in the tender hours of the morning or the man they see forming in the round cheeks of their boy.
Did you know that some of George Floyd's last words were crying out for his mama?
Just the echo of fear was terrifying, tangible, heart-shattering. It almost bowled me over. And yet black women, black families not only have to live with this, but have to justify the fear in the face of people who gaslight them and tell them racism doesn't exist in America anymore. The strength and tenacity of our black brothers and sisters are literally beyond my comprehension.
I had to examine though why this crippling echo of fear hit my now in a way I hadn't felt for my own siblings. I sat with it, thinking.
Because my siblings haven't left home yet. Since the day they arrived at our house, with all of their belongings in plastic bags, we were all struck with the same relieved knowledge that they were home. They're total farm kids who are happiest barefoot fishing or swimming or feeding the cows. They truly have no interest in leaving home except for horse camp or football and never without one of their many older, protective siblings. Before coming to us, they had faced the hardship of this world but with like any other adoptive family, we reshaped their world to restore safety and stability.
But this baby, with sleep marks on his cheeks, curled around his blanket in the Pack-N-Play which has held so many other infants? This baby boy faced an uncertain world.
And I realized it is my white privilege that makes me feel like my own siblings won't have to encounter it. Because they already have. They already have made observations, or have questions, or have seen or heard things from peers at school. No child of color has never experienced racism because our society was born from and propped up by racism.
When the time came, I drove the kids in the car with me, one on each side of the car seat to hand the baby back to his social worker to be reunited with his mom. After, I thanked the kids for doing such a good job caring for him, and told them to be proud of playing a small role to help out this family. I asked if they had any questions or wanted to talk about if they were sad he was leaving.
"I'm pretty sure we were promised ice cream for helping out?" deadpanned my sister whose love for treats is only slightly smaller than her all-consuming love for her dog, Madison.
As we drove to get ice cream at the outdoor shop, I felt so proud and lucky to witness my siblings do the exact same thing that was done for them- to open up their hearts and home and share love for however long was needed. And maybe the more of the world that we let into our home is a good thing, because they are tough, and smart, and compassionate kids who can do anything they set their minds to. And even as other communities are straining at the seams because they are so divided by hate, we as a family can continue to stand firm and serve others with love.
Then I see a confederate flag on a pick-up truck in the one-street town. We don't get out of the car until I guarantee it isn't pulling up to the ice cream stand.
-The Case for Reparations by Ta-nehisi Coates
-White Supremacy and Me by Layla F. Saad
-Resources from Equal Justice Initiative
-I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made For Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
-We Need to Talk About Injustice by Brian Stevenson for TedTalk
Recommended Resources from a Christian Perspective
- Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King Jr.
-Race, Justice, and Peace by Encounter Church (my church in DC; this sermon is about why we absolutely must speak about systemic racism from the pulpit)