A White Woman’s Attempt at “What Can I Do?”

Cemetery + Solle

Instead of writing a post about what the world should be doing in the wake of this week, I’m offering up what this white woman is doing, even though it’s failing and not enough.

This post is an effort to stay vulnerable and stay with the change that begins in me. It’s refocusing my energy away from what I am unable to control, and centering my attention on that which I can do right here, right now.

I hemmed and hawed about publishing a post on the Pulse massacre in Orlando. Time passed, and I never posted the draft. And now this week, there’s Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the sniper shooting police at the protest in Dallas.

As a blogger, I’m torn when events like this happen. I don’t want to throw more of the same noise out there or say stupid (or worse, hurtful) things. But there’s also a desire to be relevant and timely. And yet, jumping in immediately feels like hijacking someone’s pain to build my platform, which is not okay with me.

Plus, it’s easy to say these events are tragic. Or violence is not okay. Or to exhort people to love instead of hate. Those are truths. The violence is tragic, and the bloodshed is NOT okay. We should choose love over hatred. These feel self-evident.

But, where does this begin? And what does it look like? That’s what we really need. For me, these words of love and anti-violence are no longer enough. They’ve become empty platitudes. I’ve seen so much violence in the news, and from what I see on social media, we’re all bent down with the weight of the tragedies. Words seem empty as they’re repeated again and again on the seemingly endless merry-go-round of violence. Where will it stop? I need road maps, not just a destination.

If I’m being honest, what I’m good at doing in this blog space is owning my story and my crazy. When this blog is at its best, I write about vulnerable, messy life. That’s my strength.

When tragic world events happen, I want to skip over vulnerable, messy life. I don’t want to own the yucky parts here. I’d rather tell the world what it could do better.

But, friends, that’s just passing the buck along. It’s just saying, “I know what everyone else should be doing, and let me bark orders from my position far away from the trenches.” It’s basically claiming, “Everyone else is the problem, but not me. Oh, not me. It’s all those other crazy yahoos out there.”

I let myself off the hook and absolve myself of real responsibility and transformation.  When I want to push others to self-reflective action but am unwilling to do the work myself, I’m a hypocrite. 

Transformation and change begins in us. It begins in me. Not in someone else, but within me. Jesus left this human church as his hands and feet in the world. If I believe Jesus is the remedy to what ails this world (and I do), then I must recognize Jesus wants to use my hands and feet for his work of restoration.

Writing this particular post is hard work. Why? Because it’s a constant effort to stay in my story here and not boss you readers into doing things. I want to command instead of feel things.

I want to self-protect and use objectivity as a shield. I want this task of reconciliation to be others’ work and not mine. It feels messy, awkward and vulnerable. But, as fellow humans on this planet, this is a task belonging to all of us, myself included.

Instead of hiding my head in the sand, I’m listening.

As tragedies happen, I start listening more to the voices who have been trampled. I seek out the voices of the wounded and the victim. I listen intentionally to voices who challenge my perspective. I don’t make it the job of my friends of color to educate me, but I do listen carefully when they speak. My learning is my responsibility, and there’s tons of resources out there.

I cannot love if I am unwilling to listen or recognize others experience the world differently than I do. Owning our stories and listening to others’ stories helps us humanize each other.

We cannot love when we see others as less human than ourselves. Being attentive to someone’s story forces us to recognize his or her humanity. Story wakes us to each other.

Twitter helps me engage more with a variety of voices. I don’t speak much on Twitter, instead it’s a venue where I learn from others. The folks I follow on Twitter school me with their wisdom. I listen more than I speak. I don’t feel wise enough for Twitter quite yet.

If you’re looking for recommendations on whom to follow for social justice and racism, check out Drew G.I. Hart, Austin Channing, Christina Cleveland or Mihee Kim-Kort. Be aware, white folks, these voices will challenge you. They don’t tread carefully for white sensibilities. And, honestly, praise God for that!

Or if you’re looking for books, read Hart’s Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism or Cleveland’s Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces That Keep Us Apart.

I’m not going to sugarcoat listening. This is not easy or simple. Listening is hard and quite often painful. The image I find reflected back to me is often troubling. I monitor my emotional reactions closely. It’s easy for me to get all defensive on my first listen or read. Sometimes I take things personally and perceive claims as an attack on my self-identity.

When that happens, I have to continually school my thin-skinned white self to develop a thicker skin and listen anyway. And listen extremely carefully to the hard stuff that makes me want to pull out the ear plugs and blinders.

I have to step back, take a couple of breaths, and remember not to take comments as a personal affront to my identity. Instead of pulling back from the discomfort, I’m learning to lean into it.

I don’t comment or speak when I’m in listening mode. I especially don’t comment when I can feel my heart thumping in my chest or the pressure rising behind my ear drums. Those physical symptoms suggest I need a time-out to think about what’s triggering my emotional reaction, and I need space to figure out why I’m in fight-or-flight survival mode. Responding or posting then would make me slump into a heaping pile of regret later.


In order to be a better listener, I reject the seductiveness of either/or logic.

I reject the argument “Black Lives Matter” detracts from the truth “All Lives Matter.” We live in an age where people of color have good reason to believe that their lives are valued less than white lives. Claiming that “black lives matter” actually supports “all lives matter.” It is a cry for black lives to be valued as highly as other lives. It is an exhortation for their lives to be valued as much as every other citizen in this country in a climate that suggests our country systemically values black lives less than other lives.

I can authentically claim “Black Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” in the same sentence. Valuing the claims of both honors the truth that all lives matter. I refuse to say  “blue lives matter more than black lives,” or “black lives matter more than blue lives.” Supporting “Black Lives Matter” is not undermining the claim “Blue Lives Matter.” The statements aren’t mutually exclusive.

It may be simpler to throw my support down on either side, rather than this awkward straddling. But, to give up this awkward straddling means I buy the lie some lives are more valuable than others. Seeing support as a zero-sum game robs me of hope for reconciliation — especially because healing for this country requires reconciliation between law enforcement and people of color.

I support the fabulous law enforcement officers I know while also recognizing my experiences with law enforcement are not universal. Injustice must be called out and named. To say the system has flaws is not to slander the good and hardworking officers we know. These are not the same, even as separating them is difficult in personal practice.

I’m realizing more than listening is required from me.

Listening was a fine and necessary start. But, listening is not an end. I’m responsible to do something with what I’ve observed. Action is necessary. If I merely let the words and pain wash over me without responding, I’ve missed the point of listening.

Circling back to the beginning: The violence is not okay. The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are not okay. The deaths of the police officers in Dallas are not okay. The Pulse massacre targeting the LGBTQ community is not okay. The divisive fear welling up like a geyser in our communities is not okay.

And in the wake of this evil, I am unwilling to resolve the uncomfortable tension by demonizing the perpetrators or dehumanizing the victims. The lives lost are tragic. The killing seems no less than evil.

But, to demonize or strip the humanity from others puts me in the same hateful camp as the violent. I name behavior as evil, but I want to avoid labeling people. I want to see people as more complex than the media narrative, and that’s hard (and necessary) work.

Also, I’m recognizing I have to take responsibility for the change I wish to see — both in internally and in my community. To really to support reconciliation, I’m required to step up in more than just my words, to be aware of how government works so that I can advocate. We have more power than we know — particularly with government at local levels.

If anything, I’m being waked to the responsibility of citizenship. And that’s a new and uncertain territory to research. I’m learning loving the world is more than words and kindness one-on-one, it’s also being willing to take action in our communities to support our brothers and sisters. That’s a new and scary territory for me.

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