You might have noticed, or perhaps not, that my blog posts have become fewer and farther between. They have also been pulled closer to my personal life and less about the world around us. This is not only true of my blog posts, but also Twitter and Facebook.
I am an activist at heart, literally being led by my heart to do what I do and say what I say. Do I expect all the cookies? No, not even *a* cookie. But, for those gathering receipts, you should know I was writing about religious tolerance and diversity back when I had to write letters to editors with a pen and paper. I didn’t do it constantly, and I didn’t do it perfectly. But I have always believed that by pointing out the flaws that exist in our society, even exposing my own flaws, I was helping people understand their part in the harm that resulted from them.
Words mattered because they had power to change people’s hearts. Words could show people of different races, religions, geographical locations, sexual identities, etc. that they are not opposites but similar. Words could show you the humanity of those often seen as a only label.
I believed that about words. And then I didn’t.
On June 4th I released a novella entitled Silencer. It was inspired by a man who set himself on fire to try to change the hearts of the people in the racist town where he had grown up. He had done so almost exactly one year to the date I released the book. I took from that real life tragedy a need to address two issues: racism and mental illness. In Silencer, there was also a corrupt police force.
The following day, on June 5th, the McKinney, Texas Police Department was called to a neighborhood pool just a 20 minute drive from my house. There, a police officer was caught on film throwing a young Black teenage girl to the ground and pressing his knee into her back, then drawing his gun on other Black teens.
Social media lit up and I lit up with it. I was so tired of White people claiming they weren’t racist when I heard, with my own ears, those very people saying racist crap. So, I took to Twitter to lay bare every racist thing I’d heard since we moved to this part of Texas two years ago. That caught the attention of someone working for World Have Your Say, a radio talk show hosted by BBC. He contacted me and asked if I’d like to be interviewed on that Monday’s program.
Initially, I panicked and wanted to throw up. I didn’t want to do the show for these reasons:
1) I am from southern Appalachia with an accent often associated with ignorance.
2) I am not an expert on ANYTHING.
3) I am White and did not want to take the place of Black voices speaking on this issue.
But I finally decided to do the program because:
1) I live in the area near the pool and I have insight to how racism presents itself here.
2) There would be a Black lady on the panel, so I was not the only voice.
3) I was an author with a newly published book dealing with racism. Not doing the show would be saying to myself, “You aren’t serious about your work; you might as well quit writing and get a job at a Dairy Queen or something.”
So I did the show, but I refused (and still refuse) to ever listen to myself on it. I *still* feel all the things I felt about not wanting to do the show. And I was still feeling them a week later when Dylann Roof, a young White racist, shot up an historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina. He killed nine people.
I talked to my mother the morning after. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air in my lungs, couldn’t make my body move the way it should, couldn’t not cry. I said to her, among many other things, “I feel like I didn’t do enough. I was silent when I shouldn’t have been. I know I’ve spoken up a lot, but it wasn’t enough. I think we have to do something. We can’t keep thinking it’s just good ol’ boys being good ol’ boys when they say racist things.”
And I could have taken to social media right then and pushed for what was in my heart, because I felt it was FINALLY time for every single White person to examine themselves and realize they were complicit in the murders of those Black church members. In some way, we had all stood by and allowed racism to be part of our culture even when we knew it was wrong.
But then the third strike hit me and rendered me mute. Something I did not expect took place, leaving me feeling so alone and worthless. Most of the people I grew up with, most of the people I knew from the south, began to rally around the Confederate Flag. Soon protecting that flag was all anyone cared about. They cared with fervent hostility and borderline paranoia. In the heat of that melee, nothing I said would have mattered.
What I needed to do to was speak out against systemic racism. What I needed to do in my very core was point out the harm people were doing in a way that would make them want to stop doing it. But no one was listening.
For a while, I simply posted images of beautiful Black faces to my Facebook wall, not only those beautiful physically but also those who had achieved great things. I know my Black friends and those with multiracial families appreciated the gesture, but I don’t know that it had any effect on the overall problem. By that time, I’d already slipped off the ledge.
Speaking of mental illness, there have been many times in my life when I struggled with anxiety and depression. At age 42, I’ve come to be very self-aware about what is going on inside my head chemically. I no longer panic because I’m panicking. I no longer become sad because I feel sad. I just wait it out, optimistic that it will pass. Eventually.
I was so sure it would pass that I didn’t even make it an issue. I was sad. Okay. Fine. Life goes on. Right? I put one reluctant foot in front of the other reluctant foot and I did what was necessary around the house. But I gave myself permission to withdraw from social situations as needed, and that included social media. The world would go on without me, and it did.
Now, I am trying to come back, thoughtfully. I have spent many weeks analyzing my own actions over the years and contemplating ways to prevent similar failures. I have come to accept that I am part of the problem, but to also see that I am trying not to be. And if I am trying not to be the problem, then perhaps I have some value among others who are trying not to be the problem, too. I once again believe my voice matters, in a small enough way to break me out of my silence.
So expect to see my name come up more often on WordPress, Twitter, and Facebook. Expect that I will once again share my observations and thoughts about the ways we treat each other. Expect that I will try to inspire us both to be better people.