I am powerless.
I am powerless over my news feed and its link after link after link to more information, education, opinion, or debate about the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson, and the protests and riots that have followed. I can’t seem to stop reading, no matter how inundated or horrified I am. I can’t bear to look at it, and I can’t bear to turn away from it.
I am powerless over the decision itself. Powerless to do anything but pray, which feels impotent right now. I did so last night for a mixed group of mourners, gathered in grief and confusion and anger at Reconciliation Park in downtown Tulsa. I asked that our ears and hearts be opened to the difficult and varied emotions and experiences that would be shared in our vigil. I hope they were.
We left without closure, because there was none to be had. As poet Mia Wright had implored earlier, we did not sing this time, though we had planned to. There was nothing to lift up in song, no feel-good moment to ride out on. I could not feel the joy or hope my colleague had called for in closing; I could not feel much of anything.
All I could feel was the weight of 400 years of systematized racism bearing down on my soul, breaking the backs of my brothers and sisters of color, blinding the eyes of my white siblings. It is so much to bear, this legacy. It is painful to admit; like any trauma, it brings a mess of emotions, all wrapped up in shame.
And because I am white, I can go home and shut the door on it, at least temporarily. I can change into my pajamas, watch Doctor Who with my girlfriend and her son, and put it aside until morning when the news feed and the text messages and the cries of my human family reach me again. The war on inequality did not go to sleep when I did. The system itself certainly didn’t.
And my friends of darker-hued skin did not have the luxury – the privilege – of forgetting, even for a moment. For them, it is constant, regardless of racial background or national origin; and for many, whose ancestors were brought here by force, it is the context for their very existence in this country. I can say little more on that, because it is not my story to tell. And I am learning, little by little, when I need to shut my mouth and listen.
Right now I am listening and watching more than I talk. When I share articles on Facebook, I am trying to share facts and let them speak for themselves; it can be hard to restrain my commentary. I am trying to be present to the suffering of my brothers and sisters of color and know that while it affects me too, as a member of the human family, it is a pain I can never fully embody or understand. Try as I might, I am powerless to understand what I do not personally experience.
I am powerless. As one mournful, horrified white man, I can do little to change the system.
But we are not. Collectively, we are powerful beyond measure – if we work together, if we can open our ears and our hearts and really listen to each other’s realities.
They are hard to hear. They are hard to hold. The truth is heavy. And borne alone, it breaks us all, regardless of color.
But borne together, we can shoulder the load of the work that is our birthright.
I have no words to close this, like we had no songs to sing last night. There is no neat package, no moral, no lesson.
So I will keep listening to the storm raging in my heart and the shared heart of my human family, and trust in that collective power that is greater than any one of us.