My first baby steps as an activist

Oh my gosh my dear friends, this week has been really…really hard hasn’t it??

Back in March when the virus first hit and the quarantine started, we thought that was gonna be tough.

No one could have prepared us for this right??

In the days since the death of our brother George Floyd, our lives have fundamentally changed. Many of us white folks have just woken up to the fact that the narrative we’ve been told has been absolutely incorrect. We thought that by not condoning it, by staying silent about it, things would change. I thought if I didn’t approve of racism, that was enough…but it turns out, I needed to actually say something.

And…here’s the silly part…I’ve been writing about this for years as I’ve taught women to assert themselves. I’ve said to them “You have to SAY no, because if you don’t say anything, people assume you agree with them”.

Somehow I missed my own advice on a greater level.

As devastating as this week has been, it’s also been a week of great learning for me. My life has been one of quietly helping others to create change in their lives. I’d thought that if I just did that, it would be enough. My black friends…and now mentors… have taught me. One friend in particular said to her large following…”look, you’re not going to get this perfect, it’s going to feel uncomfortable but do it anyway, your voices…the voice of white people…is heard over ours, you must speak out”

So this is the story of me being awkward and trying to do the right thing.

My first attempt

A friend on Facebook made what I thought was a racist remark. He spoke of celebrities offering to make bail for protesters and called it a false flag. He said “what are they going to do, bring them home as pets”?

Um…what?? So I dove in and asked him “did you mean to be overtly racist?”

My heart pounds even as I type it. I mean…how brave of me, right? Good on me for saying something!

Except I was wrong.

His friends quickly jumped to his defense and told me that this guy is the least racist person ever, that he was referring to white people not black, that clearly I didn’t know him very well. Fortunately…they didn’t attack me and call me names, they just corrected my error and I went away quietly with a “my bad”.

Ok…so…maybe that’s not the right tactic…maybe calling people out when you don’t know them isn’t going to work.

I kept studying, I started reading. I shared posts that made sense to me after I verified that they were authentic.

During a forced break from my “activism” (ok…baby activism…I’m still a baby here obviously). I watched a show on TV called The Hollywood Reporter Roundtable. It’s a show where a group of people in the entertainment industry gather to discuss their craft. In one particular episode, a group of famous comedic actors were gathered, including Jim Carrey, Henry Winkler, Ted Danson, Don Cheadle, Sacha Baron Cohen and Timothy Simons.

I’ve never watched anything by Sacha Baron Cohen. Never.  His type of comedy hasn’t appealed to me, but he came onto my radar a few years back when he came through our town as part of his Who is America series. He set up a town hall type meeting here and played the part of a Muslim who was going to build a mosque. You may have heard of it…it did not go well, our town was deeply embarrassed.

He spoke of this in the show and talked about how afraid he was that he would be shot. It’s a valid fear, people here open carry their weapons to go to the grocery store, or get their oil changed. Honestly, I found myself trying to remember if there are any black people in our town at all (there are)…but this is the kind of place I live in. The old west is alive and well here and the town is largely conservative. People drive around with confederate flags flying and there are Trump  bumper stickers everywhere.

You can imagine how the more vocal of the townspeople have been in the last week. Adding to their fear was the fact that a Black Lives Matter protest was scheduled for this week. One person said he would find a spot up on a hill to shoot the protesters; many said they would protect their property with their weapons, still more were throwing around names for the protesters that would make one cringe. I dove in again. I decided that I couldn’t stay silent, I had to say something.

I made a post reminding my fellow citizens of how embarrassing the whole thing had been with Mr. Cohen, I chided them for being reactive, I reminded them that people have a right to peacefully gather as is guaranteed by our constitution.

And then…I did it…I hit “post”…and waited.

My hands were sweaty. They were sweaty all day.

I was called stupid, I was told not to be a dumb dick and that I was ignorant, but I was also agreed with. I had people who came to my defense and noted that I had responded kindly to everyone and had taken their comments seriously.

And then Spirit jumped in and let me know what this was all about. As I was having a moment of frustration, a voice in my head said “bless them, they are teaching you”.

This wasn’t about right or wrong or protests or the constitution…this was about me being uncomfortable and working through it. It was about me speaking up in a place where my opinion is not welcome. It was about being called names by people who don’t know me and realizing that it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. As a matter of fact, it didn’t hurt at all.

Well except for the woman who said I was being impolite, of all the things people said to me, that one hurt! I was raised to be polite and let’s face it…speaking up and showing people a differing opinion is really impolite by the standards I was raised by. I had to walk away from the conversation and seek out support from my friends who applauded me for my efforts and laughed with me at the absurdity of some of the comments.

Girded with their support, I went back in. When it got bad and I felt as though I was being attacked,  I took a breath and searched for the common ground. That was the hard part. The human condition is to react when someone insults you, to go on the defensive, to strike back. What I really understood however, was that I was not going to change any minds and I discovered that as always, my role is simply to provide an example. It became clear to me that the reason I was speaking up in this particular place was to show others that it can be done and that one can remain peaceful and calm in the face of opposing viewpoints online.

And still…my hands were sweaty ALL DAY. They remained sweaty until I declared to myself at 4 pm that I was done playing with this group of people. Finally, the part of me that was scared and nervous could take a breath.

When I woke up this morning I had a stomach ache.

And I cried.

This shit is scary.

Posts aside, internet aside…there is the terror that sits in my belly and makes itself known. My fear is from the unknown, the collective emotions that are raging…the world is on fire and I’m over here with a little squirt gun trying to make a difference.

I prayed out loud, I sobbed, I asked God to help me change just one heart and I ended my prayer with the plea “think into my thoughts, speak into my words, work into my deeds. I am yours to use today and always. And so it is”

And then I went in to look at the post and saw that someone had called me stupid and a liberal who wants everyone to think like I do.

I breathed. I typed and erased, I put the phone down, I picked it up again and put it down. I felt the anger rise and picked it up and put it down. Finally I asked Spirit to tell me what to say.

And then it came. I looked at the profile of the woman who had just insulted me. We had another group in common and that was my key. In my reply, I acknowledged that we’re all scared and we’re all doing the best we can, I recognized that parts of my original post were about things I didn’t know enough to speak intelligently about and said that I was going to work to learn more. And I ended with “I see we are both members of the same pet lovers group, I hope you and your fur babies are safe”

And she replied with “Thanks gal, Kind message”

I asked to change one heart and I did. Now, she may have a different opinion of “liberals” now she may see that we have more in common than sets us apart. We got past the labels and saw each other as fellow pet owners.

Now I was crying happy tears. My prayer had been answered.

What I learned…

We should speak up…but we don’t have to be mean.

We can speak up peacefully and recognize that our fellow human beings are just as scared as we are.

We can choose kindness, even to those we disagree with.

Because whenever we choose to be kind, we show others that they are heard and understood.

And we all win.

Will I speak out again?

Yes, absolutely…and again and again and again.

And I’m fairly certain that my hands will be sweating every step of the way.

 

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