Part of my job description as a contemplative involves paying attention. When world events come to the fore, I try to listen deeply, take the events into my heart and mind, and let them make an impact on me. I also pay attention to my heart’s response.
As you might expect, Black Lives Matter has occupied me in this way, often in the past and now in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. The most intriguing aspect of this contemplation has been the desire of my heart, persistent throughout the news reports and official statements and shows of solidarity:
More than anything right now, I want to shut up.
Maybe your mind went right to the oft-repeated maxim “silence is complicity.” Or to the widely shared quote from Dr. King—“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” In context, these words hold wisdom and truth.
But there are many kinds of silence. The one I’m talking about here is part and parcel of contemplation. I cannot listen and pay attention unless I shut my mouth, tune my ears, and open my heart. When I do, it changes me.
In this kind of silence, I do my own much-needed work to inhale Black voices and Black narratives. I’ve had the pleasure (and the pain) of reading James Baldwin and Toni Morrison. I have tuned in to the relentless drumbeat of stories from Black people about living in fear, about Driving While Black, about seeing their loved ones shot down way before their time.
Years ago, I learned that when a coherent group of human beings raises its voice to say that things are not the way we’ve always seen them, we should listen: long, hard, with full attention. That lesson applies here. Being white, I have no experience of what Black people face daily. It’s almost automatic for me to see the world in a certain way—in part, through my white lens—and assume it’s “the way things are.”
But what I see is almost never “the way things are.” There’s always another story, another perspective, something to challenge my assumptions and force me to see more clearly.
All of this contributes to the title above: why I hesitate to publish this post.
Many organizations have published their own official statements supporting Black Lives Matter. Many white people watched the George Floyd video and raised their voice to say, “Enough!” I can’t fault these voices. It’s been said repeatedly that they are absolutely necessary for addressing the legacy of racism in the U.S.
And yet…my mind reads all these statements and, on one level, just hears white people talking. I’m reminded that white people (all too often, only white people) have been talking for millennia. I am impatient to have those voices fall silent, at least in my hearing, so that people of color have the floor, the whole floor, for as long as they need to speak.
I see the irony here. A white person writing about not wanting to write about white people writing and talking. But the alternative is to remain silent and look complicit, and I cannot stand by and do that.
God help me, and all of us, as we seek to change, both within ourselves and then in our collective self.