Like all of us, I am grieving for the losses suffered in Charleston, S.C. last week. The United States is face to face again with the bitter and harsh reality of the racism that is in the fabric of the nation, with the danger to lives of folks who are not white, and with all of us, because, we are part of this horror. Every single one of us.
I’m white. That gives me something I did not earn, will not earn. I am a white person with a legacy of white privilege. These days, we who are embarked on the journey of learning about our own racial identity talk about privilege. We know we have privilege. But, is knowing we have white privilege enough? We are victims of our own privilege.
Over the years, I have heard the conversation about race in this country changing. Many of us recall the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement, and we recall the powerful witness of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. We remember also, that awful day of his death. We were grieving then. We are grieving again, now.
What I am thinking, in these days of shock and mourning and amidst the words from all sides of the political and social spectrum, is that we are all complicit in this hate crime. It’s too easy for us to point a finger at the young man who carried that hidden gun and used it to kill others simply because they were “different.” It’s easy for us to blame the gun lobby, who even now are saying the victims were lax in not carrying their own concealed weapons. It’s easy for us to blame the others who influenced that young man; certainly, the Internet is full of sites that and anger and enrage young people who are looking for their own identity. It’s easy for us to shake our heads at history and the legacy of racism in this country.
We are all complicit, and we are all victims of the way things are.
If we are to “have a conversation about race,” which is what our President suggests, in his own grief, again and again, how do we do that?
We are all complicit in this crime. We did not pull the trigger, but we support “the way things are” without ever looking at ourselves. This is the hard thing, to acknowledge that our privilege is built on crimes like this. White privilege is built on the way things are. We may rant and rave and we may show up now, to grieve, but things will not change. We like the way things are, because then, we are not asked to change. We don’t have to look at ourselves, at our own complicity. We are a nation, a world of children, children in adult bodies, children, who will not, cannot, do not take responsibility for ourselves.
“The way things are” has produced and will continue to produce “the system” of which we are all a part. Every system is designed to get the results it gets. (G. T. O’Connor). Unless parts of “the system” refuse to participate, “the system” will not change. We will have the same elected officials. Drugs and violence will continue to run rampant. We will continue to complain, even those of us on the left, but there will continue to be police violence, dangerous cities, more guns on the streets, and more deaths like the ones in Charleston, S.C., unless we change the system in which we all cooperate.
We are complicit in this crime, every single one of us.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet of ancient Israel, Isaiah, was frantic for his people. He petitioned them, again and again, to repent. What he meant, I think, is that the people were asleep. They were living as if they had no power to change. They blamed their leaders, they complained, they suffered, again and again, but they would not change. They would not change their system, just as we will not change ours. The people were asleep, but they would not look at that, they would not see themselves as they were.
The people would not take responsibility for themselves, for their own complicity.
And so we are tired of the suffering, but we continue to point our fingers. We continue to blame others. This nation, this world badly needs people who will take responsibility for themselves, take stock of their own complicity, who will stop complaining and repent.
Will we do that, now, now, now?
To repent will mean to accept our complicity, to refuse to honor, in any way, the systems we now have. Does this mean people – everyone – in the streets? I think so. It is way past the time for us to be in the streets with signs blaming “the other.” We have to be in the streets as adults, with a show of strength. We have to acknowledge our own complicity, our own white-ness. And we have to stay in the streets until change really happens.
Enough is enough. Will we ever awaken from this dream, this sleep, this nightmare? When will we ever, truly, with our whole being, say, “enough is enough.” When will we stop blaming others, become adults, and do this? When?
2 thoughts on “After Charleston, thoughts”
Thank you Mary Elyn. This is the strongest thing I’ve read. Unlike other things that blame and only succeed in making us nauseated. You show what it is that gives is this feeling of nausea. It is the wrong, blinded picture of ourselves.
I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m so bone-tired of the violence and the hate. I’m married to a black man, we have raised 2 brown children…we’re all still getting by but I have fear, some days more than others, for my own children and husband and I’d still like to blame the gun lobby and the NRA and feeling this way, I guess I’d better find some way towards activism if there is to be any hope of getting rid of the guns.