Racism has always baffled me.
My first crush in kindergarten was a little black boy who was cute as a button and wore a bowtie to school. My first best friend was a black girl named Jackie whose birthday was the day before mine, so we always got excited to bring cupcakes to school together. I admired their dark skin, their super cool braids and loved spending time with them. It all felt so normal to me.
When I got a little older, we started to learn about the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and racism in school. We read books about slavery, the underground railroad, racist hate groups and violence done against black people. I remember reading these books at home astonished. I wept as I read them because it just made no sense to me. Why would anyone hate someone simply because their skin was a different color? What a ridiculous reason to hate someone.
Subtle Biases and Selfish Delusions
But as I got into my late teens and early twenties, I started to soften my stance a bit. I still would have told you with deep conviction that I thought racism was evil and wrong.
However, I found myself saying things like, “Was that really a race thing? You were probably just going too fast.”
Or, “Racism really isn’t a problem anymore. These one-off incidents are horrible but few and far between.”
Or, “Why do we need to purposely try and diversify? Shouldn’t the best person for the job get the position, regardless of race? I don’t get it.”
All the while, I took a Harvard prejudice quiz online and the results said I was equally comfortable with both white and black people. So I thought my feelings were an example of my “balance” and “critical thinking.”
Wake Up and Smell the Racism
I honestly don’t remember what made me start to question my intrinsic biases and beliefs. It might have been watching the movie Crash in my twenties. I remember driving home that night unable to speak. I couldn’t sleep for hours I was so disturbed. Was racism really still a thing?
Whatever it was, I started to do some research. I started to read black authors and journalists. I started to listen to black voices in a deeper way. I purposely began to break out of the echo chamber I was in and stopped getting all my information from the same few sources.
And that’s when it hit me – yes, racism really is still a thing. In fact, it has never gone away. We were just better at hiding it for a while.
We Don’t Have to be Articulate, But We Do Have to Speak Up
I want you to understand, particularly my white friends – I don’t find this easy to talk about. Not because I’m not firm in my convictions and the research I’ve done about racism, but because I don’t want to say the wrong thing.
I don’t want to add to the hurt.
I don’t want to make an ignorant statement because I’m not black and I don’t know what’s it like to constantly be looking over my shoulder.
God, help my ignorance.
But I still do speak up because that is what we do. We speak up for those the world has chosen not to hear. We advocate for those who are treated without honor, without mercy, without justice and we fight until their reality changes. Period.
I will make mistakes. I will put my foot in my mouth sometimes. I will get things wrong.
I will also educate myself and I will listen, and elevate the voices of the experts on racism, those who are experiencing it daily, black and brown people.
But when I need to speak, I will speak – because black people should be able to go for a jog in their neighborhood without getting murdered. Black children should be able to play in their own backyard without being gunned down. Because black and brown human beings should be afforded the rights and privileges that white people have just by existing.
Racism, Prayers and Dead Faith
To my white friends, especially those who identify as people of faith –
Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.
I personally believe in prayer. I believe prayer can do miracles. But Jesus didn’t call the church to simply pray, He called the church to action.
James 2:14 – 20 in the Message says,
“Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?
I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, ‘Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.’
Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove.
Do I hear you professing to believe in the one and only God, but then observe you complacently sitting back as if you had done something wonderful? That’s just great. Demons do that, but what good does it do them? Use your heads! Do you suppose for a minute that you can cut faith and works in two and not end up with a corpse on your hands?”
That last verse really gets me because we have a lot of corpses on our hands.
Call to Action
My friend Kanita Benson, Founder of She Saves a Nation said it better than I ever could on Facebook today:
“God is not moved by evangelicalism, religious rhetoric or activity, power or superiority; and He is well aware of religious hypocrisy.
JUSTICE. WILL. REIGN.
This is a call to repentance, STOP spiritualizing racism. STOP the injustice.”
Friends, prayer is powerful but we’ve also been called to practical action. If our families and friends were being slaughtered, we would speak up. Well our black and brown brothers and sisters are being slaughtered – how will we respond?
- Let’s educate ourselves – about institutionalized racism, the prison industrial complex, and listen to the stories of black and brown people who have been treated like less than human. Ask ourselves why we look for holes in the story on the news, or character flaws, or justifications, as if anything can justify these hate crimes.
- Let’s take action – write our state legislators, speak with our wallets, and get involved in our communities as an advocate.
Here’s a great list for where to start: What White People Can Do for Racial Justice
We can be on the right side of history. We can hold up the megaphone to people of color. We can live so loud the world can’t ignore us.
One day I decided to take Dr. Judith Orloff’s quiz called, “Are you an Empath?” I’ve read a bit about being an empath and have just presumed I am one. However, I like to be relatively sure about my claims before I make them, so a quiz felt like a good first official step.
My results said something like, “Oh my gosh, how do you function in life, YES, you are an empath, 100%! Are you okay? Can I get you anything?!”
Mo’ Empathy, Mo’ Problems
Over the years, as much as I have tried to work on it, I have annoyed certain people in my life with the persistent question, “are you okay?” Even my husband, God bless his soul.
More often than not, the annoyance has happened for one of two particular reasons, I’ve learned: (1) people think they’re great at hiding that something is wrong and resent someone picking up on it; (2) people just have one of those faces – you know the kind I mean – and they’re actually perfectly fine and don’t want to keep being asked this frustrating question.
What people probably don’t understand is that I force myself to try and not ask the question but it physically pains me not to ask it.
At first I thought this was because I felt unseen and invisible growing up. I was hiding so much deep-rooted pain and no one seemed to pick up on it unless I couldn’t hold my tears in anymore. I want to be the kind of person who notices, and I’ve always been committed to that noticing.
However, it’s more than that. I’m like an emotional thermometer! I can pick up on your vibes at times even when you’re laughing away, skipping through life, acting like you’re on the set of a romantic comedy. It might sound great, and sometimes it feels like a gift, but sometimes it feels like a curse.
Being an Empath in a Hurting World
Times like – I don’t know – a global pandemic.
Times when you have a family member battling a horrendously painful cancer.
Times when you are trying to elevate the voices of the voiceless in your community and in your society.
Times when, yet again, you have to post another news article about a black man or woman being killed with zero justice.
Times when you read about hospitals using refrigerated trucks as morgues because of the number of lives being lost.
It’s too much.
Seasons like these are hard for everyone. There is so much uncertainty and so much pain. Nothing about life feels very simple right now.
Being an empath in a hurting world is really, really difficult. It’s physically painful in your body.
I’m learning, slowly but surely, how to guard myself from picking up all these emotional energies around me because no one person can bear them. I am reminding myself that this gift is not calling me to solve the world’s problems but perhaps to continue to notice, to hold space, to pray, to weep with those who weep, to see and to care.
Let’s use our voices and our hands and feet to “do the good we can whenever we can,” especially for those who are voiceless or whose voices the world has chosen not to hear.
But let’s remember that we, too, carry our own needs and wounds, and taking care of ourselves matters. Especially in times like these.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month.
It strikes me as odd that there are people in this world that are not aware of mental health until we acknowledge the concept in the month of May. I’m happy for them but I certainly don’t relate to them.
I recently read the book Untamed by Glennon Doyle. It’s a beautiful book written by a true warrior woman. I appreciated many of the concepts Glennon shared in her latest memoir. However, no other quote has stuck with me more than this one –
“Jesus loves me this I know, for He gave me Lexapro.”
I’ve read a ton of great content during this month in honor of mental health, and since this is somewhat my schtick, I don’t feel the need to overstate what you may be hearing from others.
So let me be simple – have you considered meds?
I was avidly against taking medication for my severe clinical depression for years. I was raised in a church environment where you would never be free to acknowledge that depression was actually an illness in the first place. According to my spiritual leaders of the time, depression was a lack of faith in God. It was a posture of doubt, a posture of unbelief. We were called to take our thoughts captive and to let our minds be renewed. This was our work to do with God. This had nothing to do with some secular science-y person telling us we had some kind of chemical imbalance in our bodies, and it certainly had nothing at all to do with pharmaceutical drugs. That much was clear.
I spent so many years of my life trying to wrestle myself out of depression. I spent so many years of my life trying to quiet my inner anxiety. I spent so many years…trying.
Trying and failing.
I was basically at the end of my rope (again) when I decided to try medication. I’ll be honest – the first one wasn’t a match for me. That’s the reality of this part of the journey. We are all unique and mental health solutions aren’t one size fits all.
For me, medication number two was the winner. Medication number two went up quite a few notches until we hit our sweet spot together. Early on into adjusting to it, I forgot to take it. I felt the depth of the pain and heaviness I had been carrying around with me, unaided, for over twenty-five years…and I wept. I was in the car in the grocery store parking lot crying like a baby, thinking of all the years and experiences I had lived through without the help I needed.
I remember hearing author Elizabeth Gilbert speak at an event where she gave her audience permission to do things they needed or wanted to do.
Are you ready?
I hereby give you permission, dear reader, to explore the idea of medication for your mental health challenges. You’re not a failure for trying it. You’re not giving up. You’re not “taking the easy road” out of anything. That’s just not how this works.
You wouldn’t condemn someone for taking life-saving medication for a physical illness, right? So don’t condemn yourself for taking life-saving medication for a mental illness. We need you.
You’re worth fighting for, beloved. Never forget it.
It was a Tuesday when they found Dad’s cancer.
He had gone in for what we presumed would be a routine gallbladder removal surgery. After months of pain, Dad told me how excited he was to simply go to sleep and wake up from surgery back to normal. Instead, he woke up groggy, confused and still in pain. I stepped out of the hospital room while Dad listened to Mom tell him that they had found cancer and couldn’t remove his gallbladder after all.
When Dad’s surgeon had pulled Mom and I into a private conference room to update us, we weren’t sure what to think. As we looked at the images he was holding, Mom started to cry and I had my usual somewhat numb feeling and focused on comforting Mom. I looked so normal that the surgeon looked more concerned about me than he did Mom.
After a long day of family in and out of Dad’s hospital room, stumbling over encouraging words to try and give him some hope, I went back to my parent’s house a little before Mom. My husband met me there with some clothes and my meds so I could sleep there and he could stay with their dogs the next morning. I had been relatively numb all day until I walked into that house.
That’s when I saw it – the stuff.
I saw his slippers and his favorite mug. I saw his sweatshirt and his favorite chair. I saw the blanket Mom had made for him. That’s when I started to lose it. That’s when the numb feelings started to dissipate and the excruciating pain started to fill me like lava from a volcano.
By now, we had all snuck away at one point or another and Googled the prognosis for gallbladder cancer.
By now, a phrase that had been entirely unknown to us twenty-four hours ago was haunting our every thought.
By now, the sight of Dad’s stuff no longer held the innocence it had before.
By now, I’d give anything to sit with him while he wore those slippers and held that mug, wearing his favorite sweatshirt and sitting on his favorite chair under Mom’s quilt.
Mom came home from the hospital and somehow the three of us climbed into our respective beds. My husband never thinks he knows the right thing to do in these situations, not that anyone does. That night, however, he did the only right thing to do – he held me tight while the lava began to pour out in body-rocking sobs I couldn’t control.
As I cried, all I could picture was the stuff. Dad’s stuff. Longing for him to use it again.