Friday, August 18, 2017

Yesterday I received a message from a young woman I have known since her infancy--a smart, lovable, loving girl who has dealt with a fair amount of adversity but somehow has managed to rise above it and to thrive. She graduated from a central Maine high school last spring and will be attending a state university this fall. And she is heartsick about the events in Charlottesville and beyond. Her letter to me was essentially "What can I do? What can I do? What can I do?" She told me she was reading books, talking to people, trying to find her footing. But would any of that matter?

My first reaction on reading this note was to feel an overwhelming sense of humility and panic that this young woman would see me as any kind of resource in this moment of crisis. What can I, a middle-aged white woman, say to her? I share her privilege of skin color and birthright citizenship; I speak an educated East Coast vernacular and live in a cocoon of books and dreams. But of course, as you mothers and fathers and teachers know, being the grown up in the room means you have to step up and figure out how to help that young person in need.

Anyway, this is what I wrote back to her. If I should say more, please offer me some advice, and I will pass along your thoughts to her.
I think starting with books is a good idea. Learn all you can about the history of slavery in this country, the history of the civil rights movement, and so on. For instance, so many of these Confederate statues that Trump loves were put up in the 1950s as a backlash response to civil rights activities. So they aren't old Civil War-era pieces; they're direct in-your-face confrontations to freedom-seekers, and that's not history that most of us know. When you get to college, make a point of joining Black Lives Matter discussions; show by your presence that you're an ally. Volunteer with new-immigrant support groups. . . . The biggest thing is that you care, that you know our nation is in a dreadful spot, that you recognize how vital it is that we, as white people, do everything we can to stand up for the people who have not shared our easy privilege of skin color. I love you . . . because you are crying about this and because you are so brave.


Maureen said...

I hope that, whenever she can, she votes to elect representatives who will work hard to end discrimination of all kinds, who believe that diplomacy is always the better option to confrontation and violence, who will stand up for and with those who are unlike ourselves. And that, if she finds herself in a place where those voted into office do not work for the people, she will work to get them ousted.

I hope, too, that she understands that she has a voice, as each of us does, and that she is willing to speak out to express her convictions. Speaking out is always a risk but a risk worth taking.

Equally as important is overcoming fear of "the other": attend a black church service, to learn how others live out their faith; support a refugee family with in-kind donations or other types of contributions; work in a shelter at meal-time; be a mentor to a homeless woman. . . I've done all these and more. Learning and understanding are always good starting points but they can't be a substitute for practicing the love and compassion and good works that make us human and humane.

Dawn Potter said...

This is beautiful, Maureen. I will certainly share your words with my friend.

David X. Novak said...

I would only add, to not put the public crisis on the "back burner." White people have indulged in that privilege for a long time. This is essentially our dilemma, our schizophrenia, and our fight.

Dawn Potter said...

David, this is also very, very apt. I will make sure my friend hears these words.