I wish I could find the article, or at least remember it better. It included tips for bloggers—I think specifically for pastors. All I remember is the suggestion that when trying to decide whether to weigh in on a particular hot topic issue, we should ask ourselves two questions: Am I an expert on the topic? and Do I have anything new to add to the conversation?
That’s why I haven’t written anything about Ferguson, Missouri or Mike Brown or Darren Wilson. That’s why I haven’t written anything about Tamir Rice or Eric Garner or Akai Gurley.
I am not an expert on race or racism. I am not an expert on law enforcement or the criminal justice system. I am not an expert on racial profiling or grand juries or gunshot residue or choke holds or children with guns. I am a middle-aged white woman who lives in a predominately white neighborhood, who pastors a predominantly white congregation. Anything I would say about racism in America would be so wrapped in white privilege that it might as well be a white sheet.
This also means I have absolutely nothing new to add to the conversation—no unique point of view, no special insights, no life-changing metaphor with the power to transform systems of oppression. According to the “rules,” I should not write a blog post.
But keeping silent feels like cowardice. It feels dreadful to sit in my office and write lovely sermons for Advent, when God’s children are dying in our streets. But I am not an expert, and I have nothing new to add to the conversation. I would only be one more voice.
But yesterday I made a choice. I decided to be one more rather than one less. I will be one more voice saying it’s not OK to kill an unarmed teenager and then demonize him. I will be one more voice saying it’s not OK to choke the life out of someone for selling cigarettes. I will be one more voice saying it’s not OK to kill a child who is carrying a toy gun. I will be one more voice calling for accountability. I will be one more voice crying out against the violence. I will be one more white woman who doesn’t get it—who sometimes doesn’t even want to get it—saying black lives matter. Even though the phrase “I can’t breathe” gets stuck in my throat because of so many years of my own silence, I will be one more voice.
Yesterday I was one more marcher. There were six hundred of us, the paper says, participating in a protest march billed as “family-friendly.” It was nothing compared to the protest activities of some of my friends and colleagues. I was not toe-to-toe with marchers whose anger gushed outward in violence. I was not putting my body between cars and protestors lying in the road. I walked in the cold and carried a sign and wore out my voice with chants. Not exactly the stuff of great civil disobedience. But today the chants still ring in my head.
Black lives matter.
Hands up. Don’t shoot.
We can’t breathe.
No justice; no peace.
This is what democracy looks like.
I couldn’t help but remember the last time I marched those same streets: the Gay Pride Parade in June. We walked in the opposite direction, in more ways than one. On that day I was filled with joy: walking with my parishioners behind our rainbow “God is still speaking” banner, proud to be the pastor of a church that is so public in its stands. I wore my clerical collar—which I own primarily for protest rallies and court appearances—because I believed it was important to be a visible counterpart to the ministers who spew hate. When the parade was finished, I took my place at our church booth under the sign “Wounded by the church? Please come let us apologize.” I listened to people’s stories of how their bodies and souls had been ripped open by the church and its ministers. Then I offered them a heartfelt apology for the horrific things that had been done to them in the name of God.
But a parade is not a march. Yesterday I wasn’t filled with joy. I wasn’t proud to be there. I was angry that any of us needed to be. This time it wasn’t my clergy collar that connected me to acts of shame, but rather the color of my skin . . . which I can’t take off after the march and leave in the drawer until the next time I want it to mean something. And at the end of the march, there was nobody to whom I could apologize—either on behalf of others or for my own unexamined bigotry. In other words, I had no power. I had no privilege. And I hated it.
Yesterday I was just one more marcher, one more voice. It’s not enough. It is so far from being enough, it’s embarrassing. But the first and only song we sang at the march spoke truth: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. Maybe losing my voice at the march is one step toward finding it.