“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
― Elie Wiesel
As the United States convulses – as ugliness, hate and frustration boil over and as waves of sadness, anger and protest erupt around our country over the senseless killing of George Floyd, yet another unarmed black man killed by a police officer – our children are watching. As parents, our broad responsibilities are to protect our children, to help them make sense of the madness, the fear, the unknown and to bring clarity and calm to the questions they ask us. But what if we cannot reconcile for ourselves what is happening or see a clear path forward? What if we are as angry, as saddened and as frustrated as our children tell us they are? Being a parent is a delicate dance, preparing and at the same time protecting our children. Sometimes it feels like we will never learn the correct dance steps.
As I have shared in my new book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Climate Change, Turning Angst into Action, we must always begin by telling the truth. I try hard to listen deeply to the lifelong stories and struggles of black, brown and indigenous colleagues and friends. I try hard to truly hear the frustrations, the strong words and the heartfelt calls for all of us who are able to, to speak out and yet to also constantly look inward so as to understand our own built in prejudices. I try hard to understand my own place of privilege – my own blind spots, my own fears, and then to reconcile these with the importance of showing love, showing up, and of creating active hope through my own actions. Am I trying hard enough? I can try harder. I must.
I have wept as I have read the heart wrenching stories from mothers and fathers of beautiful black, brown and indigenous boys and girls; parents who worry each day – beginning from the day of their children’s birth – about the added hardships and injustices their beautiful children will face, solely because of the color of their skin.
I recently re-read an article by Lori Larkin Hutcherson, from October 2017, where she states: “…… nobody is mad at you for being white. Nobody. Just like nobody should be mad at me for being black. Or female. Or whatever. But what IS being asked of you is to acknowledge that white privilege DOES exist and not only to treat people of races that differ from yours “with respect and humor,” but also to stand up for fair treatment and justice, not to let “jokes” or “off-color” comments by friends, co-workers, or family slide by without challenge, and to continually make an effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, so we may all cherish and respect our unique and special contributions to society as much as we do our common ground.”
I remind myself regularly: SILENCE = BETRAYAL
In a May 30th article in the Guardian, Reverend Barber II, founder of Moral Mondays and co-chair of the Poor Peoples Campaign reminds us: “If we take time to listen to this nation’s wounds, they tell us where to look for hope. The hope is in the mourning…The hope is in the very thing that makes us want to rush from this place.” He continues by stating that, “It is only if these screams and tears and protests shake the very conscience of this nation …until there is really political and judicial repentance, can we hope for a better society on the other side of this.”
Connections abound, systemic racism and poverty exist everywhere across America. People of color are disproportionately being impacted by COVID19, by our climate emergency and by racial injustices. These facts are clear and evident.
Let’s listen and hear, we must bear witness to what is happening; as painful as it may be, we must keep our eyes wide open. We must continue to speak out when the hashtags fades, when the world is gripped by its next upheaval that removes the current one from the front pages of our lives. We must stay the course. It feels like we all can’t breathe. It feels too much. But for those of us that can continue to show how the dots are connected, we must. We must remind our children and ourselves, there is no climate justice without racial justice. It is and will be hard work, but we can’t be successful in slowing the climate crisis unless we bring everyone along with us. We need to take a hard look in the mirror, recognize there is complicated work to do, but that we each can be part of changing the current system and creating a better tomorrow for all of our children.
As I share in my book, acknowledging the truth about our climate emergency is accepting the uncomfortable reality that there is no linear path for making it less worse, nor for solving it in its entirety. In a connected way, there is no linear path forward on racism. Given this, there is plenty of room for us all to be involved from different places of knowledge, of understanding and of ability. The thing that is the same, is that we all can jump in and be part of change. For me, the protests around the country remind me how important it is now and how incredibly important it will be come November, for us to strengthen and protect our democratic systems; these systems have been hard fought for, and today have large cracks – they are showing signs not only of wear, but of breakage. We must ensure that people everywhere in the USA have the right, the ability, and the tools to vote.
For me, it seems clear that over the past four years, fuel has been added to the fires of division and racism in the USA, this fuel now comes from the highest office in the land. Just as some of us excuse our fathers, aunties or siblings when they express racist or prejudicial comments or jokes, much of the country has made excuses for Donald Trump and his divisive comments and his inciting of hate. But Trump is not your beloved uncle; he was elected as president of the country and expected to lead all people in this country, not just the ones he decides he wants to lead. He has allowed hate to fester and to grow. Other elected officials, by their silence, have perpetrated betrayal and advanced racism and hate. Too many people in positions of power have turned away; ignoring what is happening in this country. Just as we strive to remove partisanship, as we demand action on climate, we must make clear that all people – regardless of political party – stand together against divisiveness, racism and hate – partisanship has no place.