By Joe LaGuardia
My friends have been telling people that we can’t stay silent in exposing racism. In the face of the deaths of people of color — Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor most recently – staying silent is counted as complicit as the murders themselves.
So I’ve spent the last few days wrestling with what to say and how to say it. Does putting a post on Facebook really make a difference? Twitter? What, with all of the algorithms moving the letters in those alphabet soups, you might as well be publishing your opinions to the grass outside. They don’t make no difference.
Is there a way to say what you need to say in a way that changes the world? That’s the question.
Some of my friends miss a deeper point still: silence is not always complicit acceptance. In the Bible, sometime the silence within the text and beyond the text (God’s silence) act as mirrors exposing our worst selves.
In the wake of the murder of Uriah and the rape of Bathsheba, for instance, King David almost got away with a grand political conspiracy. If it weren’t for the prophet Nathan, David would not have come clean. But Bathsheba does not have a single line of dialogue in the entire episode.
In fact, scripture refuses to call her by name, choosing to call her “Uriah’s wife” (pointing to the fact that David treated her no better than property–the “hook” in Nathan’s parable to David) until after she and David’s child dies. Scripture does not do so to perpetuate violence but to show the perpetuation of violence by people who think they can consume others by force or coercion. Textual rhetorical nuance by those who authored Scripture, and (within the text), prophetic poetry, by way of a parable and political interruption, is the only thing that survives silence and leads to action.
Same goes for Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, who was raped by the spoiled Prince Shechem of the Hivite tribe. She is rendered silent by scripture, not to silence her for good but to stand in solidarity with the voiceless. Jacob, exacerbating the situation by refusing to take responsibility in bringing Shechem to justice, is more concerned with good business relations with the Hivites.
Judah’s inaction results in rage and genocide: Dinah’s brothers take revenge. They plot, scheme, riot, and wipe out the entire tribe.
For me, having PTSD, my own sense of rage means sitting silent in the face of violence. It is my default setting. With political levers of power refusing to turn the tides on common sense gun control all while celebrating violence and perpetuating ingrained racism (Consider the facts: the Highest Leader of the Land call [white] gun, tactical-gear-toting protestors “good people”; called one man of color who protested police brutality peacefully in the NFL a “son of a bitch”, and refused communities of color due process of law by threatening to shoot looters on the spot) we victims are rendered mute.
My wrestling match with silence also has to do with law enforcement. I have good friends who are cops and some with whom I’ve worked in race reconciliation initiatives in Georgia. Some are brothers who share with me in the PTSD struggle. How do you speak out when other friends are in the trenches with you and are just as sensitive when their profession incites protests?
Most of my friends who speak out have not targeted law enforcement (I’m sure right-wing media outlets would have you think otherwise, if not today then tomorrow–bet on it!). That would be scapegoating–no more useful in bringing change than, say, blaming immigrants for the lack of jobs. Rather, my friends are indicting all of us–our nation and systematized injustice that stands against people of color not just in the last two weeks, but in the last 400 years of one race claiming superiority over another.
For the rest, rage has led to rioting, and since our (mostly male) leaders have refused to do anything substantive, rage has also seen a rise of Mothers committing political interruption with poetic and prophetic grief instead. (Read this and watch that.) Rachel still refuses consolation (Matt. 2:18).
Here is the rub: Injustice of the disinherited breeds trauma that is inherited. Despair is one option. In a recent New York Times article, Charles Blow wrote, “Despair has an incredible power to initiate destruction. It is exceedingly dangerous to assume that oppression and pain can be inflicted without consequence, to believe that the victim will silently absorb the injury and the wound will fade.”
Healing, however comes by way of hope, and bringing healing to that kind of wound requires more than saying a name, publishing a post, or even writing a stupid blog article. As Mayor Bottoms said, there is no “out-concerning me.”
But just as the Bible indicts injustice from cover to cover–from the earliest rise of violence in the Garden of Eden to the oppression of marginalized Christians under Rome’s commoditization (thank you, Brueggemann) of violence in the name of Pax Romana— it boldly claims that love stands alongside it, ever inspiring Beloved Community.
Jesus didn’t go to the cross only because of injustice, but to enact forgiveness and love as the alternative to revenge and retaliation. Jesus shows us a better way, but — make no mistake — he stands in solidarity with those in our common history who haven’t been able to breathe for 400 years. His lungs filled up and eventually expired so that hate and racism can have an expiration date.
What really matters is the recognition — the explicit acknowledgment — that racism runs deep. It takes more than prayer and repentance. And it certainly doesn’t require the way of a reckoning. Justice requires poetic and prophetic interruption. It requires a cultural shift in which the disinherited can inherit the rights afforded all people (the check of our Founding Father’s has not yet been cashed; in fact it just BOUNCED!), and when people of color can find safety while jogging, in the street, in their car, bird-watching, in their constitutional right to bear arms or have due process, and in their own homes. Until our brothers and sisters are safe, none of us are safe.