A few weeks ago for Mother’s Day, the kids at church were asked to fill out a little paper all about their mom. My son’s paper proudly proclaimed, “My mom is awesome because she ‘CAN PUNCH OTHER MOMS.’” Tha hell??!! Seriously, son? THAT’s what you want everyone to know about why your mother is awesome??!! (For the record, I do NOT make it a habit to “punch other moms.”)
But, while I do not resort to actual physical violence, I think what my son recognizes is that I’ve never been one to shy away from conflict. All my life, I’ve been the type that would rather hash through the ugliness so that I know exactly where I stand with people, and, whether they want to or not, people will always know where they stand with me. Sometimes this is a strength for me, sometimes it’s a weakness. But, for better or for worse, I’m kind of a “what you see is what you get” type of person, so when there is something that I feel needs to be said, consequences be damned, I’ll usually say it.
Which brings me to my uncomfortable-but-this-needs-saying-so-it-might-as-well-be-me-that-says-it point: on several occasions in the past week or so, I have heard – both from people talking directly to me and from other People of Color who have had well-meaning but ill-advised people say this to them – that People of Color are causing unnecessary discord, division, and disunity by pointing out the real harms and hurts that are happening to People of Color within the larger community. And my response to this is much the same as my response to my son telling people I’m awesome because I can punch other moms: “Tha hell?!! Seriously, son??!!”
Let me get this straight: People of Color are being killed, are being forgotten, are being silenced…and we are not supposed to say anything because then WE are causing a breakdown in the unity of the community? I’m sorry, no. The breakdown is there. Pointing it out does not change the fact that the breakdown was already there…it just make it harder for you to ignore. And, yes, that is uncomfortable. I get it. But let’s put the ownership of that discomfort where it belongs.
You’ve probably already heard this analogy, but I love it and I’m going to reiterate it now. Saying that the one experiencing the pain is the cause of disharmony within a community is much like being offended when you step on someone’s foot, break their toe, and the person then turns to you and says, “Ouch! Get the hell off my toe!” After the toe is already broken, it doesn’t matter whether you meant to do it or not. My toe is broken and you are standing on it and I want you to get the hell off and then apologize. You do not get to tell me that I shouldn’t be hurt because it was an accident. You don’t get to tell me that you are usually a good person and you have never broken anyone else’s toe, so you should get a pass on this particular apology for previous good behavior. Just get the hell off my toe, say you’re sorry, and try to be more conscious of the real pain your actions might cause someone else in the future. And, for Pete’s sake, do not turn around and get pissy with ME for making you uncomfortable and causing a division between us by insisting that you get off my foot and apologize for hurting me. The division is already there. Maybe it’s you that needs to take the first step to fix that division by removing your foot from my broken toe, not me that needs to fix it by pretending your foot isn’t still smashing mine.
Over the past year I have become more heavily involved with the Women of Color in our little FEMWOC community, and my eyes opened to a whole new world of things I never knew I never knew. (See what just happened there…quoted two Disney songs sung by women of color in a single sentence. Winning!) And because my eyes are now open, I can’t unsee the uglier things that were exposed to me. I am changed. I am changed, and with this change I feel an obligation to speak up when I see the ugly things that maybe I missed before. And when I speak up, I understand that this makes some people really uncomfortable. And I’m sorry/not sorry about that.
A dear and respected friend was told this past week that she was “different,” that she was “angry and had lost her light.” OOOOHHHH, y’all. That made my blood boil. This person is good and kind and all of the amazing, compassionate things that I hope to one day be. But, she also sees the real harms that are happening and she has the courage to speak up when she sees them. Hell yeah, she’s angry. But, has she lost her light? Or is she now a powerful, focused spotlight that shines a light on the things that other people are more comfortable with not seeing? I think you know my answer to that question.
To the stompers – whether your stomping is intentional or unintentional, whether you make a habit of stomping on any random person’s foot or you’ve just stomped on one, whether your stomping was pointed out to you in the quiet of a personal conversation or was broadcast for the whole community to see – get the hell off that foot you’re stomping and apologize. And, if you’re truly interested in community-building, STOP STOMPING. Start paying attention.
And to the broken-toed: when people tell you your light is lost – and they will – don’t you dare believe them. Your light may look different than it did before. Maybe it isn’t the glowing, warm candle that it once was. But, your spotlight is every bit as bright, and every bit as good, and every bit as useful as your candle ever was. Keep sharing your light.