Awakened from Slumber: Thoughts from a Privileged American

By Heather Walton

I grew up in a home that was as colorblind as realistically can be. I didn’t have much interaction with people of different backgrounds; however, I knew that racism and prejudice were unacceptable. I realize that we naturally have biases, and we need to acknowledge that, and at times even to fight against those preconceptions. I owe my mother a debt for her teaching and example. My children do as well, because I’ve been able to model this for them and I am thankful that her views have blessed two generations so far.

While this is a tremendous foundation, I have long tried to understand what I should be doing, beyond seeing everyone in the human race as equal and deserving of respect, as well as teaching my children to do the same. I try to write things that bring injustice to people’s attention. I pray about it (albeit not enough). I try to learn from those who experience injustice and marginalization, but they don’t always want to talk. Maybe they feel it’s futile because there’s no way they can make me understand their experience.

Even so, I know I haven’t done enough. What little I have done hasn’t been sufficient. Most of this is due to ignorance, but I can’t let myself off the hook, because it’s on me to learn. I’ve also been silent at times when I needed to speak up. Frankly, it’s easy to put something out of mind that is out of sight. For these things, I apologize.

Frankly, it’s easy to put something out of mind that is out of sight.

It’s hard to know what to do, because I know that whatever I do to try to do may offend someone. I might do it wrong. I might inadvertently be insensitive. I might have the opposite effect than I intend. I realize that’s a possibility even in writing this article, but I am risking it, in the hopes that it will make a difference for good. That’s why, if you’re a person of color, I need you to educate me.

Last night, I accompanied my daughter to the protest in our city. That may seem crazy, given that the night before there were shots fired. But in hopes that the protests would be peaceful, and because, even though she’s an adult, I’m still a momma bear, and because I really do want to show solidarity, I rode along. However, we didn’t make it to the protest because as we were walking toward it, teargas was deployed. Don’t get me wrong: teargas doesn’t scare me; I was in the army and have been gassed. I’m not eager to experience that again, but I would do it to defend injustice. I knew it was in response to violence, though, and I do not want to be a part of that if at all possible.

My daughter tried to explain to me why violence may be necessary, and I’m trying to understand. I think I get it to some extent: People say they’ve tried to get our attention — those of us who are privileged — by peaceful means, but we didn’t listen. Sometimes when people aren’t heard when they ask quietly or respectfully, they feel the need to talk more boldly or loudly. I can understand that, but at the same time I can’t.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that, and “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate… Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

“Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”. Book by Martin Luther King Jr., 1967.

Jesus said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). Many who have been discriminated against or otherwise been the recipients of injustice may not feel like we live in the same house. But I have to ask, what happens if we destroy ourselves from within? And what can we do to prevent this? These are genuine questions. What ways can a privileged American make this situation better? For those of us who want to know, we value the input of those who have experienced racial injustice. And the only way for us to truly know is for you to tell us.

I welcome your comments.

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