I was raised in a home with four other sisters. Five girls all fairly close in age. Competition was fierce for everything from food and toys to attention and, well, even love. Some of us may have felt it more deeply than others, and all at different times, and while my parents did everything they could to divide the casserole and cuddles evenly, occasionally someone slipped through the cracks. But I remember very clearly one time asking my mother which child was her favorite and I was ready for her to give me the textbook, nonpartisan answer that she loved us all exactly the same. But she didn’t. Instead she said that the one she loved the greatest was the one who needed her the most.
Now I’ve thought a lot about this over the years. As a daughter during the times when a certain sister, undoubtedly not myself, seemed to receive more consideration or favor than the rest. And as a mother, having now two children, and trying to interpret and unravel my feelings for you, both separately and together. And maybe it’s because you are both still small creatures and while exhaustingly needy, your demands are more primitive and simple, but I haven’t yet experienced nor grasped the idea of loving one more because they needed me to a greater extent.
But this week. This week I understood. But it wasn’t how I anticipated. It wasn’t when one of you was lashing out at me for attention because I’ve been distracted and depleted. It wasn’t when another one of you was sick for over a week and yearned for Mom more than medicine. It was when Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were both shot and killed while I watched it all on video.
This is what my mother meant. She may have meant it for her own children, but this is what it actually meant. And this is also what Black Lives Matter means. It doesn’t imply that you hate police. It doesn’t symbolize you condemning your own race. It means that we are morally obligated to reach out our arms and our hearts and our voices to the people who need us the most. Yes of course all lives matter, just like my sisters and I were all loved by my mother. But saying that aloud is just foolish. We don’t need to wave our hands around and say “But what about me? Look at me! I matter too!” because we aren’t the ones being shot for having a busted tail light. All of the lives don’t truly matter until the black ones do.
When her daughters were suffering, my mom didn’t just tell us she loved us and expect that to heal our hearts. She hurt with us. And we now need to be hurting with them. We cannot erase the past, but we need to be pouring all of our energy into helping make them whole again. It isn’t enough to say that we love the black community. We can’t think that we are somehow aiding the cause by announcing we have black friends or by falsely fabricating the notion that we are all the same. Because we aren’t all equal until we are all treated as such.
I am a red-headed, freckle-faced, white girl from the south. I think I’m pretty kind. Open. Progressive. But I did not choose the color of my skin just like my black friends didn’t choose the color of theirs. I was born this way. And therefore I was also born privileged. And I’m not talking about money. I’m speaking of the fact that I’m 18% more likely to live in a safe neighborhood than a black person. I’m three times less likely to get suspended or expelled from school. I’m 20% more likely to go to college and if I graduate, I am twice as likely to be employed after graduation. I even have a 50% better chance at getting a job call back for having a white name versus a black one. I’m five to ten times less likely to go to prison than a black person for the same crime. I don’t know what it’s like to have people frightened of me or accuse me of something I didn’t do. And there is no way that I can comprehend what it is like to be pulled over for a minor traffic violation and be afraid for my life. And for this reason I am White America.
Being part of White America doesn’t signify that I am a white supremacist or a bigot or an asshole. But it does suggest that I need to scrutinize any subconscious racism and admit my trepidation about walking down the street in the dark next to a black man. It means we need to quit anxiously defending ourselves as a race by declaring that we have black friends and broadcasting that some white people are actually good. We do this because we are uncomfortable. Because the very notion that we too could be part of this hate is shameful and bitter and almost unbearable. But we need to be uncomfortable. We need to look racism in its flawless white face and say enough. We must discontinue our pandering to make it about us. Because it’s always been about us.
My mother may have ached for her children, but mothers of black boys and men are in misery. They are terrified and tormented and grieving. Right now their children are the ones who need us. And in the same way that I was sometimes required to relinquish my own self-serving desires and allow my mom to dedicate her time, tenderness and solicitude to my siblings, we must now serve our brothers and sisters in need with the same compassion. Because it is their turn.
It can all become very overwhelming; trying to figure out who needs us and hoping to heal the hurt of all the world’s children. The gay ones and the transgendered ones and the poor ones and the Muslim ones and the motherless ones and the homeless ones and the bullied ones and all the ones of color. Pain may be part of the human experience, but this is too deep. Too raw. Too much. Sometimes it seems that the agony of the earth can make our heart too heavy to to beat for others. But they are ours. And it is our human purpose to give up our own discomfort to stand beside them and their agony. To ask them what we can do. To tell them that it is not ok that they are treated as less than. To confess that we have done it and tell them we are sorry. And when we don’t know what else to do, to just choose to love them more.
This post also appeared on The Huffington Post. You can view it here.