My name is Alex, and I am white. And for two days a part of me wanted to avoid social media so that I could avoid the heartbreak of another young black man shot to death. Feeling guilty about that desire, I was then tempted to post the first good article on the topic I saw and walk away, not thinking about it anymore. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t because it would be too easy for me to shut my eyes and ignore the pain, not wanting to take on the heartbreak today. I couldn’t because the ease with which I could post someone else’s words about racism felt like a disservice to how horrific the impacts truly are.
It would be easy because of my race. I have the privileged choice to not have to think about Michael Brown and not have his face haunt me, infect me with worry for myself, my spouse, or my children. I have the privilege to be able to avoid the heartbreak.
I want to make a different choice. A harder choice. A choice to open my heart to the heartbreak. To cry. To feel soul-deep pain that Michael Brown is gone and that I live in a society in which his death is part of what has been carefully constructed as the “natural order of things”; in which his life is worth less. To grieve for all of the people who knew him and loved him and have to live with his murder for the rest of their lives, carrying the trauma within them, its ripples making waves for decades and generations.
I am also making the choice to grieve for the police officer who murdered Michael Brown. Regardless of the details that come to light about who he is and what happened, this police officer is a product of a society that did everything it could to teach him (and all of us) that young black and brown men are inherently criminal and that police are charged with keeping (white) people safe and upholding the (white) social order.
I grieve for all the people who enter that profession wanting to do good and work a decent job. Whether they know it or not, whether they like it or not, they are set up for failure by our culture’s deep-seated and ingrained messages about good and evil, right and wrong, mapped onto human bodies.
As long as we see individual people as the problem—whatever “the problem” may be—the cycle of violence continues. As long as we put people into groups and then create a single story about those groups—all black and brown men are criminal, all police officers are violently racist—we are not acting on the side of love.
As a white person, my choice today is to turn toward heartbreak, and grief, and pain, knowing that it is better to feel deeply and be spurred to create a better world than to be numb and give in to complacency. Heartbreak could send me down into a pit of despair. It could cause me to harden my heart and turn to anger. But instead I will stay present with the pain and let it spur me on toward creating a world where each person’s life is equally valued as the blessing that it is.
For me, staying present means leaning into pain when I have the choice not to. For others who have personal experience with violence, staying present may well mean self-care in the face of not being able to avoid the pain.
How are you staying present today and every day? How will you choose love when love is the hardest choice available? Choose love. Stay present. I am with you on the journey.
Rest in peace, Michael Brown. We will not rest.
Cross-posted at Standing on the Side of Love on April 14, 2014.