A Stake in the Ground Against Racism

a black lives matter sign against a fence

I woke up early on Saturday morning and my mind was instantly churning. With one eye cracked open and my mind still groggy from sleep, I reached out from under my warm and cozy covers to fumble for my phone on the bedside table. Pulling it close, I tried to be as quiet as possible so I wouldn’t wake my still-snoozing husband. I knew that our 5-year-old son would soon be bounding into the bedroom, arriving in full volume and with the insane level of morning energy that only small growing humans can produce. This thing I was attempting to do needed to happen now.

I opened up my browser and quickly typed in “Black Lives Matter yard sign”. This moment of urgent shopping was rising from the renewed inner turmoil that had been with me since learning about what was, at the time, the most recent horrific killing of Ahmaud Arbery while he was out for a daytime jog. By shopping for this sign I was seeking something that would make a statement about how our family feels, and to provide a constant visual reminder to myself to remain active personally and externally to effect change where racial oppression is so clearly playing out.

Before long my yard sign search led me to a racial justice website I was familiar with but had not visited for quite some time. I found myself immersed anew in the content, signed up for their newsletter, and tracked down their local chapter’s Facebook group in my city. I was surprised to find that I was actually already a member of the local Facebook group, and murkily recalled that I had joined it several years ago.

I had a moment of private embarrassment that I could literally forget that I had joined a racial justice group, and then sat with that for a moment and recognized with lament and conviction that this “rediscovery” is a perfect example of the inner reality I hold in my privilege as a white woman. I can acknowledge that I have strong beliefs about how deep structural racism and oppression goes in our culture, and willingly accept the reality of my own implicit bias and blinders, but the fact remains that I can drop that lens at any moment and forget about it on a daily basis. It is so easy to be up in arms for a few weeks, maybe even join a Facebook group or attend a gathering focused on action and change, but then allow my energy to dissipate and move on with the daily life of work, family, and my own personal heartaches and traumas.

I acknowledged my inner shame in that moment of discovery and then found self-kindness, understanding, and a resolve form within me that said No More. I will no longer conveniently forget, allowing the latest news report to become the alarm bell that reminds me, yet again, of this daily reality of systemic racism and the blind eye to implicit bias that supports it. When Elie Wiesel accepted his Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, he said “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere….Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race…that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”

As I was shopping for the yard sign and signing up for the organization’s newsletter, sure enough, my son bounded into our room to wake us up. He was immediately interested in what I was doing on my phone. I chose to dive in and begin another conversation about racial injustice with him and his 5-year-old heart. Upon hearing about what I was up to, he immediately wanted to spring into action and exclaimed with excessive exuberance (remember that we are still in bed, in the dark, and half awake in this story, right?): “I’m gonna make a picture of a White person and a Black person hugging so that others will know that’s what you’re supposed to do! Let’s go, Mom! Right Now!” We raced downstairs to his art table to create his vision and continue the conversation.

Searching for the Black Lives Matter sign has become a Stake In The Ground Moment for me. I am owning what I know deep inside: When it comes to the reality of racial inequities, believing that there is a deep problem is not enough, and to be complacent with inaction is to be complicit. The yard sign search started me on a path that led me to begin monthly donations to Equal Justice Initiative and Real Rent Duwamish, to listen to Lisa Sharon Harper and Jen Hatmaker speak about racism and the history of White women’s toxic tears, and to stand on our street corner with neighbors holding signs and attend a local march. I joined a group to discuss Resmaa Menaken’s book My Grandmother’s Hands, signed up for his free online Racialized Trauma Course, and reignited my engagement in resources from Raising Race Conscious Children to support important conversations about race with my son.

I do not consider any of this action a pat on the back. I know there is so much more work to do personally and externally, and this is a drop in the bucket. And this small story of myself, a white woman, awakening over and over again to the places where I am privileged and blind, while simultaneously holding strong convictions yet not acting in a sustained way toward deeply necessary justice and change—it is humbling, and quite frankly horrifying and haunting. And it is me. I share all of this because I believe it is many of us. And I believe many of us desire to do better and do more, and we have the opportunity today to resolutely move past the things that can immobilize us like shame, overwhelm, or the fear of not getting it right, and make the decision to commit to Begin and be faithful in ways to Sustain – no matter how big or how small.

Dr. Wiesel also urged the audience in his Nobel Peace Prize speech to recognize that “action is the only remedy to indifference: the most insidious danger of all.” Perhaps you are already well on your way with your own learning and activism, but if you are wondering where to begin may I encourage two initial realms of action to move yourself toward.

What will be your Stake In The Ground moment, your own remedy to the insidious danger of indifference? Mine started with a google search for a Black Lives Matter yard sign which led to a moment where I said No More to my complacency.

First, an inward movement centered on personal work that will further awaken your life and your soul to the storied reality of racial trauma. Choose a book or a film about the history and ongoing nature of white supremacy structures, and allow yourself to step toward understanding how your own story and identity has been influenced and shaped by this reality.

Second, choose an outward movement centered on tangible support for a person or organization committed to confronting our biased systems, and who is working toward justice and healing for communities that experience racialized harm.

There are books to read, museums to visit, repentances to be spoken, and inner work to be pursued. There are demonstrations to attend, individuals to support, and racial justice organizations to contribute toward financially or through your time. What will you choose? I’ve shared a few of the places where I have invested my time, money, and energy in recent weeks. I know there are many more options to consider as you locate what feels connected to the realms you most wish to address and support.

As we face the realities that have been present for centuries, my continual prayer and hope in this: That I will not be indifferent. That you will not be indifferent. That we will not be too numb or too hopeless or too unsure to begin. That there will be many who awaken in this era and continue to learn, repent, and cultivate constructive action toward this life long work.