At any given time there are organizations seeking our help for the environment, animal rights, women’s rights, children’s issues, LGBTQ issues, poverty and inequality, education, immigrants and refugees, slavery, genocide, sex trafficking, addiction, illness and disease, and so much more. We see documentaries, read articles, and see ads through numerous media platforms vying for our attention – begging us to help with a certain cause.
And then there are further questions.
What type of support is each organization looking for? Money? Time? Or for you to vote on a certain issue? Or write letters to members of government? Protest? Signing a petition?
But then there are further questions still.
There are often multiple organizations addressing the same or similar causes. Which one should you give your attention to? Which one is “the best”?
It’s overwhelming! It’s enough to make us all go numb.
Other times we jump from issue to issue – trying to offer our attention and support. It’s like we’re in a pinball machine bouncing all over the place. It’s chaotic. Support rushes in for one cause but then people’s interest dies out or something else happens in the world and we all rush to the next one.
But what if we just slowed down? What if we really felt it all, listened, and allowed change to grow within us? We would not be numb or in chaos.
Generally, people prefer to support causes they believe in or have connection to. But now there are also people who don’t even believe in certain causes at all. With climate change for example, some people don’t even believe there is a problem! They deny what the scientific evidence clearly demonstrates because they cannot see climate change firsthand.
Sometimes, when we don’t personally experience a problem, we don’t believe it’s real. Other times, the reality is so uncomfortable and frightening, we cannot allow ourselves to believe it. It challenges our entire world view. It’s too painful.
With the senseless murder of George Floyd by police on May 25, 2020, many people could no longer deny the reality of police brutality against Black people. Floyd’s death was seen throughout the world. As we witnessed this atrocity, people who once ignored the systemic racism against Black people could no longer deny it. The further tragedy is that this is not the first time brutality against Black people has been captured on video and seen widely. (Among many other instances, recall the beating of Rodney King in LA in 1991 captured on a home video camera.) We cannot keep denying the reality at the expense of Black lives.
In response to the phrase, “Black lives matter,” some respond with “All lives matter.” Of course all lives matter. But this statement takes away from the importance and urgency of attending to Black lives right now. I read a very powerful example the other day put forth by Rachel Cargle, an author, academic, and activist. She writes,
“If a patient being rushed to the ER after an accident were to point to their mangled leg and say, “This is what matters right now,” and the doctor saw the scrapes and bruises of other areas and countered, “but all of you matters,” wouldn’t there be a question as to why he doesn’t show urgency in aiding that what is most at risk?”
Read more of Rachel Cargle’s article here: https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/a27075028/black-lives-matter-explained/
What if we stopped to listen to the stories and experiences of Black people? Stories of how their lives and their ancestor’s lives have been impacted by injustice and broken promises. What if we stopped and understood how racism has affected every level of their existence?
One cannot assume to understand what Black people and the Black community has experienced. For those of us who don’t know, we need to stop, sit, and listen. And as we listen, we must hold back our own opinions, our knee-jerk reactions, even our own thoughts and really listen. This is not a time to try and escape discomfort. We cannot go numb or fall into chaos.
Sometimes people try to explain it all away – they cite statistics about Black-on-Black crime as the problem, or they say Black people and other minorities are too angry when trying to fight for their cause – that if they presented the information more nicely, it would be more productive. And on and on it goes.
But this is not what listening looks like! This is what trying to explain away discomfort looks like. This is what resisting change looks like. There are strong emotions here around this issue, and rightly so! But we must not let the strong emotions frighten us away.
Once someone has truly listened and opened themselves to these stories and these uncomfortable – but important – truths, I believe there needs to be an opportunity for that person to ask for what they need. What does the listener need in order to understand? Maybe they have questions that they need to ask – but they don’t know how to ask them without offending someone. Maybe they want to grow, learn, and help affect positive change but they feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. They need the opportunity to ask: maybe it’s resources, maybe it’s a space to ask questions, maybe it’s just clarification. Whatever it is, we must remember that to affect change – especially on an issue as big and important as Black Lives Matter – there must be open communication. This means a space for listening and a space for questions.
When I asked my editor, Tracy, about her experiences of racism in Canada, she explained that being mixed race and ethnically ambiguous brings its own set of difficulties. Most people don’t read Tracy as half-Chinese, often asking her what her background is but never being able to place her. And yet she told me she’d experienced a lifetime of nasty comments and subtle aggressions. She told me that she’d been frequently confronted with people making racist comments to her about Asian people – not knowing that she herself was Chinese. Usually these people made these comments lightly, as if it were no big deal. For example, when she was a waitress, other servers often told her not to provide good service to Asian families, because they weren’t good tippers. Tracy wondered, “If I looked ‘more Chinese,’ would people simply think these things and not say them to my face? That’s just as concerning.” There were so many more things Tracy and her family experienced that I would have never known had I not asked her.
When we truly listen to others, we feel connection. We gain understanding.
We are at a time when we must allow other voices to tell us of their experiences, and in return we must ask our questions without fear of being judged. As I’ve been saying in my previous posts, this is not a time to assume we know all the answers. Look at facts free from your own emotions and perceptions.
This is also a time to write to our government leaders, protest, educate ourselves, and above all else, LISTEN TO EACH OTHER. This is a chance to ask the hard questions of all levels of government, businesses, and other authority figures. If a leader you look up to is more concerned about the bottom line, what does that say? Many companies may have also shown support for Black Lives Matter a few weeks ago, but their practices show now evidence of actual change or support. It is time to hold the people we look up to accountable for their views.
I do believe people can change. Every decision we make in life is a learning opportunity and something to grow from. I also believe we are capable of forgiving others and ourselves for doing or saying things in the past when we were ignorant. This is a time to turn a new leaf. If we want systemic change, we must allow the change within each of us to happen. Change is something that needs care to grow within us, and it cannot flourish if we trample all over each other for past mistakes.
I believe we can come together and address the demands of Black Lives Matter and other Black organizations right now. I believe we can foster change in ourselves, our families, and our communities. I believe we can create a more beautiful world through deep listening right now.
Could it be that when people don’t feel a connection to a cause or organization, they don’t want to support it? Maybe. But this is why listening is even more important right now.
Edited by Tracy Wai de Boer