It was the summer of 2016. I’d just returned from a trip to visit my aunt and uncle in Florida with my mom and my sister. The trip was a small rest between coaching middle and high school track and field and the start of wheat harvest. I was grateful for time at the beach, but aching to get back to my family, even though that would mean parenting alone for the duration of harvest.
The combines soon started cutting, but harvest wasn’t the only thing on the horizon.
A curveball was thrown on a Saturday afternoon. It slammed us; one of my children most of all. I still remember the details. It was one of those time-defining events: My trip was before the curveball, the rest of life, after.
Many nights that summer, I put the kids to bed and sought solace on my front porch. It was a place I could feel the breeze on my face and see light in the darkened sky, a physical reminder that darkness won’t have the last word.
I sat there in raw pain. Crying out. Anguished in soul. Facing an injustice I’d only feared before. Before the curveball.
In seeking help, there were a few who believed us. Otherwise bringing the injustice to light meant we mostly faced forms of varying unbelief: the brush-off-ers, the excuse-makers, the turn-the-other-cheekers, the accusers and the mockers.
We had nothing to gain, everything to lose. And we lost. Four years later, and justice has not been served.
This life-altering event is part of our family now. There’s no going back. There’s no changing the trauma. And so, when triggers come, I think of it more. Summer itself is a trigger. So is harvest. Right now as I remember, my hands are cold and shaky, my stomach nauseous.
This summer the reminders of this particular injustice come at a time where the spotlight is on national injustice. As I’ve waded through my own memories, I’ve watched our nation grapple with another chance for us to collectively come to grips with the racism still embedded in our culture. As I’ve watched and processed, I’ve held onto one thing in particular—my experience of waiting for, longing for, justice has enabled me to have compassion for others seeking the same.
There are others more equipped to speak on topics of race than me, a white woman. That doesn’t mean I can’t try to see the plight of others. It doesn’t mean I should turn away. Something I know is, waiting four years for justice has been excruciating—I can only imagine what a lifetime feels like.
A Facebook friend of mine, Mikosa Redetzke, said this: “When things get hard, I can’t take my skin off.”
Her words hit me hard. I’m still thinking about them, wishing I didn’t need her powerful words to make a connection. Wishing things were different. But they aren’t, and I do, because, with the way things are, it is something I can’t truly understand by personal experience. But just because I haven’t experienced racism toward my skin tone doesn’t mean it isn’t there and that it isn’t real. I need to listen and learn from the experience of others.
And there are some things I can do, even as I learn. I can call evil, evil. I can think back to injustice in my life and know how much better it felt to have someone say “that was wrong” instead of trying to make excuses for what happened and who did it. I can say unequivocally, racism is evil.
I can do my part to listen and learn from people who know. I can do my best to raise up children who see intrinsic value in people—knit together, fearfully and wonderfully—made in the image of God.
And I can work to see. I know how it feels to have people look away, and I don’t want to play that role. I don’t want to look away.
So, I made myself watch the video. Nothing in me wanted to. Nothing. I hate watching violence. I get squeamish at movie violence even when I know it isn’t real. And the video of George Floyd being murdered wasn’t fiction. It was real.
But I didn’t want to turn away, so I watched.
And I cried.
I’m crying now, remembering.
Because what happened was wrong. And so were the murders of many, many others.
I’m familiar with some of the counter-arguments bound to follow this. I’ve seen them online over and over. But before we go there, my challenge to those of us with white skin is this:
Though it won’t be exactly the same, let’s think back to our own times of affliction. Let’s think back to our own times of soul-crushing grief. Let’s think back to our own times of wondering “how long” in the face of injustice and silence.
And as we remember, let’s move toward the plight of others. Let’s hold out compassion and grace. Let’s seek understanding. Let’s grab onto empathy and extend mercy. Let’s enter into lament, weeping with those who weep, instead of running away, making excuses, becoming callous or responding with malice.
We’re going to make mistakes. I’m learning and I’m terrified that in writing this I will inflict more harm than good. I don’t want that, yet I want to say something. I want to always remember how much better it feels to be heard and cared for instead of brushed off and ignored.
I don’t want to turn away.
Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing, visit her blog, www.malindajust.com, or find her on social media @MalindaDJust