Following The Threads of Sorrow - Racism in a World of Love


He whipped around, towering, looming down on us, 'WHAT DID YOU SAY LADY?....Well fuck you, why don't you stand up and tell me again?!'

Sometimes it appears that we find poems, sparks, stories just when we need them. I was bumping back on the airplane, caught in the dry, stale middle place, between here and there, ruminating on my own silence. Twice in one trip, I stood dazed, silenced, unsteady. Struck mute and dumb when the world most needed one more brave voice of compassion, no matter how cracked and wavering.

First on the way here, in this airplane aisle, a man grumbling about crowds, ending with yelling and swearing, telling people to get up and fight him. The plane never feels as crowded as when you realize you can't predict or trust what is happening next to you.

Second was quieter, more polite, and weighs heavier. It was an invite-only gathering, people from all over the world, me chiding myself softly to calm down as I recognized that person from a Ted talk, this person from the book I was reading. Meditating and practicing and talking about love, over and over, love and compassion and peace and relieving suffering.

At one point we prayed for the world, people listing the injustices they would like to send love to, a list as rich and varied as it was heart breaking. 

Then one comment. A slip of a sentence over a microphone. One comment that fell into another that bumped into a third, and suddenly through the roar in my ears I could hear a cascade that didn't make sense, didn't fit. About the Las Vegas shooter, about those who look white and male and safe, the real Americans.

And then I didn't know what was said and what I was furiously backing away from, grasping backwards to the solid ground.

Why didn't I say anything?

Why didn't I stand up and say 'Wait. Stop. Not here. Not in this hallowed place of love and inclusion, please don't say those things here.'

After Charlottesville there was a line of reporting that scoffed at white people's outrage and innocence, their shocked reaction to the hard raw racism chanting in the streets. Wiser, older, and people of color said, 'Of course this is America, you didn't choose to see it, but it's always been here.'

This comment, about real Americans, was my slap in the face.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

from Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952

I saw the size of the cloth. And I stood dumb and mute.

By Kerry Makin-Byrd, PhD