I want to briefly introduce this unusual blog post: I posted this rambling open letter on my personal Facebook account a couple of days ago. Though I’ve always wanted to keep the Zion Foundation blog highly focused on things we can do rather than commentary, I feel this content is important to share and not just for white Americans but all people of the world. Please feel free to share and comment. I think there is much we can do that I did not specifically call out. I leave that for you to decide given your circumstances, abilities, etc. Thank you.
I’m so sorry for this in advance. Maybe my inclusion of a cartoon quote seems a little inappropriate, given the gravity of the current state of our nation. It’s also a super-long, rambling post that I’ve been keeping in for way too long… but I just have to share it the way it flows out of me. I really appreciate you reading it all the way to the end.
There’s a lot of anger out there. Many say they are justified in violence. It is certain that what has been happening to our brothers and sisters — because we certainly are all brothers and sisters in the great human family — is not right.
Like many people right now, I’m going through the Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series (thanks Netflix) and I heard a character share something so appropriate for the climate in which we find ourselves. This series may look simple and even as mundane children’s entertainment on the surface with all the crazy animals and silly antics, but much like the “island” the titular Avatar is traveling on his journey, there’s a turtle-lion just underneath the surface with profound spiritual truth to share.
The Avatar, who is faced with the challenge of defeating the Fire Lord (the final antagonist of the show and culmination of all things wrong in the fictional world), shrinks at the idea of having to take a life, even though he’s clearly a bad guy. After appealing to his past lives for guidance, the Avatar gets this bit of wisdom from the great lion turtle on whose back he had been traveling for most of the episode:
“The true mind can weather all the lies and illusions without being lost. The true heart can touch the poison of hatred without being harmed. Since beginningless time, darkness thrives in the void, but always yields to purifying light.”Giant Lion Turtle in Avatar: The Last Airbender Book 3, Episode 19 “Sozin’s Comet, Part 2: The Old Masters”
I have been staying out of the conversation because I really don’t agree with violence and it hurts to see people you love hurting. And I do love people. All of you. I’m no saint but I think we all could do well to remember we are all in this together. Life isn’t a competition.
Most people know I’m all about talking about our problems rather than fighting about them. Maybe I’m wrong and maybe there’s a time and place for violence in the world right now. Certainly I think our ancestors have had to fight against tyranny for their lives. There is injustice all over the world, right now. Violence has and can bring about fantastic change, albeit at a great cost to all sides involved.
I truly believe that in a nation with the freedoms we have, the fundamental principals we supposedly espouse, that if there ever were a place we could rise up and make sweeping and permanent change without violence, it would be here. Again, like our ancestors, we can be an example to the world of not how to be perfect, but how to see our mistakes and how to have the courage to change.
No nation is perfect; none are above reproach. We can and must do better. And now, more than ever, I think we need do that without the violence, jealousy, fear and hatred that got us to this point. We must learn to think outside the box, like Avatar Aang.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one many look to as the de facto father of the modern fight for civil liberties and the bearer of fundamental human decency and brotherly love, famously said:
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate…Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
A dear friend of my wife recently asked — directed at white people — the question of “if not violence, what?” It’s a great question and she directed it very appropriately!
How do we stand up to this? We can’t sit idly by. I know the heart of this dear friend is amazing and I feel how much she hurts for those that are affected. We can’t sit around and stay at home and point the finger at the looters and the angry demonstrators from the comfort of our couches.
But what, then? Violence obviously catches attention. But violence, as Dr. King so eloquently teaches us, will make us descend with them. And the point of his teaching — for which he gave his life — a great martyr in the cause of humanity (human unity) — is that we must not descend down with more violence but seek to raise others up with us. Pull them into the light.
Easy to say; very hard to do. Obviously. But, like most problems, won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution. It won’t work en masse, dictated by government policies and forced morality. You can’t legislate people’s thoughts.
It will come as we engage our neighbors, peacefully demonstrate and actively seek to understand before seeking to be understood. There are people out there that have a reason for feeling the way they do.
Let’s talk to them and instead of attacking their hatred, understand why they feel the way they do. The fastest way to create more conflict is to marginalize their feelings and state they are simply wrong. Then we become just as aggressive, just as combative and “descend with them” into violence.
I get it. People out there are scared. Most alarmingly, we must protect our brothers and sisters of color. Stand with and around them. Don’t forget that when they chant “Black Lives Matter” it’s not because they think black lives are better than white lives or even “blue” lives (law enforcement), it’s because they feel (and I believe justifiably so) that if innocent white lives were being lost in such overwhelming numbers that there *would* be a far greater outcry. They are chanting, in effect “Hey! Black people matter JUST AS MUCH so come fight for us and with us!”.
Yes, all lives matter. White, black, “blue”, whatever. But people of color feel marginalized BECAUSE THEY ARE. Who can answer the call to fix this? It’s not the Black, Latino, Pacific Islander, Asian or Indian communities. It’s the white people who hold the vast majority of the positions of power. It’s not just because there are more of us but it’s because of the very problems we’re talking about.
Like it or not, we’re still the majority. There are more of us white, Caucasian, “people of European decent” or whatever we are called. While we are all one family, it’s not hard to see we’re treated differently. And it then falls to us to be the voice loudest of all.
It should be the cause that every person to stand up for the oppressed, the marginalized and the disadvantaged. But as a group, white people have a duty to stand up to these attitudes and *with* all of our community. We need to stand united.
Despite our differences in culture, religion, politics or anything else that divides us, we must be united in our defense of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom is not a selfish cause. We must be willing to fight for others to have the same privileges we do.
We fight with our own attitudes and being respectful of others. We fight with our votes by showing up in droves and forcing a shift in our country’s status quo. We fight as we peacefully and respectfully demonstrate to get our voices heard. We fight one conversation at a time, one neighbor at a time, one-on-one as we minister to each other and lift each other up.
And we fight as we stop looking at the world through our own, narrow perspectives. Think of what it’d be like to be on the receiving end of racial persecution, marginalization, bigotry or even faced with the fear of violence or death, just for your being you.
I still remember the riots after the Rodney King garbage. It turned on a few white people when they were targeted by mobs in LA — not for their direct involvement but simply for their being white.
What we need to is love each other. We need to stamp out hatred at its source: the hearts and minds of the people. And we can’t do that en masse. We have to get together, accept that people feel complex emotions and realize that even people with racial prejudices are still good people. We need to help them see, help them understand and help them empathize.
In my family’s past, even though we enjoy the privileges of living in this country with a European heritage, we endured religious persecution. If nothing else, remember that you, for any reason, could quickly go from majority to minority in a heartbeat and find yourself wishing you had someone in the majority willing to fight for your rights, privileges and fair treatment.
I love our country not because we’re better but because we are in control of our destiny. We can do this and show there’s a better, higher way. If you listen to lion turtles or kings, there’s wisdom in looking for a higher way to unity: through loving and valuing each other.
That’s how we’ll turn this around. We must fight darkness with light and fight hatred with love. To everyone.
Let’s not make the United States of America an oxymoron anymore. Let us actually be united.