Sunday Reflections: I Have No Words
I mean, I’ve always been aware of its existence. In fact, just a few years before I had cut off ties with a family member who insisted on using the N word in front of my children. I would come home from the pool and he would ask, casually like it was an obvious question, “how many Ns were there today?”
But on this January day, the sinister nature of racism revealed itself to me. Before, it was just always ignorant words spoken by angry people who had hate in their hearts, but they didn’t really seem to do anything about it. This day, though, I learned that there were forces out there organizing around their hatred and that maybe they might do something about it.
The proof of it sat there on the lawn. A simple looking flyer. Put in a ziploc bag. Weighed down rocks.
“What is this,?” my youngest child asked. So I opened it and looked. It was a flyer recruiting members for the KKK, proclaiming that it was time to take back “our” land. I use quotation marks because of course the idea that the white man needs to take back his land is kind of ironic, when you consider we took it from others first. But if I’m going to be completely honest, I had no idea that the KKK was still a real operating group. To me, safely tucked away in my white skin and comfortable neighborhood, these white hooded figures were as much a part of history as the Greek and Roman gods, they were a thing of myth and legend from our distant, racist past.
Except, of course, that past isn’t really all that distant and racism most assuredly still exists today. In that moment, I held the proof in my hands.
Just around the corner a new family had moved in with two children, children who were young like my youngest and had been in my home playing with Thing 2. And they are black. I looked up and down the street and I could see that the KKK had done a thorough job, canvasing our neighborhood and inviting all to take part in their attempt to “take back” the nation. But all I could think about was how awful it would be for that 6 year old girl to walk out of her front door and find the flyer there in her yard. How her mother’s heart would break to have to explain to her what it meant when she asked.
That day, The Tween and I talked about what was happening. We went around for a while and started picking up the flyers but I soon sent her home. You see, I started worrying that someone from the KKK was nearby and they would see us picking them up and I became afraid.
I was equally afraid that my neighbors would see me with them and think I was the one distributing them instead of realizing that I was picking them up to discard them.
I called the police and they assured me that they knew about the flyers, that they had multiple calls of complaint, and that there really wasn’t anything they could do about it because they were well within their first amendment rights to distribute them. Although I really would have liked to have seen them fined for littering or something, they didn’t have permission to leave their vile trash all over the neighborhood.
On this day my universe tilted. My eyes were opened up and I realized that racism was very much alive and well in my world. Not far, far away in the big city or a foreign land, but right here in my local community. And in those brief moments when I feared that someone from the KKK would find out that I had picked up as many of those flyers I could find, I understood the power that came with that white hood. In fact, it’s part of the reason that I never wrote the post about it that I wanted to write. Fear. I was so afraid that even after Heather, Robin and Amanda encouraged me to blog about it, I didn’t.
When I heard about the shooting in Charleston . . . I have no words. And the truth is, I don’t have a right to have any words. This moment is not about me. And as a white woman I feel like I don’t really have a right to speak, because my voice is not a voice that matters right now. There are voices that we should be listening to and mine is not it. Wiser people with an immediate stake in what is happening are speaking and we should be listening. Because the fear that I felt on that day picking up those flyers is only a fraction of the fear that others face on a daily basis.
But to everyone who says that racism is still not an issue today, I want to take you back to January 26th. Not in the distant past, but just 6 short months ago. Racism is real, it is not in the past, and it is something that we need to be talking about before another Charleston happens.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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