A Look At Black Lives Matter From a White Woman
I am recording this on June 2, 2020. Over the past week there have been protests in the name of the Black Lives Matter movement. Across the country, a number of these protests have been accompanied by riots and looting and destruction of private property. All of this has been happening against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which still persists after months of social distancing and stay at home efforts.
I feel the need today to speak. It has taken me some time and effort to self-educate, to feel able in this endeavor to put words to all of the thoughts and feelings I’ve had about everything going on. I hope that the following can be helpful, and can maybe lend a new perspective that will soften your heart.
A New Point of View on Black Lives Matter
I feel the need to approach this topic from an angle that I don’t see people talking about – it’s the angle of my whole podcast, which is the point of view of a victim of sexual trauma. And today, it will also be from the point of view of a white, Christian, American woman.
When I look at the protests, I see anger, but mostly I see pain.
I see human beings who have felt marginalized, and who have been treated as less-than.
And it hurts.
I’ve talked before on my blog about being an empath – which basically means that I feel other people’s feelings, and when it comes to these big and painful emotions, I feel them very deeply. So, I’ve been trying to extract myself from the emotions enough to see what the true root of the problem is and to better understand the “why” behind this movement, instead of making rash judgments based on the media or discounting the whole ordeal as irrelevant to my life.
When it comes down to it, I can only truly understand my own lived experience. I can’t pretend to know what it’s like to live in today’s world as a person of color, because I’m not black.
But I do want to share a couple of stories from my own life, and then I will explain why I think they are applicable to this conversation.
An American in Russia
First, let’s talk about my time as a missionary in Russia. I volunteered for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and lived for a year in the south western region of Russia, where I essentially spent my time teaching people about Jesus.
At least, I tried to talk to people.
Some people, especially those around my age (early 20s) were happy to chat and get to know each other and hear our message. They were open to learning something new and making new friends.
Then there was the next generation up, those in their 40s and 50s. Some of them would talk with me, often out of an interest in America. For the most part though, if I tried to engage on the street or the bus or anywhere public they would ignore me and walk by without engaging. This was discouraging, but not harmful.
And finally there was the older generation. This is where I saw the biggest divide.
There were very kind babushkas and dedushkas who saw me as a kid and told me to bundle up warm and would have me over for tea and helped me to improve my Russian speaking skills. And there were the drunk old men on the street who would lurch out at me of their own accord and spit at me, and tell me to go back to America. I will say there was only one time I actually feared that I would be physically harmed, but I was able to run away fast enough to escape the issue.
Change of Law
About 2 months after I arrived a new law was passed in Russia that prohibited any foreign missionaries from proselyting. This meant I was no longer allowed to talk about the church outside of the church building. I was not allowed to initiate conversations that had to do with my religion, and if I did there was a possibility I could be sent to prison.
I could do a whole other episode about how our work continued under the new law, but for the purposes of today’s topic there are just a few things I want to highlight.
When the law first went into place, all of the volunteers in our mission had to stop everything we were doing for two weeks and stay in our apartments aside from weekly meetings together at the church building. We were given materials so that we could learn more about Russian history and culture. In the months after that, we were encouraged to visit local landmarks and museums and find opportunities to serve and volunteer in the communities in whatever capacity we could. Our job became to make friends, so we did. And the relationship of the Church with the Russian government was made better for it.
Now, I have no control over the fact that I am American. I didn’t choose it, I was born into it. One might argue that I could choose not to be a Christian, but it is a central part of who I am and I know that nothing could change that. So there are these parts of myself and my identity that really have nothing to do with my inherent value as a person, but I was subjected to prejudicial behaviors and remarks and at times even feared for my safety, because other people held beliefs about what these facets of my identity meant.
I want to make it clear that I love the Russian people so much. If I could go back there again I would go in a heartbeat. They have such a special place in my heart.
And on a certain level, I understand why they might have felt mistrust and suspicion, and in some cases even hatred, for me as an American and as a missionary. If you look back at Russian history and what this people went through over the last century, you’ll find that they have every reason to be guarded. They were stuck for many years under an oppressive government that fed them all sorts of negative propaganda about America. They watched their cities crumble to the ground in war, and then during the Cold War were made to fear American spies. While I was there I learned that there were years when people would pose as missionaries to be invited into people’s homes so they could attack them. It’s horrendous!
And so I understand why they had preconceived prejudice, and I’m glad to see that these younger generations are growing up with kinder and more collaborative attitudes. Honestly, I think that is true throughout the world.
Victim of Sexual Abuse
Let’s move on to my second story. If you have listened to any of my other podcast episodes, you know that I was sexually abused when I was six years old. I was raped and molested many times over the course of a few months until my parents found out and were able to put a stop to it.
This one’s going to get a little heavy, so I hope you’re ready to really listen.
I was six years old and I tried to tell the person molesting me to stop. I tried to say no, to say that I didn’t like it. And this person would find some way to spin the conversation and come up with a bribe or a reason to make me continue. It was total manipulation- nonviolent but still incredibly traumatizing and damaging.
When my parents did finally find out what was going on, there were people who wanted to sweep it under the rug – just like all of the other abuse going on in Utah – because that’s how it was dealt with. It was uncomfortable and hit too close to home and people didn’t want to face it.
I’m grateful for a mother who insisted that action be taken.
And so, for 15 years only a small circle of people knew what had happened. We did what we could to handle it privately and move on with our lives. Then I started to talk about it and write about it and share about my story. And I was given a better window into how widespread sexual abuse really is – and it is devastating.
Rape and abuse tend to be what I think of as silent crimes. Both are so much more prevalent in our society today than most people are aware of, because the victims of these crimes have a very difficult time reporting it. Sure, every once in a while a story or a court case will go viral in the media, and we’ll all talk about it for awhile.
These occurrences are always really difficult, at least for me, because for so many people their first reaction is to doubt and to downplay and to assume.
They say things like:
“She’s making it up for attention, she just wants his money now that he’s famous.”
“Can she prove it? How are we supposed to know she really got hurt? Are we supposed to just take her word for it?”
“She must have provoked it somehow, a guy wouldn’t have forced sex on her unless she was asking for it.”
These sorts of comments are a way to excuse one’s self from the conflict by dismissing it completely. Because if it did happen we have a big problem to solve, and it’s a difficult problem to solve, and it’s a lot easier to spin the narrative in a way that says there is no conflict and that the person making claims should just chill out and stop making it an issue.
Well, let me tell you a little about what survivors of sexual trauma feel.
They feel shattered. They have been treated as less than human, as an object for the primal exploits of a selfish person. They are in shock, they are facing years of PTSD as they struggle to grasp what has happened to them, what has been taken from them. They are confused and angry and hurt, and they don’t really know who to trust anymore. They know they can’t count on the systems that be to provide justice, because they have no proof aside from their own story and often times the mental trauma that accompanies sexual attack prevents them from opening their mouth to speak out about it until so much time has gone by that it seems like a hopeless pursuit to make charges. They feel very alone and very unseen.
The Grocery Store
Now I have one more story, about my trip to the grocery store yesterday.
When I was getting milk I overheard someone near me talking on the phone. It was a black woman about my age. She was saying how she’s been having such a difficult time processing everything. That she feels so distracted and can hardly focus on getting her groceries, but she just wants to take care of her errands. Then when I was checking out, my cashier was another beautiful black woman. She was very friendly and did her job business as usual and I just made sure to say an audible “Thank You” through my mask.
Where I am, I have not personally seen unrest or riots or protests. What I have seen is people of all colors trying to go about their lives as normally as possible, taking care of their families and households, doing their jobs, maintaining the civil structure we have agreed upon as a society. All the while with a little extra somberness because of everything going on in the world around us.
Overall, I grew up surrounded by diversity in my schools, and on my basketball teams, and in my places of work. I never really had to think about race until I grew up and learned more about politics and history. To me there was never a fundamental difference between me and anyone else – we are all just people. I like to think most people are the same, but I know there are those who think differently.
There will always be extremists.
There will always be rapists and murderers.
There will always be racists and people who choose hate.
As long as there is deception and falsehood in this world, there will be people who fall subject to it.
There will be people to take advantage of the system to further selfish pursuits. There will be politics and divide that get in the way of truth and love and justice.
Unless we decide to wake up. Unless we decide to really look at what is going on in the world around us and do something about it.
Why? And What Now?
Everything that is going on right now with the Black Lives Matter movement isn’t a new problem. These people have been in pain for a long time. And we need to stop marginalizing that pain and just listen before soliciting judgement.
It’s easier to say that we’ve come so far and that things are different now. There is no more slavery, every race has the same rights and opportunities in the workplace, everyone is treated equal now. A lot of us really think that’s true. I’ve already admitted that I hardly think about race because I’ve never had to, it’s never made a difference to me, it hasn’t come up in my day-to-day life.
But the more stories I’ve listened to this past week from my black brothers and sisters, the more I realize it’s not just about these extreme tragedies. It’s the fact that race DOES still get spun into their interactions. That they DO still face prejudice on a regular basis. Just because things are better than they were a few decades ago doesn’t mean that we’ve solved the problem and can move on.
It shocks me, and I think it shocks everyone, that anyone would still be taught that race has anything to do with worth. But I guess some people are, and it’s up to us to raise a new generation who will hold to kindness.
As far as the protests going on, to me there are so many different factors at play. Of course people have a right to peacefully protest. It saddens my heart that there are other groups and people capitalizing on these protests to create chaos and unrest. And I also worry for those going out into these large groups, because the pandemic isn’t over and I hate to imagine these masses of people getting sick.
One of my initial questions when all of this started was, why? There are tragedies and deaths and murders that happen every day, so why is this George Floyd video getting so much attention?
I think its the fact that is shows us we can’t always count on our law-keepers to do the right thing. It’s a very frightening dilemma. Without trustworthy peacekeepers our nation could quickly spiral into chaos, so with these protests, they’re calling the officers out. They’re calling for justice – as is their right and as is deserved. We all agree that murder is wrong and we all were horrified by the video, right?
But that has then begged the question: why did those officers do what they did? It doesn’t make any sense. There was no reason for the force they used. The only assumption that can be made is that is was a prejudicial act based on race. It’s horrible. Now the officers are fired and one is in jail. But it seems that things have already escalated to a point of major destruction across the U.S..
My knee jerk reaction is to say that these riots, the violence is not the way to go about things and to create change. But I can’t argue that they finally have everyone’s attention.
I think what everyone is looking for now is a resolution. What is going to take for things to be okay?
Based on my stories that I’ve shared, my lived experience, I would hope that we all listen to the people who are hurting. They aren’t making up their pain. Before we solicit any sort of judgement, we need to stop and hear their story. We need to give them room to share, because as I’ve demonstrated, sharing is hard, and we don’t know what they are going to say until we let them say it. We need to look back at our histories and our cultures to see why this animosity exists and to better appreciate why everyone feels the way they do. When we take the time to learn, we allow room to grow in kinship and mutual understanding. We can see what went wrong and what we need to improve. Maybe we won’t understand completely, but I’ve been able to pinpoint experiences in my life that make it easier to imagine what it must be like to experience prejudice every day.
As a Christian, I want to add too, that showing love and support doesn’t mean you condone violence. It means you are a shepherd who goes after the one who is lost. Yes, the whole herd matters, but you don’t want to lose even one, because all are precious.
I don’t know what the large scale steps are going to be. I’m still not sure how to improve the court system when it comes to sexual crimes. But I do think if we are all going to live in this nation and agree to live under a government, then we need to work to understand and build the system, and not forfeit our voices out of apathy.
Thanks for reading.