When Racial Trauma calls

I had a strange phone call this morning at work. I work for a small business, so it isn’t too often that we get an inbound call from a potential client who wants services. I’m always skeptical when I get these calls because they are almost always not a good fit for our services or a scam artist. I skeptically answer the line, and I begin a conversation with a woman who was trying to sort out some tax trouble. I listened carefully and promptly asked, 

“And what CPA are you working with now?” 

This question launches an unexpected 30 minute conversation. This woman explains in maddening, raw, and emotional detail about a racist experience she had with her current vendor. The details were sporadic, out of order, and frankly didn’t sound believable. I listened, waiting for my time to tell her that we couldn’t help her, but I was sorry for her experience that she had endured. 

It is not our prerogative to judge whether something traumatic did or didn’t happen. If a victim steps forward with an outlandish story, it is our duty to first get that victim to safety. We ask rational questions later. So often our society tends to disbelieve the victim. We are  prone to think an incredulous, shocking thing like they are claiming could have never happened. You are right of course, that the abuse should not have happened, but our world is full of victims who have died or barely survived the  should nots of abuse and trauma.. We lament grief and experience profound shame when we found out that the victim was in fact telling the truth and we failed to further protect them from further abuse. 

Even as I listened to this woman, with all of my professional instincts telling me to get this woman off the phone, I could not. 

I thought about her experience all day. 

I tried to imagine what I would have done, had a vendor of mine done those things to me,  used those racial slurs against me. I wonder what I would have done had my momma, my sister, or my best friend called me with this particular story.

I know in those instances what I would have done. 

I would have come to their aid.

I would have believed them first, putting the proof of burden on the accused, not the victim. 

A few weeks ago, Kevin and I visited an art museum. One of the paintings which we both found intriguing was a piece titled, I am Somebody, by Glenn Ligon. The piece draws inspiration from a poem written by the Reverend William Holmes Border, Sr, who was a senior pastor and civil rights activist in Atlanta during the 1930s through the late 1980s.


If you’ve never seen the piece, it is a large vertical stretched canvas with old newsletter type font that reads,

I am somebody. I am somebody.

 I am somebody. I am somebody

scrawled all across the canvas in consecutive horizontal lines. Over and over again, we read the words

 I am Somebody.I am somebody. I am somebody. 

 Line after line, sentence after sentence you read the words, 

I am somebody. I am somebody. I am somebody.

As you trace the sentences down the canvas, the type font begins to blur and darken until the text at the bottom is barely legible.

  I stare and stare at those simple rows of simple words at that piece in the museum trying to discern the artist’s meaning.  I study Ligon’s piece for awhile before concluding that the artist is either saying the words are insignificant themselves or the message behind them has lost it’s true meaning.

The words, I am somebody, slowly over time, have proven less meaningful to us. The truth has become so cliche that it is no longer impactful. The words don’t pack the same punch they used to. I am somebody, like the words, I am a man, which were once pillars of profound truth and meaning, seem to have lost their wings. I do not believe the words themselves are devoid of meaning so I’m forced to conclude. 

The message has become darkened, cloudy, and illegible.

We remain unaffected. 

Just this evening, as I drive home, thinking about this woman who has been subjected to racial trauma, I decide to call her. I do the hard work, no, the awkward work of pressing her numbers into my cell.  

“Hello….?”

“Hey, I know this is crazy, and I’m sorry for calling you so late, but the story you told me this morning, I just can’t let it go.”

She and I have another half hour conversation. No, we didn’t come up with a big plan for legal action, or social action, or even therapy, though we discussed all of those things. I share a few words; I listen to her experience, and I say what I should have said this morning. 

I believe you. 

That was traumatic. 

You should not have endured that. 

I am sorry.

Let’s try to make it right. 

I fear that so many white people around me hear the words, Black Lives Matter, and are immobilized or triggered by them. If you are triggered by them, you probably haven’t made it this far in this piece, but if you have, and you feel a need to shut down, defend, or shut it out, I’ve been there too. There’s grace for you, but you can’t stay in that space.

God forbid it, friend, don’t stay in that space.

But if you’re more like me, I imagine you feel a bit out of place, unsure what to do, afraid to misstep, to hurt your black friends, or to say the wrong thing on social media and get blasted. 

I don’t have all the answers for the whys, hows, and the whats of how to go about racial reconciliation in our churches, our government, our policies, and our communities.

But I can tell you this. When I come face to face with a

Black Life telling me that Something Is Not Right,

I am going to do everything in my power to get them to safety. I can listen, I can take action on behalf of them, or I can save their number in my phone and make a point to call back in a few weeks.  

I remember Glenn Ligon’s artwork, all those lines at the bottom so blurry I can barely read them.  Even though I can’t always see them, I must not let the words become nugatory.. Keeping them close to my heart, I will carry them, and remind myself of them so I can be ready to take action.

Won’t you, white brother and sister, rise up and do the same?

“I am Somebody!

I am Somebody!

I may be poor, 

but I am Somebody. 

I may be young,

 but  I am Somebody.

I may be  small, 

but  I am Somebody.    

I may have made  mistakes,  but  I  am  Somebody. 

My  clothes  are  different,  My  face  is different, My hair is different, 

but I am Somebody. 

I am black, brown, or white.

I speak a different language but I must be respected, protected, never rejected. 

I am Somebody!”

Law & Justice & Ahmaud Arbery

I read a letter from the district attorney of the Waycross circuit in Georgia. In this letter, the DA explains why he had to recuse himself from Ahmaud Arbery’s case. He cites the reasons why he can’t take on the case, and then proceeds to give his opinions about the case anyway. Don’t take my word for it, you can read his letter here. 

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Insta-less?

“Comparison is the thief of Joy” 

Apparently, this quote was first said by Theodore Roosevelt, but for me, this comes straight from the mouth of My friend Ashleigh.

Ash is crazy intelligent, super funny, authentically genuine, and will always call you out if she thinks you’re exaggerating. (perhaps this is the Texan in her, but she’s been there to point out my tall tales on more than one occasion!)  She’s a registered dietitian & nutrition practice owner, flower bed owner, and good friend. (She didn’t ask me to write about her, but seriously, go check out her stuff.) 

 She means the world to me which is why is why I listened when she said those words forever ago.

“Shelb, comparison is the thief of joy. It will kill your joy.” -Ash

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word

Can page contain or word define 

The wondrous love of Glory Divine?

Read of sagas, stories, and prose,

Of people God loved and gladly chose.

Our feeble hearts so hesitant to begin

the journey where God walks with redeemed men.

Could it be possible? Real? True?

Would God delight in saving a few?

Could be yours! his! hers! If only they’re told.

This is my story beginning to unfold,

Gospel! Gospel! Good news for all

Jesus is raised! He reversed the fall!

  “Consider the cost,” God’s word for today

Giving up his son was a steep price to pay

Puzzling, puzzling- God allows us to choose

Knowing who and what he was bound to lose. 

If page can contain and word does define 

Allow this poem to sit amid the lines

Of common men who found this to be true:

God is glorious, 

His love altogether true, 

If there be hope for me, 

Truly, truly, it exists for you.

Palm Sunday

37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 

 

40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Luke 19: 37-40

 

Consider the Birds- Guest Post by Eric Gentry

There are occasions when you hear a message so profound it leaves you contemplating it for weeks. This recently happened to me as I sat in a Sunday morning bible class given by Highland’s associate teaching minister, Eric Gentry. It was so thought-provoking, I asked Eric to share his message, and he graciously agreed to offer a written version.

It is fitting that he wrote it, for his message speaks of The Kingdom of God and finding a safe place to land. The Highland Church (where I’ve called home since coming to Memphis) has truly been a safe haven for me. It comes as no surprise to me, that Eric would send his lesson to share with you. If you’re a Memphian and looking for a church home, I hope you’ll consider visiting The Highland Church of Christ. Today, I hope you’ll be blessed by Eric’s thoughts and as always please share your thoughts with me by commenting or sending an email to me.

Now without further ado, I’d like to welcome you to this guest post, written by Eric Gentry, called Consider the Birds.  

He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-19)

 

Do you remember the first time you climbed up into a tree so that you could peer into a bird’s nest? Jesus tells us to “consider the birds(Luke 12:24), and that may be the first of his instructions that we follow.  

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