By the Rev. Angela Halter Marshall
Some people may think the pandemic has finally “gotten” to us. They may think being quarantined and the practice of social distancing has taken such a toll on our emotional and mental health that we are just looking for something—anything—in which we can focus our attention on or perhaps take the place of COVID-19 as it shows up in every single news report and fills our social media feeds.
Sure, the news surrounding COVID-19 can be informative at times and terrifying at others, but I have to admit that the emotions that have shaken me to the core recently have nothing to do with the virus.
Like so many people around the world, I often have difficulty falling asleep at night, and so I find myself mindlessly scrolling through social media. On Wednesday, May 6, I came across a post that said, “Video Shows Fatal Shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, Unarmed Black Man in Georgia.” I remember releasing a heavy sigh as I clicked on the post and wondered whether I even wanted to subject myself to what lay behind the large circle with a triangle in it. I could just keep scrolling….
I had even more trouble than usual going (and staying) asleep that night. After watching the video, I shared it on my Facebook page with the following: “We cannot just keep scrolling past these videos and posts. This young man was murdered for taking a jog … FOR JOGGING! Hate cannot win. We cannot be silent. This MUST stop! #justiceforMaud.” I rolled over and tried to sleep.
The next morning, before I could even contemplate getting out of bed, a lump formed in my throat and tears filled my eyes. He was exercising. He left for a jog and he never returned home. He was murdered—for jogging.
And then a whole host of emotions began to overwhelm me: sadness … anger … guilt … sadness … embarrassment … frustration … sadness again ….
But do you know what I didn’t feel? I didn’t feel fear, trepidation, caution or apprehension about being able to walk down the street or take a jog in a neighborhood. The only thing I have ever feared when running is a heart attack from being out of shape.
That isn’t the case for so many of my friends and loved ones around the world, which is why my heart has been so heavy with dread that this level of hate, entitlement and stupidity continues to exist in the world today.
I feel sadness but I won’t allow the sadness to paralyze me or keep me from speaking up, standing up and taking action.
I feel anger but I won’t use anger against others—it makes me no better than those I’m angry with.
I feel guilt but I will not own the hateful crime of the two murderers just because we share the same hue of skin. On the contrary, I will use my voice as a white woman to speak out against such senseless and hateful acts.
I feel sadness again but I will not pity those who have lost their life. A victim doesn’t need pity. A victim needs a voice. I will remember Ahmaud and I will call his name—some days with tears of sadness in my eyes and other days with tears of insistence.
I feel embarrassment because in spite of countless hate crimes against people of color throughout history, it took this one to shake me to my core and open my eyes.
I feel frustration because we should be better than this. The world—no matter our skin tone or gender or socioeconomic status or any other quality that makes us unique—we should be better than this. We must be better than this. Life is precious and we MUST stop taking it for granted. We must stop taking other people’s lives for granted. We must stop taking other people’s lives!
I feel sadness again, because over the last several days I have heard and seen and read tons of thoughts surrounding #justiceformaud from people of every color of skin but I have also heard the deafening silence of those who refuse to say anything at all and just keep scrolling.
I will never be able to fully know what those of a different skin tone are feeling—nor will I ever pretend that I could imagine what you are feeling, not because I don’t stand with you and not because I don’t stand for you, but because I am white.
When your parents were giving you “the talk” about how the world would see you, my parents were giving me “the talk” of how I might see the world. I was told not to judge others according to the color of their skin while you were told that people would judge you according to yours. I was told to look people in the eye as it was a sign of respect while you were told not to make eye contact because it would make you look aggressive. I was told to be kind to others and they would be kind to me while you were told to be kind to others even if they weren’t kind to you.
And so even though I will never truly know the all of the feelings that you are feeling in the wake of yet another senseless murder, I want to tell you that I see you. I hear you. I mourn with you. I stand with you. I will speak out with you. I will speak out for you. I will pray for you. I will pray with you.
I will pray for all persons of color—for safety and freedom to feel safe and valued and respected. I will pray that my brothers and sisters will not have to be #brownandweary or #blackandweary. I will pray that #blacklivesmatter will be a way of life and not just a hashtag. I will pray for an end to the hate and entitlement and ignorance that still exists in the world today. I will pray for love and compassion to overflow.
I will pray with you and I will pray for you. I pray that the unrest in my spirit would remain until all people are appreciated for that which makes us beautifully unique. Will you pray with me? Will you pray for me?
O God…give us courage to not just speak up, but to stand up. Give us courage not just to stand up, but to act. Give us courage not just to act, but to change the world. Give us courage to love. Give us courage to forgive. Give us courage to never forget those who died before we finally cried, “Enough!”
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer…. #ENOUGH
The switch has been flipped.
Marshall is a pastor in the South Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.