The Banality of Black Death
Eli Langley

Deep sigh.

I am moved by how this piece points out that even empathetic compassionate activists sometimes stop paying attention when tragedy becomes a broken record. In light of that… how can we respond better?

My grandfather was one of the ministers to receive the famous “letter from Birmingham jail” written by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.. As the mister of the First Presbyterean Church of Birmingham, he made the controversial decision to proudly and publically integrate his congregation. My mother still remembers the day when two young black girls walked down the aisle and sat, for the first time in history, on the front row of the church.

Half the church got up and left. That was America. And it hasn’t changed much. The racism is different… but it remains. In the wake of this my mother’s family was threatened so many times (molotov cocktails thrown from fast moving cars. Etc.) that the family was immediately and quietly relocated to Houston where they would be safe.

My mother went to great lengths to continue the work of her father in the ways she could, raising me and my brother in “black church” and keeping us aware of the struggles of the opressed in every nation — not just our own. But this only goes so far. Knowledge is only useful when it can be used to change things. The awareness of the scope of inequality actually felt more crippling and hoplessness inducing than empowering. We still do not know where to direct our sadness and rage effectively.

My midwife is raising three black sons, like me, and we constantly talk about the differences in their daily experience as young men in LA. They live in two completely unrelated worlds. She and I are more alike than we are different — our values align seamlessly. We raise our kids on the same songs and the same food. And yet — the chances of one of her kids ending up dead or in jail is exponsentially more than mine.

So, I hear (and celebrate!) the call to challenge our own subconscious (or even conscious) racist social pathology. But how, specifically, can we do that? Do we donate to Black Loves Matter and the NAACP and ACLU and Human Rights Watch and the Civil Liberties Union? Do I sign petitions and write to my representatives?

Who is doing the work on the ground to change the way we think, as a nation? Who has ideas about how we fight the dangerous thought patterns in our own minds when we have been raised in a racist culture? How do we support those activists in their work???

I stop my car and witness (I do not pull out my phone — that seems aggressive) for as long as it takes to insure safety and fair treatment, when I see a person of color being hassled by law enforcement. I am raising my children in a diverse urban community. In public schools. And we go to a church comprised equally of black and white. But beyond that, I am at a loss for what else I can do. Please advise…

If anyone has suggestions for how we can all engage in a more productive and powerful way… please post them here. With and open heart, I am all ears… and sincere intention.

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