Don’t Let the Trains Go By
I was about six or seven when I sat in a room at my Hebrew School, watching a slideshow as we learned about the Holocaust. I’ve never forgotten the image of a girl, about my age, on her stomach, her arms in the air, terrified of a uniformed officer above her. At the time, my little heart was bewildered. Police were meant to protect people, weren’t they? It seemed an entirely terrifying prospect that Jewish people could not turn to authorities to help them. It was my first real understanding of what it would feel like to be trapped and helpless in the country or town or city or village you were supposed to be able to call home. Because where could you turn when the bad guys came for you if the people in charge also hated you? This is not at all to say that all police men and women are evil or brutal or bullies — it’s only to say that it’s one of the most disheartening and frightening human experiences to find out that those charged with your protection may not include you as those they will protect.
I used to wonder how it happened, how so many trains went by holding loads of innocent people, heading to their deaths. How was it that no one stopped them? Did people really water gardens and pay taxes and do all their regular things while this was going on? Of course they did.
I don’t question how they did that anymore. Because I’ve done it too, I’m ashamed to say.
But I’ve decided it’s time to stop the silence, believing I can’t really change anything anyway.
Maybe I can’t. But maybe I can. So I will take at least one action a day to stop letting the trains go by.
I’ll speak up and speak out, even if it’s clumsy and even if it’s sometimes in my echo chamber on social media. I nearly didn’t post anything at all because I was too afraid it wasn’t enough. I was afraid I didn’t know if I should capitalize Black or not. I was afraid it would seem like I only wanted to say something now that this new tragedy has happened.
But I’m done being so afraid to say the wrong thing that I say nothing. I will continue to educate myself on what people of color have to say through listening to their words and reading their voices.
Because sitting in my privileged space, privately broken-hearted, is the same as watching those trains go by.
I owe it to all the people out there with hearts as bewildered as mine was that day encountering that image of the scared child.
In his book, an impassioned letter from a Black father to his son, Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehesi Coates makes the point that other nations have experienced a struggle with prejudice and racism, but America was founded on a dream of equality, and so how can we settle for less?
I encourage you to read the words of Black men and women (some suggestions —Ijeoma Oluo, Bryan Stevenson, Nikole Hannah Jones, Krystle Cobran… ) You will find they want a united America. You will (hopefully) understand their perspective on what it’s like to be Black in America. You will hear their bravery, their incredible patriotism and love for this country. You will feel the beating of their broken hearts and yet how they keep trying to realize the dream of America. Let’s go all in and realize it together.