The Privilege to Listen

I first became aware of social change in second grade. Two events shaped my thinking and led to my first boycotts. The first was a class visit to an Alpha-Beta grocery store. I don’t remember much about the visit itself, but a few months later, Alpha-Beta was bought out by Lucky. I imposed a family boycott on all Lucky stores, feeling it was a horrible capitalist move to buy out a competitor. The other boycott began after I read an article in my weekly Scholastic News about the plight of dolphins caught in tuna nets. I promptly informed my mom that our family was a tuna-free household unless the can was clearly labeled “Dolphin-safe.” Fortunately, my parents humored my demands and I learned the value in voting with my dollars at a young age.

Not too much has changed since my eight-year-old days. I still read articles and blogs focusing on social justice and often question how we can do more as a family. I still firmly believe in voting with my dollars and there are quite a few businesses we don’t visit. I’ve written before about feeling a bit helpless to do big things, but we are always adding small ways to change our world.

In the past week, the news of protests around the Darren Wilson indictment have me wondering what I can do or say. I am appalled and overwhelmed and the systemic injustices my neighbors face on a daily basis. Rather than add my own unqualified voice, I thought I’d highlight a few articles that have given me words, courage, hope, and perspective in the past few days.

Nate Pyle: We Might Talk About Jesus the Same Way We Talk of Protestors
“What people are failing to see is that there are consequences to one’s actions. That’s what people these days don’t understand. What do they think? That someone can just start vandalizing the temple and not be punished? I don’t care if there are injustices or not. We are a civil society built on laws and if you aren’t going to act outside of those laws, injustices or not, you are going to have to deal with the authorities.”

Janee Woods: 12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson
Let’s talk about an active role for white people in the fight against racism because racism burdens all of us and is destroying our communities. And, quite frankly, because white people have a role in undoing racism because white people created and, for the most part, currently maintain (whether they want to or not) the racist system that benefits white people to the detriment of people of color.

Roxane Gay: Only Words
Time and again, Mike Brown’s parents have been lauded, and rightly so, for their dignity, compassion, and composure. It is frustrating, though, that as has always been the case throughout history, the subjugated have had to be nobler. It is a hell of a thing to expect nobility in the face of such staggering disgrace.

Kristen Howerton: Why the Lack of Indictment for Mike Brown’s Shootings is a Devastating Blow
So when you see people rioting and protesting . . . when you witnessed the tears streaming down the faces of the crowd as it was announced that Darren Wilson would not go to trial for Mike Brown’s death . . . remember: this is not just about Mike Brown. This is about a community who has witnessed a clear pattern of violence towards their young men at the hands of people charged to protect our citizens. Violence with racial bias that is well documented.

Christena Cleveland, Austin Channing Brown, Drew Hart, and Efrem Smith: Black-on-Black Violence: Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Assault on Black People
An example of internalized racism: as a result of growing up in an anti-black society in which violence inflicted on African Americans has been historically judged less harshly than violence against Whites, regardless of the perpetrator – black people begin to believe that their own life and the lives of other black people are worth very little. Due to internalized racism, they become more willing to engage in violence against other black men, women, and children – so-called “Black-on-Black violence.”

I am well aware of my great privilege to be able to sit back and listen to what others are struggling through. Perhaps that’s what we need most in these days: To stop and listen to others stories. Not in a defensive or proving way, but in an open, learning way. I need to listen to people in Ferguson, to stories of discrimination, to stories of police officers trying to keep others safe, to stories of lawyers doing their best to defend the underrepresented, to all sides…

Obviously I’m reading from a certain bias. What articles would you add to this list? I want to hear the stories.



Most days, I keep a certain distance from the news – I read throughout the day via headlines on Twitter and a few apps I’ve downloaded. I like being informed and strive to read a variety of sources. But, sometimes it feels overwhelming. Like we are so far from any sort of reconciliation. Like our world is spiraling.

Last night felt like that. As I read more and more about what is happening in Ferguson, I wondered what on earth I could do. I’d like to think that, if I lived in that suburb, I would be supporting the protestors. I would be doing something. The reality is I would probably be safe at home, horrified at the news down the street, but with the same feeling of helplessness. And of safety because of my status as a white woman.

This morning felt worse. And then I read Addie Zierman’s post, A Good Day to Come Awake – on choosing not to let fear isolate us from others; on choosing to believe the truth. I decided that, rather than feeling overwhelmed, I needed to be thankful for ways I can make changes to this system in my own small way.

I’ve been trying to expand my reading on racial reconciliation in the church. We go to a pretty white church and I think it’s important to be aware of these issues. Christianity Today posted Ten Books on Racial Reconciliation. Of those, I’ve read two – Disunity in Christ and The Next Evangelicalism, both well worth the time. I’ll be adding to my reading list based on these resources.

Working on a more multicultural collection
Working on a more multicultural collection

It’s a small thing, but we’ve been trying to expand the color of Bea’s dolls. She’s inherited some of my old ones (all white) so when we buy new ones, we look for dolls of different colors. For her birthday, she received Nahji from India and Miss Elaina from Daniel Tiger. In this little way, I hope to instill empathy and a normalcy in others who look different.

I know that in the midst of this chaos, these are minute things to do – reading and playing. But, for now, it’s what I can do in this moment. These small ways of being aware, of being intentional, and of trying to raise a generation with understanding, empathy, tolerance, and love for neighbor.

How do you process the news? Any suggestions for ways to fill hopeless news with reconciliation?