Any woman who has endured childbirth will agree that those who have never given birth should refrain from commentary about what it feels like. Childbirth hurts like…
…well, there are no words to really describe the pain of childbirth. Watching videos, reading about it, breathing, and visualizing can help, but these preparations rarely take the pain of childbirth away, and they certainly don’t make a bystander an expert.
I think similarly about being black. If you’re not black, you don’t know what it feels like to be black. Reading about it, watching documentaries, and imagining are great things to do. Please do them! Ultimately though, if you’re not black, you’ll never know how it feels.
I say all this as the national conversation about race continues amid the death of Michael Brown. I was moved to tears by this blog post written by a white mom. I am so thankful she’s trying to understand how it must feel to be black, and I want to join her in sharing candidly and courageously too. We have to if we’re ever going to make progress in our quest for racial healing.
First, let me be clear: I think looting is shameful. I think protests and marches do little to improve the black experience. What I do believe – indeed, what I feel – is that there is pain that comes with being black in America. The anger we see over what happened in Missouri is an outgrowth of pain that’s real and lifelong and hard to describe. I don’t feel it the way Michael Brown’s parents feel it, but I still fear for my son and tell him how to carefully engage with police. I always have. We’re black and I have to.
I also don’t feel it the way many well-educated blacks feel it; those who demean blacks who struggle, criticize blacks on welfare, and bemoan blacks who don’t seem ambitious. It doesn’t inspire anyone to change. Worse yet, it propagates misconceptions about what it takes for an entire race of people to rise from subjugation to success. Like the woman whose easy labor makes her assume all babies are born pain free, it’s pretty darn annoying to hear successful blacks put other blacks down. Some moms scream like maniacs during labor because it hurts. It really, really hurts. Far be it from me to judge them as they struggle to push flesh into the world
So in spite of what the Constitution says and what the Emancipation Proclamation was supposed to do, there’s a lot of pain in the black community – and as a result, there is pain in our nation. And maybe that’s just it: The Founding Fathers and Honest Abe visualized one thing for America, but our national reality is something else, even in 2014. I feel that the racial tension in America is a birth story, and the baby is Liberty and Justice for all.