an invitation to (really) listen

I can’t tell you how thankful I am that God nudged me to blog about racism last week, even though I felt completely unqualified (and still do and am). I’m so encouraged by the conversations that have been taking place and so inspired by my brothers and sisters in Christ of all colors.

I’ve been asking God what he wants from me when it comes to this discussion about race and the gospel and true reconciliation, and I sense him saying, “Listen.” As in, “how about you not do all the talking and writing yourself, but you take the time to listen? And gently convict others to listen too.” And wouldn’t you know it–Pastor Rich confirmed the whole “listen” thing with his message at church this morning.

Speaking of church, mine is awesome, and I’m really looking forward to some face-to-face conversations soon with my church people about how we can take real, serious steps toward breaking down walls and building each other up.

Still speaking of church, I met a new friend there today. Her name is Yalonda, and you might know her as the gifted author of the poem I shared on Friday. I got to hug her neck and meet her precious little boy. He is stunning and amazing and can hop up and down on one foot like nobody’s business. I can’t wait to get to know them both better.

Yalonda’s is a voice that I already feel like a better person for having listened to these past few days. And not just her poignant poem. A gentleman I don’t know commented on Friday’s post, and before I had the chance to respond to him, Yalonda already had. And her gracious, thoughtful, intelligent, insightful reply just about bowled me over. I wanted to hand her a microphone and pull her up on a stage and say, “Could you repeat all of that please?”

I feel like if each of us could just put our own preconceived notions aside for a minute and really, truly listen, we could learn so much.

And while I don’t have a microphone or a stage, I do have a blog. And I’m handing it over to Yalonda right now. It’s perfect timing, because this weekend was tough, and I’m low on brilliant words. I’m emotionally drained and licking battle wounds. Not from the blogging stuff (although that definitely takes it out of me), but from family stuff, namely Gabe’s recent struggle with anxiety. If you’re new here, I blogged about it in February, and Gabe shared an update on Saturday.

There’s more, but it’s too raw right now. And I’ve cried enough today.

So, here’s Yalonda, and I implore you to listen well and ask God what he has to say to you through her words.

First, what the gentleman said about my post:

I am truly sorry and my prayers are with Trayvon’s family for their comfort at this unimaginable time. Now, on to the race thing. Why did we not see our President, President Obama come on National TV and talk about the Chardon, OH shootings?? Two white guys, one black guy gunned down in cold blood by a white kid. However, one black kid gets shot and killed, the black community rises up in protest, and our black president feels he, the president of the united states of america, whom I have served proudly over the past 11 years in uniform takes to the airways to give his comments. Yes, I think there is a touch of racism in our beloved nation all the way to the top. Can we please get over this already and move on with the future working together as one people, one nation, under God?????????? I am so sick and tired of the hand outs, priviledges, everyone’s history month, except white history month, that would be considered racist of course. Get on with it already. The more we focus on the past, the further into the obiss we sink as a nation while the third would nations come together and concur. Grow up, become adults, act like adults, don’t expect anyone to hand you anything, work for what you want and give all you have into acheiving your goals and dreams without depending on your skin color to get you there. That is how you earn true respect from all and true satisfaction out of life. Again, my true most heart felt condulances to both the families of the Chardon, OH HS victim’s families and the parents relatives and friends of Travon. May God bless the USA and those who fear Him and seek to know Him for who He is, “OUR” creator. Oh yeah, btw, we are all related from way back.

And Yalonda’s reply:

Good morning – Thank you so much for serving this great country for 11 eleven years. I appreciate what you have given.

I just want you to know that President Obama did publicly address the Chardon School shootings. In addition, he called the principal of the school to personally express his condolences and thoughts. I also want you to know that he didn’t purposely take to the airwaves to address the Trayvon Martin shooting. He was actually making an announcement of his nominee for president of the World Bank and then a member of the media asked this off-topic question… the president was responding to the question.

I also want you to know that both are tragic, but these two situations are in no way alike in terms of the motives behind the shootings. Neither is more important than the other… children are dead.

It’s the motives behind the Trayvon Martin shooting that have black people, in particular, so outraged. Black people are outraged because this is a modern day lynching, and the perpetrator has been allowed to walk free. But, I’m not foolish enough to believe that everyone will feel outrage. Everyone’s heart strings are pulled by different things, and that’s fine.

Trust me when I say that I would like nothing more than to just “get over this already,” as you suggested, but my heart will not allow me to. In my walk to love mercy and to act justly, how can I? How can I “get over it” when my son is no safer than Trayvon Martin? This is not an isolated incident… it’s just the most recent…and it’s just that it’s so blatant and overt. How do we get over this and move into the future without addressing what’s happening now? How do we move forward and expect justice in the future without demanding justice now?

You mention “handouts” in your post and it seems like you’re talking about something else, other than the topic of the post. Surely, it’s not a “handout” to expect that a boy could walk home from a convenience store with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea. It’s not a “handout” to expect reasonable safety. It’s not a “handout” to expect that he would not be shot down in the street. These are not privileges either… these are rights. You served our country to make sure we all have these rights, and I thank you again.

Would Black History Month be more palatable to you if there was a White History Month? I would contend that when I went to high school, White History Month was September through June because I didn’t learn about any people of color during those months, but I certainly learned about all the “forefathers” of our great country. Does that mean that people of color didn’t contribute to our fine nation… no, it just means that the only opportunity that my teachers took to talk about ONE of them was during Black History Month. Black History Month should have just been called Martin Luther King, Jr Month. My hope is that our education system has evolved since then. Like you, I yearn for a time that Black History Month is not necessary because children will be taught the true history of this nation in school. But until then, I guess we have to live with what we have.

I do agree with you though, people should work hard and earn respect, without depending on skin color to get there. But, we would be remiss if we didn’t address the problem here. There is in fact more than one starting line.

Regarding the shooting of this innocent child… if it had been my son, and his killer had been allowed to walk free, without being subjected to an arrest or a sobriety test, a full background check, or even a hard line of questioning… I would want the world to be outraged… I would not want your condolences, I would want your help to make some changes to this country that you spent 11 years serving.

I say these things respectfully and I am glad we live in a country where we can all have varying opinions. I just hope that mine are considered to be well thought out and fact based, laced with appropriate amounts of emotion. This is truly an emotional topic for many and I thank Marla for having the courage to talk about this.

Thank you, friend. I’ll be here tomorrow chatting about Chapter 4 in our Read-a-Long, but this conversation isn’t over. And I invite you to be a part of it in the days and weeks to come.

We need your voice.

And your ears.

30 thoughts on “an invitation to (really) listen

  1. Pingback: now is not the time to move on | Marla Taviano

  2. Rosanne

    I haven’t read all the comments, but a few things stand out to me in this case and about racism in general. I’m going to try to tread lightly and respectfully because I don’t want to hurt anyone.

    First – we DON’T know all the facts. I think we can all safely say that Zimmerman had some issues to follow a boy in his truck and initiate a confrontation. However, we do still live in a country where people are innocent until proven guilty by a jury of their peers. The news is notoriously unbiased and unreliable.

    Second – blame the victim doesn’t just happen to black people. Ask any woman who was a victim of assault if their actions don’t go on trial – never mind what the assailant did, if she was dressed like a floozy there are still some that will say “she deserved it.”

    People who were robbed or mugged were in the wrong place. We always look for ways to blame the victim because it makes us feel better. If we can blame it on the victim’s actions, then if we just avoid those actions, we can avoid bad things happening to us, too.

    Third – the media is making this worse and ratcheting up the racial tension and that makes me sick. This idea of let’s shake the hornets nest and see what comes out without regard to the hurt it causes is irresponsible and ugly. As someone who IS a journalist, it makes me very sad.

    Fourth – calls for more violence are not the answer to any of this. (not saying anyone here was doing that but the whole bounty thing was horrible too) Rewarding vigilante justice with more vigilante justice just makes an ugly mess.

    Fifth – Racism rests in the idea of not seeing people as individuals but as a group or a class. I realize that since I am white (well, actually I am part native american but to look at me you’d think I’m just plain white) I have to tread very lightly here. I also realize I see things from the perspective of a white person because that is what I am, kwim.

    Zimmerman was a latino. Since he shot TrayVon does that mean that all latinos are racist and hate black people? I don’t think so. People are upset by white people ‘reacting” to this. However, it’s human nature to push back when you are insulted or offended and being called a racist is offensive to most people.

    I really think racism will continue until we learn to look at people as individuals and not a race or a class or a gender or whatever. I love the variety God created, but instead of enjoying that variety, we use it to categorize and compartmentalize which then leads to this category or department is better than that one, etc.

    I don’t think every young black man I see is a criminal. I’d like to think that people don’t think I’m a racist just because I’m white either. If we get to know each other, we can see the reality of the person – not their race or class or gender.

    You do have to acknowledge a problem before you can fix it, but eventually you have to stop saying there is a problem and actually DO something about it. That something starts with giving each other the benefit of the doubt and seeing each other as individuals.

    If I have hurt anyone’s feelings or offended anyone, I am truly sorry. It wasn’t my intent and I hope I’ve conveyed what I mean clearly. I’m not saying there isn’t a problem, but we need to move past the acknowledgment to a change of behavior and perspective before it will even begin to be addressed. We need to determine to really listen to each other – from BOTH sides of this fence if we ever hope to reach across it.

  3. Sarah Hubbell aka MainlineMom

    Sometimes I am blown away by how gracious and well thought out comments like Yolanda’s are. Sister I just don’t know how you have the ability to exude such gentleness in the face of something so rank and offensive.

    I am torn up by all this. With new news coming forward defending Zimmerman and blaming Trayvon, more and more people are feeling emboldened to voice their frustration with “black outrage”. It wounds my spirit to see white (and black!) Christian leaders advocating a “wait and see” position or claiming that we live in a post-racial nation. A boy is dead and he very likely wouldn’t be dead if not for the color of his skin, and the police have failed grossly in their jobs.

    I appreciate these conversations but I ache with every unsympathetic comment or post I read. I was raised to believe that there is only one starting line and “these people” expressing outrage are the wrong ones. I’ve since learned the truth.

  4. Susan J

    OK, I was staying out of this, but I’m getting frustrated. I don’t even want to comment on anything racial, because I just don’t want to get into that. I appreciate anyone who stands for what’s right, desires justice, and wants to have empathy with those they cannot truly understand. What is driving me crazy about this entire discussion is that I feel like so many people are condemning the shooter without knowing all the facts of what happened on that awful day in Florida. I don’t know the facts either, but the one fact I do know is that none of us were there (barring the possibility that someone actually involved in the case is reading this). How dare any of us condemn someone based on a news article we read or what we heard from others. If you want to have a discussion on race, by all means, have a discussion on race. If talking about this and getting different perspectives helps someone to become a better person, or a better parent, I’m thankful for it. But facts and witnesses are still coming out on this particular case and we may never have all the answers. If you’re trying to have empathy, at least try to see things from both sides and don’t act like this is a cut and dry case.

    1. John McCollum

      I think that for many of us, the “we don’t really know what happened” refrain sounds so much like the same blame-the-victim-game we always get in situations like these. And it seems to underscore the fact that white people just can’t seem to wrap their minds around the fact that we still live in a pervasively racist nation.

      I mean, day-um. So many of the injustices we DO know about in this case resonate so strongly with our black friends who have experienced them for generations:

      — A black person, minding his own business is inherently suspicious.

      — A black person is expected automatically submit to questioning and interrogation by anyone who appoints himself to be authority (the “boy” syndrome).

      — Fact: If a black person doesn’t submit to a self-appointed authority figure, he bears the blame for any confrontation that results.

      — A black person has no intrinsic right to self-defense.

      — A black person’s history of trouble is relevant to a confrontation, his non-black counterpart’s is not.

      I suppose the “let’s-blame-Trayvon” game is not at all surprising. It just comes so naturally to us — it’s second nature. We as whites speak this language so fluently:

      — “Well, when you wear a hoodie, it DOES kind of make you look like a criminal…”

      — “Well, you do know that he is suspected of having smoked marijuana at some point in his teenage years!”

      — “He shouldn’t have run.”

      — “He shouldn’t have fought back [even though each of us would teach our sons and daughters to do so if they thought they were in imminent danger of being shot or abducted…]”

      How frustrating this must be to our black brothers and sisters. And then to be accused of “playing the race card” when they interpret the facts through a grid that has been cultivated and defended by the dominant society for more than 400 years…

      As whites, we have the privilege to “not make this about race.” I think it’s time for us to lay that privilege aside. It’s killing us all.

      1. Susan J

        You say that it’s too easy to say “we don’t really know what happened”, but I say it’s too dangerous not to say that. That’s my personal opinion. We can easily have a discussion on race based on biblical truth and our own experiences in Christian love without bringing up recent cases that are still being tried in the American courts and in the court of public opinion. I believe generalizations in either direction aren’t going to help. I’m obviously not disagreeing with everything that you said. You gave me a lot to think about today and I promise that I did.

    2. Marla Taviano

      Hi, Susan. Thank you for having the courage to share your frustration.

      Here’s the thing. With all respect to Trayvon’s grieving family, this is so much bigger than the Trayvon Martin case. Even if there’s a statement made today that Trayvon was high on drugs and shot at Zimmerman first, that’s not going to change the fact that we live in a nation where racism is still running rampant.

      It took the Trayvon case to open my eyes about that.

      We whites have the option of “staying out of this” and “I just don’t want to get into that” because we can blissfully pretend that racism isn’t alive and well. I’m not seeing it, so it must not be there. I’ve done this really well for a long time.

      My black friends do not have that choice. They live with it day after day after day.

      And the only way it’s ever going to get better is for white people who “don’t want to get into this” to get into this. To open our eyes to the fact that just because America is working beautifully for us doesn’t mean it’s doing the same for others.

      1. Susan J

        You say this is bigger than the Martin case (and I wholeheartedly agree), yet somehow it started with that and keeps coming back to that. If the Martin case opened your eyes to problems in America, then discuss those injustices outside of the realm of this case. John McCollom (who I do not know outside of this blog) stated some of those injustices above. While I do not agree with everything he stated (some of them as fact), I think those are better starting point for discussion than anythlng directly having to do with Trayvon or going on about white privilege. We live in a very culturally diverse nation (as a white person, I am quite certain I am a minority in the city I live in). I absolutely believe there is such a thing as white privilege and I would never deny racism exists. I think we just have to be really responsible with our words when having any kind of a sensitive discussion and do what we can to avoid generalizations. I do think you have belittled some people for saying that racism goes both ways, but it’s obvious that that is true. Shouldn’t that be allowed as part of this dialogue? The only way this is going to get better is for us to be honest with each other. Forgive me for any missteps in this conversation. I’m not a writer and I’m trying not to be overly dogmatic and also to tread lightly. I’m constantly learning and growing. Even though I haven’t seen you in 14/15 years (could it really be that long ago we worked at Scioto Hills?), I consider you a friend and I would never want to be disrespectful. Like many others, I thank you for being willing to initiate this discussion and for your patient replies to myself and others. BTW, in case I never said it, we praised God with you when Gabe survived his heart attack, prayed for you daily while you were in Cambodia, and continue to pray for the difficult times your family is going through. You have allowed yourselves to be vulnerable on the internet and for that, I have the utmost respect for you. OK, I think I’ve rambled long enough. =)

  5. Shannon

    THANK YOU for having this conversation and I appreciate that Yalonda has turned me on to your blog….i’m your newest fan! :o) I am PROUD to be Yalonda’s “real life” friend and thought her response was eloquent and profound…not to mention gracious! Thank you for using your blog as a platform to have dialogue about racism. I have shared it with many of my friends and was pleased and excited to see them sharing it with their friends! If Trayvon’s death can bring about an examination of our feelings toward one another and address the “elephant in the room” with the intent of bringing about change….then his death will not be in vain.

    1. John McCollum

      “Call me racist, but when I found out that Rue was black, her death wasn’t as sad.”

      Okay. You’re racist.

      Unfortunately, this sentiment doesn’t seem to be that rare. A white kid is kidnapped and its national news. Especially if she’s pretty and blonde. A black kid is kidnapped and most of the time the most you’ll get is a sad reflection on how broken “urban” life is in our country.

      I know that sounds cynical, but I think it’s true.

  6. Rich

    Thank you Marla for stepping into the conversation and not remaining silent. I have that JP book for you and will bring it to your house. I’ve got some other books that I’ll be recommending when we get something scheduled to talk about this subject face to face.

    Keep the faith. I’m VERY blessed to have you in the Sanctuary family. God has given us a special group of people to do life with and engage issues rather than hide from or pretend like they don’t exist.

    It’s going to be a long journey, but one I believe that God desires for us.

  7. Holly

    Thanks Marla for putting into words what I have been feeling and thinking. I am afraid to say anything because, no matter how much I learn and try to pay attention and understand, I am still bowled over by my own ignorance and blindness. I have been praying for years for God to remove the scales from my eyes and he is doing it, one scale at a time. I know that the more I fall on his grace, the more quickly he removes the scales. The more self-protective I am and afraid of seeing what is really in my heart, or worse, the more arrogant I am and think i “get it”, the longer God leaves me blind.

    John 9:41
    If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say “We see”, your sin remains.

    So true!

  8. John McCollum

    So thankful to have Yolanda and other people of color in this conversation. When I was growing up, the only people with whom I entered into dialogue about race was other white folk.

    For most white people this is the case. Sure, we hear black voices, but we’re not in real conversation with them, so it’s easy to dismiss them as outliers and radicals.

    It’s not just good community relations to talk with black people — it’s the only intellectually honest way and the only ethically sound way to form our opinions and the positions on policy.

    Now, this doesn’t mean that every black person gets to speak for the entire community, and it doesn’t mean that there’s no room for pushback and disagreement. But to maintain dialogue about what people of color should do, should think and should feel without giving them an (at least) equal (if not leading) role in any conversation about issues facing their community is simply unfair and unproductive.

    So thanks, Yolanda. Thanks for being willing to enter the conversation. We need more of this. And thanks, Marla. Thanks for being transparent in your struggle to be formed by God and by our brothers and sisters.

    1. Yalonda

      John McCollum – I hope we can meet in person someday… I’ve read your responses to these last couple of entries on the blog and I find you to be very insightful and thoughtful. Thank you!

  9. Sharon


    Thank you for sharing with us something that a lot of us reading haven’t experienced first hand and therefore can’t completely understand since we’ve never walked a mile in your shoes.

    It is so good to have our eyes opened to things that have been going on around us, and yet, we had never given a second thought because it didn’t upset our little world. I especially appreciated you pointing out that basic human rights are not handouts.

    I haven’t been able to get John McCollum’s comment on last weeks post out of my head where he described a black friend as having been pulled over multiple times for no reason (actually because of the color of his skin) and being questioned. And one time with his son in the car. As I ran errands this weekend, I thought of how scary and intimidating it would be to always know in the back of your mind that you are a target. I can’t even imagine how terrified my toddler would be if we were pulled over and I had to get out of the car and leave her inside wondering why I was outside the car in the middle of traffic, why the sirens were going, who was the person that was giving me the 3rd degree?

    1. Yalonda

      Sharon – I agree… I have thought about John McCollum’s comments on last week’s posts quite a bit as well. I thought his post was incredible.

      This has truly been an eye opening experience for me as well.

  10. Ruth

    Well said, Yalonda! My heart goes out to the family & I am enraged & sickened as well. It makes me ask myself: what tangible things can I personally do right now to help? Holy Spirit, please guide us all.

    Thank you, Marla, for standing up for what’s right & helping us see things in a different light. Through Jesus’ eyes, really.

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