I stumbled across a quote recently that finally helped me conceptualize the experience of many Black people in America: “Pain travels through families until someone is ready to feel it,” written by Stephi Wagner. While the implications of this quote can be explored within the context of one’s nuclear family, I find it is equally relevant when observed on a systemic scale: Pain travels through a nation until its people are ready to feel it.
There is an attachment style theory explaining how we as individuals relate to conflict and trauma in our interpersonal lives. For generations, America has embraced an avoidant attachment to its history of subjugation and cruelty; aiming to placate, ignore, and sweep it under a rug. As Stephi Wagner implies, the pain of one’s past will perpetuate and even propagate until it is processed and felt.
Revealing Built Up Trauma
During the pandemic, this became acutely clear in the Black community when silence was no longer acceptable. Vitriol, rage, resentment, and judgment oozed like pus from a festering wound. We saw people, inured to oppression and silence, show that they were no longer willing to remain silent. The pandemic unveiled with great acuity a depth of trauma within the Black community and nation that was never truly acknowledged or felt.
As the nation erupted, and voices rippled through space and time, healing happened. At times, the discomfiture of it all was overwhelming. But healing, be it personal or otherwise, is not neat and tidy. For many lifetimes, the Black community has had its experiences hidden like a stowaway on a ship. At times, attempts were even made to throw them overboard like a lifeless body at sea. But the pain that resounded as if in an echo chamber within the Black community was finally destined to be heard.
Struggling With Silence
And yet, in the most significant season of revolution for the Black community of my time – I – an individual who always has something to say, was rendered uncharacteristically silent. It felt like everyone in my community had become scholars. There were no rooms or media outlets I could encounter without impassioned discourse. Everyone had ideas, and I had nothing to say. I started to question my own “blackness”. I started to wonder if my silence was a sign of my complicity or internalized racism.
My silence wasn’t the only thing I contended with. As an Adventist, it felt like my church was also disconcertingly quiet. It seemed like there was an intentional avoidance of speaking up or taking a stance. This left me wondering how I could have dedicated my life to this space only to realize that the leaders don’t find me worthy to fight for. I was consistently disappointed because I couldn’t react the way others could. And on occasion, I could feel the disappointment from members of my community as well.
But it was in this season that I learned a most valuable lesson. Activism is not one-size-fits-all! One of the most nefarious aspects of racism is its ability to strip people of their individuality. Racism and oppression dishonor the human experience, using a single characteristic to define and limit. Activism should not do the same. The importance of raging against injustice is not that we are all required to do it in a prescriptive way; it’s that we simply do it!
Writing Is My Rebellion
We live in a world overflowing with oppression. Each of us, in some way, has a responsibility to rebel against the systems that deny human rights and betray the fact that we are made in the image of God. As people and certainly as Christians, I now understand that we are all indebted to this quest to find our own personal rebellion. Writing is my act of rebellion. Writing is the activism of my choice. It took me several years to realize that I was not rendered silent. I was merely learning to understand my voice. During that time, I collected the pain of my brethren, I collected words, I imbibed the stories and ideas of my community, and eventually, I wrote.
Last year, I developed an online course for the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventist, training leaders and anyone who desired to navigate diversity and inclusion. This year, I will be working on Sabbath School devotionals regarding the same topic. The very pain I felt during the pandemic became a lesson I could impart to others. So, though I could not march or post during the height of that season, my silent tears and quiet agony spoke just as powerfully as those who shouted in protest, and my words traverse an equally significant distance as those who marched for peace.
Change is like an ecosystem of individuals playing different roles of great importance. As we enter Black History Month, a time for celebrating the beauty and dynamism found in this profoundly indomitable community, I challenge you to find your act of rebellion. Do not be cajoled into believing that it must look like others. Neither be lulled into thinking you are absolved from acting.
Writing is my act of rebellion, what’s yours?