The Powerlessness of Not Having a Voice

My son almost ran in the road, and I had no voice with which to stop him. My story is a literal one, but the analogies I take from it are numerous.

My sons were playing outside on a mild January day. I was sick that day, lying in bed, feeling guilty for being sick. (Ah, the perks of motherhood!) I had lost my voice, and my children had been uncharacteristically alarmed by my baritone squawking that morning. My husband kindly bundled them up and took them outside with him while he was working in the garage.

wp-1486487754623.jpgThis is my view from my sick bed. The boys were throwing sticks down that embankment. Yes, it leads to the road, and yes, I briefly wondered if they were going to hit any cars with that stick-throwing. My boys know not to go down the embankment, into the ditch, or into the road. However, Twin B is quite … forgetful. Suddenly, I saw Twin B follow a thrown stick and run down the embankment and out of sight. I raced to the window and threw it open, knowing full well I had no time to run to downstairs and to the door. I had no idea if my husband had seen Twin B, and I had no time to wonder. My body completely forgot about being sick as the momma adrenaline kicked in. As I slammed open the window and leaned out, I screamed, “STOP!”

Only nothing came out.

No sound. No voice. No nothing. Having forgotten I was sick, my surprise turned quickly to terror. My son was probably running into the road and I was completely powerless. I had no voice. At all. There was nothing I could do quickly enough. Panic.

Our dog is deaf, but she can hear loud clapping. So, thinking quickly, treating my children like dogs, I leaned out the window as far as I could and clapped as loudly as I could. My hands stung. My heart was on fire, too. Where was he? Would he hear me?

Once in a while, having twins is wonderful: Twin A, an obedient, empathic brother’s keeper, heard my frantic claps, looked up at the window, yelled, “What, Momma?” I pointed to the road with crazy gesturing. Bless his little four-year-old heart: he understood. He retrieved his twin. As soon as I saw them both come back up over the embankment, I raced down the stairs to yell at Twin B with my non-voice. They were fine.

Later, during a quiet moment (probably after they were in bed, because that is the only quiet), I reflected on that feeling of pure terror I had when I realized I had no voice with which I could protect my child. The fear. The helplessness. We often hear versions of the phase “they have no voice” when reading about oppressed groups of people. It made me ponder many of my favorite quotes with a new understanding.

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“In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” –Frederick Douglass

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” –Desmond Tutu

“White silence is violence” – my protest sign

“Hear Our Voice” –an official logo of the Women’s March

wp-1489081101207.jpgThat is why Black Lives Matter. That is why refugees matter. That is why Muslims matter. None of these groups of people have the same voice that I do. I am a middle-class white blonde American woman. Simply being born that way is privilege. I truly believe I am obligated to use that privilege to help others. I am obligated to use my voice for others who have no voice. Staying quiet is no longer an option. Change will not happen if we don’t speak up. Literally. Speak. I never want any mother to feel powerless to help her child.

 

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“For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in, Naked, and ye clothed me. I was sick, and ye visited me. I was in prison, and ye came unto me…Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Matthew 25:35-40

MLK and Me … and You

all three at sinkConfession: I’m not sure I ever cared enough about Martin Luther King Day in the past. Now that I have a black son and two white sons, I care. I care a lot.

I’m writing this post today to ask that you will care perhaps a little more than you already do. I’m writing this post to ask that you take a couple minutes to show your kids a picture of Dr. King’s face. Play a few minutes of his audio. Tell them why you care. Nothing fancy. If you have older kids, ask them what they know. Just take two minutes and say something.

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my minivan while my husband is in the hardware store and my children of two colors are in the back begging for more goldfish crackers. I’m writing on my phone and stopping every sentence to settle a fight or apologize for forgetting the juice box.

My oldest (black) son asked why daddy was home today. As we do every year, we explained about who Martin Luther King, Jr. was – and why we care. I am well-versed in how hard it is to explain that to a five-year-old, since I taught Kindergarten. It was one of our state-mandated standards of learning.

It sucks to look at those little innocent faces and explain that people used to hate each other because of the color of their skin. Especially here in the south. I know it sucks to say it out loud. But, if you are a parent, I am asking you to do just that today.

r cuddlesAs a parent of a black son, I am going to have to take this discussion a step farther than I did as a teacher. This year he asked why Dr. King died. I had to explain that some people hated. Next year, I might have to explain that some people still hate. The year after that, I might have to explain that some people don’t think that they hate, but their heart does. I’m going to have to talk about these things, and it sucks. It sucks to say these things to his beautiful brown face.

People who were beaten in Selma, Alabama for trying to register to vote are still alive today. People whose schools were shut down for months rather than desegregate are still alive in our very own community. Furthermore, the people who prevented blacks from voting (even though it was their lawful right to vote then) are still alive today. The people who beat them and even killed them for trying are still alive*. The people who prevented blacks from entering the schools (even though segregation was illegal by then), and who made the decisions to shut down the white schools rather than allow blacks inside, are still alive.

This despicable history is not that far removed from us. Don’t leave it only to the teachers to explain this. Don’t leave it only to the adoptive moms to explain it. Teach your children.

Dr. King said, “I have a dream that one day… the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” That’s what we do every night in my house. At my table. With my own sons.

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* In 1965, a state trooper named James Fowler shot and killed an unarmed (peaceful) protester named Jimmie Lee Jackson. He had run into a cafe to hide and protect his mother and grandfather. He was beaten and shot at close range. Fowler was charged in 2007 of first-degree murder. He pleaded guilty in 2010, 45 years after the murder.

Jimmie Lee Jackson’s story is told as part of the movie Selma, which was just released this month.

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Not sure what to say to your kids? Let LeVar Burton start the discussion for you: click here to watch him read a story about Dr. King on Reading Rainbow.