A Lesson To Be Heard
(Written numerous weeks ago.) I sat down for my normal writing hour on Wednesday nights with a friend of mine on FaceTime. I put on my writing playlist and the first song that came on was a favorite from the Broadway show, Hadestown.
The words started tapping me on the shoulder to pay attention. This was important. There was a lesson to be heard.
Andre DeShields’s voice echoes in my ears:
It’s an old song
It’s an old tale, from way back when.
It’s an old song, and that is how it ends.
That’s how it goes
Don’t ask why
Brother, don’t ask how
He could’ve come so close
The song was written long ago
And that is how it goes.
It’s a sad song, it’s a sad tale,
It’s a tragedy.
It’s a sad song,
But we sing it anyway.
Cause here’s the thing, to know how it ends and still begin to sing it again,
As if it might turn out this time, I learned that from a friend of mine.
Can you see it?
Can you hear it?
Can you feel it?
Like a train, is it coming? Is it coming this way?
The humming of the chorus joins in.
We keep singing even so,
It’s an old tale from way back when.
We’re gonna sing it again, and again.
And these thoughts came flooding in: Black people have been singing this tale of freedom and equality for 400 years. Could you imagine singing the same song, telling the same story, fighting the same fight for 400 years? I am not Black so I cannot even begin to imagine it.
When anger and frustration is seen from the Black community, some white people say “Why are they so angry.” Please stop saying that. The anger and frustration only makes perfect sense. It’s a 400 year old story that keeps ending the same way. The system has become exhausting. The song, has become exhausting.
But we have to sing now, we who have become complacent, our voices are needed to help carry the song. We are not leading the song, we are only learning the song to help lift it up and give Black voices support and volume.
We can share that song with those who need to hear it, tell the tale to those around us, share the tale we learn and ask others to join the chorus, inviting them to learn the words and sing it loud.
I engaged in conversations over the last few weeks and one of them stood out to me, the person said “I thought we had made more progress than this.” I reminded that person that to a white person who does not live with the daily weight of hate, of course you may have thought we made more progress than this. They felt that we turn on our televisions and see more diversity, more diversity in the theater, more diversity in the workplace. But I explained that it didn’t mean anyone was being treated fairly. It feels more like, here, let’s throw in this token black person, look how diverse we are. Done! No, to me, not done. It’s not enough.
I have been blessed to listen and learn for the better part of the last twenty years. I have been blessed to prioritize diversity in my life and have conversations and experiences that have enlightened me, made me see clearer, made me empathize better, made me recognize all the color. But as I continue to do that, I still have so much to learn.
I try to have an open heart, an open mind but I understand I have inherited bias. We as white people must make ourselves aware of this inherited bias and accept that we are flawed before we can begin to empathize and take guidance towards action. Awareness and acceptance is key.
We do not lead this fight, we support this fight. We are here to help lift, shine a light, amplify and magnify our friends, our family, our colleagues.
In order to make changes, we have to sit in personal discomfort. Okay, so the world feels like a shit show. Okay, so you’re encountering angry people. Okay, so we are very unsure of what the future will be. The truth is, we have to break things down in order to build them back up better. When you’re creating a new bridge, you don’t blow up the old one neatly. So if you’re nervous that things seem messy, seem crazy, seem out of sorts? Good. Hold on, sit tight and figure out how to be a helper. Find your way to resources so that you can help with the rebuild. You’re needed.
I know I’ve used a lot of metaphors in this piece and that’s because I can am trying to get my point across and some people need different pictures painted to truly understand an issue. But back to my original imagery: We have to keep singing out. Weeks, months or years from now.
The white chorus has been too quiet for too long and Black voices are strong, but they need support to keep the song going. And maybe one day we’ll all be singing a song of freedom and equality but until then, it is time to bring up the harmonies of this sad song, this old song.
Oh, and the official song title is Road to Hell (Reprise).