I need to talk about last week. A few friends reached out to me, actually, about it. I received a few emails from readers as well. While standing in line at Whole Foods, I checked my phone and there they were. Three, four, five, six, twelve messages.
Of course I’ve gotten angry mail and hateful comments before. They usually start the same, ‘I’ve loved your work for a while now, which is why I was…’ I don’t need to click read more to know what it’s going to say. Disappointed…With my work. With my message. With my daftness. More often than not, however, it’s the other kind. The ones that just say one word. Unsubscribe. I don’t need to open those at all. Those always have the same sensation – a small pinching of the gut. Fingers coming out of the lining of my stomach and quickly, swiftly, with long nails, squeezing the sides. And then it’s over. No big deal. Just a little pinch. But the emails last week hurt for a different reason. They hurt because I felt I had done a disservice. Because I felt I hadn’t just been un-inspiring or dull or repetitive, but that I’d been ignorant.
I had written something that came off tone deaf and insensitive and, to many, privileged.I wrote about my own anxiety when I should have written about, or at least mentioned the issues that were much bigger than my own – the movements that were sweeping the world, George Floyd, racial injustice, police brutality and the anxiety so many people of color feel every day. I should have mentioned why people were protesting and what this movement means. I should have used my platform to inform, spread knowledge, education and drive change. I know all that now. The problem, however, was I didn’t know then.
I didn’t know the extent of what was happening. I didn’t know what my role was. I didn’t know what I needed to learn and understand and dissect. I needed time. Time to absorb, reflect, digest and comprehend. Because that’s how I write about things. When I’m ready. When I understand. When I can tell what I need to tell in the way I need to tell it.
I took the rest of the week to think about all that was happening. The many injustices inflicted on our black brothers and sisters. The oppression so many live under. The systemic racism that courses through our country’s blood. I spent the week in agony because I didn’t know what to do about it all. I didn’t know how to talk about it. There was so much I wanted to say, do, help, try, and none of it felt adequate. Just reposting a slogan, an image, information didn’t feel worthy of the audience I’d built. The strength of my numbers. I wanted to do something that would really teach women about how they could help.
But I was paralyzed with fear. Scared of saying something wrong. Scared of downplaying something big. Scared of missing the point or misrepresenting the problem. Over the last four years I’ve been training myself to only speak when I have something good to say. To only write when I have something worth writing. To only engage when I have all the facts. But now it felt like everything I’d taught myself was in vain.
As I reflected on my actions, or lack thereof, I was moving into the second phase of grief – I started to get angry . Angry at everyone who was calling me out. Angry at the expectations and the hate spewing from the commenters and the readers. Angry at the people picking apart my words on Instagram. Angry at the former generations who inflicted these atrocities, who created this hate, who built the foundation of which all this ignorance continues to run.
And in the midst of all this anger, by sheer coincidence, chance, serendipity, my brother’s girlfriend recommended an essay by James Baldwin. It was a letter written to his nephew- shedding light on the atrocities he would witness, the oppression he would face, the hate and negativity he would encounter as a black man, and the love he would need to combat it.
“There is no reason for you to try to become like white people and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you,” he wrote. “The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them. And I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love. For these innocent people have no other hope. They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it….”
“But these men are your brothers – your lost, younger brothers. And if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.”
Love. It feels like an antiquated word. A word lost under the rubble of all the hate, anger, judgement. I couldn’t remember the last time someone spoke about love. And then it dawned on me. I know how I want to use my platform. I know what small change I want to instill. What message I want to preach.
I am using this newsletter to ask you to do two things today. To take ten minutes to read this essay by James Baldwin. I would never recommend something I haven’t read and I can tell you this essay changed me for the better. It painted a picture I hadn’t been able to see clearly. It’s an honest, beautiful, raw and poignant piece that opens some doorway of the soul that lets in some light.
The second thing I ask of you is harder and will take more time and patience and will not be over in ten minutes. I want you to notice the next time you feel anger welling up in your soul – justified or not – and ask yourself to look at it. Ask yourself where it’s coming from. Where it’s directed. And ask yourself if you can turn it into love.
We can all donate. We can all repost images and messages and resources. We can and we should all do that and more. But can we do an even simpler thing? Something that we can’t tout on social media or repost for support? Can we love when we want to judge? Can we find compassion when we want to hate? Can we hold our tongues when we want to condemn?
That is the harder task. To love the person who posts something you don’t agree with. To love your friend who doesn’t understand. To love, not judge, the people who aren’t like us. Can we find love and compassion in a storm of hate? Can we educate each other without malice and condemnation and fear?
In the second essay by James Baldwin he recalls, “I was told by a minister, for example, that I should never, on any public conveyance, under any circumstance, rise and give my seat to a white woman. White men never rose for Negro women. Well, that was true enough, in the main – I saw his point. But what was the point, the purpose, of my salvation if it did not permit me to behave with love towards others, no matter how they behaved toward me?”
Anger is not going to solve the problems of this country. Anger is only going to keep people divided. Anger is going to keep perpetuating the dark cloud that looms over our bright future. So I’ve decided to use anger as a cue, a reminder, to breathe in hate and breathe out love. To take the mean comments and the aggressive emails and the hurtful fights I see on Instagram and Facebook and find compassion.
And because I believe energy is transferable, the more of us who can find love, the more of the world we can heal. The more positive energy we can transfer, the stronger and less divided we will feel. The less scared others will feel to post their own messages of love. The more room we can give each other to understand, heal and help.
So ladies, let me be the first to say it here and now: I love you all. I love the ones of you who don’t agree with this message. I love the ones of you who do. I love the ones of you who will send me messages giving me more suggestions and resources to find more ways to help. I love you all and I will continue to love you no matter how you choose to help.