Wordlessness and the Witness of Listening

I’ve ransacked my mind and heart, looking through stacks of ideas and poking around in boxes of feelings, to find something helpful to say about the police shootings of African-American men in Tulsa and in Charlotte.

I’ve come up empty.

My search for words has confirmed the necessity of my always struggling against the biasing and blinding effects of my white privilege.

I’ve found language for lamenting over violence and for confessing, including the insidious sin of individual and institutionalized racism. 

I’ve given thanks for the Psalms, which offer words when I have none, and for the Spirit who prays in us with sighs and groanings too deep for words.

I’ve benefited from the calls to justice and peace from religious leaders like William Barber and from the fire and light of journalists like Ta-Nehisi Coates.

As for my own words, though, I have nothing to offer.

I don’t have words adequate to the grief I feel for families and communities who’ve lost loved ones, or to the frustration I feel over the racial and classist polarization of our culture, or to the pain I feel for my young African-American students when I see the fear, anger, and sadness in their eyes, or to the worry I have for friends who are conscientious law-enforcement officers.

All I can say is that my heart hurts and that it should.

Perhaps, my wordlessness is also a reminder that listening is a witness. It “says something” when we choose to listen rather than to speak—to listen to people whose experience is different from ours, whose wisdom comes from the crucible of their suffering, and whose perspectives can help us see what we’ve been unable, or have refused, to see. 

The witness of listening is not a license to be passive or always silent. I’m more aware than I’ve ever been of my need to speak to people who are situated, as I am, in privilege about our complicity in this culture of racism and violence.  We must hold each other accountable for acting responsibly and humbly to change it. 

And, we can only learn the right direction of that change from those who know, immediately and viscerally, what is wrong with the direction we’re now headed.

We have to listen.