As a woman of color living in the United States, who is woefully underrepresented within my own religious community, there are times when I feel uniquely seen and heard. Sometimes I am invited onto particular committees or into particular groups both inside and outside of my community because of the color of my skin. My opinion is sought on topics that have to do with culture, diversity, and representation, which gives me a valuable opportunity to speak up on matters concerning people of color. However, there are other excruciating times when I feel invisible, like right now.
I don’t blame you. I do feel the need to say something. There are plenty of prayers being invoked for an end to the violence of the riots. That’s good. Riots are scary and harmful. I’m just wondering where the prayers were for Ahmaud Arbery and his family, or Breonna Taylor and her family, or George Floyd and his family? That is why I feel invisible. All those who are praying for an end to the riots did not seem to notice that there was violence before this violence. A riot, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “is the language of the unheard.”
So now we have looting and violent riots, but even still, most of the protests taking place are peaceful. I have seen videos of people standing in front of stores to block others from causing destruction. Other videos show hundreds, even thousands, of peaceful protesters marching together. If black people are rioting, it is out of the wounds caused by centuries – CENTURIES – of injustice, brutality, and murder based on a prejudice which intends to rob us of our dignity. But if you look closely enough, beyond the prejudice perpetuated by the media, you will see plenty of white people causing destruction. Are they angry too? Do they think they’re helping? Or do they simply want to give our cry for justice a bad name? I do not know, but what I do know is that praying for an end to violence needs to go beyond the riots.
Praying for peace needs to include a prayer to end violence by police officers towards black people; the end of violence by those who judge black people negatively based on the color of our skin; and an end to the violent mindsets that dehumanize black people, immigrants, natives, and people from developing countries. This prayer needs to break open the hearts and minds of those who do not view their privilege as a threat or a problem. Complacency and silence concerning matters of injustice toward the marginalized creates a burden of pain that the marginalized can carry for only so long. Complacency and silence have no place in Christianity.
I am not condoning the violence of riots, nor am I saying that all police officers are corrupt. Only one police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd, but where were the voices of the other three? Silence is complicity. That is why all four police officers have now been charged in the death of Mr. Floyd. If the privileged had not been silent all these years, we would not need to be praying for an end to riots. Unfortunately, I know there will be a next time. Please, the next time we say, “I can’t breathe,” we need you to hear us, cry out with us and be compelled to act on our behalf.
Yours in faith, hope, & love,Sr. Desiré Anne-Marie Findlay