There is a rhythm to our lives; a muscle memory that develops over time as we live and develop patterns of being here. The consistencies in our schedule become stabilizing beams that help us feel secure and safe when everything around us seems uncertain—meals with our families, night-time routines with our children, daily early morning rituals, weekly meetings with a group of friends, yearly holiday gatherings.
We rely on this regularity to give us some feeling of comfort or control in the ever-present chaos, and when we lose those anchoring moments we can easily find ourselves adrift; tossed around in the tumult of insecurity and loneliness.
Lots of people drift on Sundays.
For many people Sundays used to be a solace; a soft time and space where they experienced belonging, where they felt an abiding sense of community, where they believed they saw the face of God, if only for a few moments. It was the steady hub of their days, around which life revolved.
And many of those same people, wake up this Sunday morning and they grieve, remembering all they no longer believe or no longer feel anchored by. They mourn people who’ve disconnected, communities they’ve been excluded from, relationships they’ve lost, religion that could no longer support the weight of their doubts and questions. They may even be grieving the death of the God they thought they knew when they were there.
It may have been days or decades, and yet that muscle memory is still at work, reminding us, pulling us back.
And so this day of the week, even if it is filled with new and beautiful rituals, with different patterns and people—might still be a wound for you. Every so often and without warning, that wound may again be opened, as you notice the calendar or the time of day or see a social media message from someone for whom Sunday mornings are now, what Sunday mornings used to be for you—and you’ll feel the sting of that loss.
Even if you remember exactly why you left and even if you know the reasons you disconnected or stop believing, and even if you feel better on the outside of that place, and even if you’ve once again redeemed your Sundays—there is that part of you that still grieves because death always stays with us. Grief is never fully complete.
It’s Sunday and you may well be grieving.
If you’ve had to get yourself out of harm’s way from hurtful people, if you needed to escape from a toxic religion, if you no longer found there the peace you once easily embraced, if you’ve been excluded or pushed to periphery for being the most authentic version of yourself, if you could no longer align yourself with what you see the Church has become— I understand.
As with all grief, there are no magic words that I can say to fully insulate your heart, no way to protect you from the occasional despair the calendar might bring.
I can only tell you that I sit in this grieving with you and will be here until it passes; hopefully before this day is over.
Growing-up, I learned from the men and women around me what it meant to be a gentleman; how decent, good-hearted, honorable men lived in the world, the way they treated other human beings, how they carried and conducted themselves.
And from as early as I can remember, I was taught how women deserved to be treated by such men of character—with respect and compassion, as equals. I grew-up believing that in matters of intelligence and creativity and vision, women were fully my peers, and that I should learn from them and listen to them. I learned what consent was, and why I never had the right to decide for another woman, what she wanted or approved of. I learned that real men showed restraint and self-control.
Implied in all of this, was the idea that not only was this the right way to treat the women I loved or met or knew from a distance—but it would be the way women would want to be treated; that they would appreciate being seen in this highest regard. This made sense to me, that every woman would treasure and demand being treated with dignity.
I must have missed a memo, because I’ve met many women lately who I just can’t seem to make sense of: women who adore and applaud and worship this President.
With every horrible thing he’s said about women, with his boasts of uninvited physicality, with his history of infidelity, with multiple marriages with ever-younger wives; with his relentless vile and vicious attacks on the physical appearance, sexual lives, and even the menstrual cycles of female political opponents and critics; with the way he’s terminated intelligent, capable strong women in his path; with legislation seeking to take away women’s choices regarding their personal healthcare or to loosen campus protections for sexual assault victims. —Donald Trump seems the very definition of the kind of man I was taught that women would want no part of—let alone brag about and defend on social media.
I look at them, and I wonder what it is that they think as they champion a nasty, predatory, misogynist like this man. I try to imagine the story that they tell themselves about him, about their own worth—and I wonder how they connect all the dots.
Maybe it’s some toxic cocktail of blind hatred for Hillary Clinton, lifetime FoxNews indoctrination, subconscious white supremacy, religious-fueled misogyny, deeply embedded self-loathing, and real-time Stockholm Syndrome—but I just can’t seem to make any sense of it.
That a man with such seeming disregard for women would be co-signed by other such men isn’t at all surprising. I expect knuckle-dragging, towel-snapping, cave men to want someone like them setting the temperature and making the laws and protecting their interests. That kind of self-preservation of a species makes sense.
What I simply can’t fathom, are women who affirm and celebrate something so seemingly antithetical to their well-being, something that with every word and every bit of evidence—suggests they are of little value. That affirmation feels like an act of self-harm.
As a man, I’m not at all qualified to answer these questions, and so I’ll rely on the wisdom of the women these words will reach, and lean into their responses—especially those who have complete peace about defending this President, who believe he is for them, those who are okay with their daughters living in the world he is making here.
As a man looking on at it all; a man with a mother and a sister and wife and a daughter, all of whom I adore; a man who thought he understood what decency looked like and was cherished—I don’t get it.
Republican friend, I really wish I could understand you.
I wish I could step into your shoes, climb inside your head, peek into your heart and see what it is that motivates you when you place your feet on the ground and step out into a day you’ll never experience again.
When you realize you’ve been blessed with another precious, fleeting bit of daylight here, why does it seem like your default response to it all is malevolence—no, maybe not to you or your family, or to those you see as your own—but to the vast multitudes who never seem to make that list. Outside of a very selective window, most people only seem to receive your contempt and judgment.
I really don’t get it. Maybe we’re wired differently.
You see, I just don’t wake up in the morning and feel burdened to be cruel to people; to actively push them to the periphery or place obstacles in their paths or deny them the things I have been fortunate enough to have received. I just assume they’re trying as hard as I am and that their lives are difficult enough—and I don’t want to amplify that. It feels like you don’t feel that way. It seems like you’re really just angry and you want lots of people to pay for whatever it is that you feel has been done to you.
There are some simple questions that rise up into the foreground of my mind as I watch you:
I simply don’t feel compelled to take healthcare away from those who are sick, or to make it more costly for families battling terrifying, insidious illness. What makes someone do that? What are you thinking as you lobby for people to lose health insurance, or when you amen those working to take it away? Where is there compassion in you as you do?
I don’t want feel the need to prevent two people who love each other from marrying one another or adopting children or making medical decisions if each other’s lives hang in the balance. Why do you believe you’re qualified to do this to a stranger; to impose your beliefs on them, to insert yourself into their most intimate relationships, to have a say in their bodies or bedrooms? What in you drives you to fixate on someone else’s expression of love?
I don’t feel threatened enough by another person’s religion or lack of religion to exclude them for either reason. I don’t see an entire religion as a haven for terrorists, or something that needs to be squashed. What is it about your faith that instills such fear in you? How small is your God, that you’d despise someone else for a different understanding of that God; that you are able to villainize them all from distance.
I don’t feel burdened to memorialize slavery, to celebrate the subjugation of a people, to create a narrative for men and women because of the color or their skin. Why are you so emotionally allergic to the phrase Black Lives Matter? Given the racial injustice sewn into the history of this country, why do you feel the need to argue it or rewrite it?
I don’t want to send away children who came here in desperation and now call this place home. If you love your sons and daughters enough to want them cared for and protected and fully freed to dream—why don’t you desire that for every child? If you really understand how fortunate your children are to be here, what makes you want to horde such blessing?
I don’t feel compelled to claim ownership of America. Why do you believe you’re qualified to be a gatekeeper for a place your forbears came here to as visitors? Why do you believe you’ve earned this place, that you’ve worked harder than anyone else? What makes you feel you get to say who gets in, and whether or not they’re welcome?
I know you’ll be tempted to dismiss this as a simple hit piece; a caricature of you that ascribes motives to you from a distance, but I promise you it’s not that.These aren’t talking points and they aren’t veiled insults. I just don’t get any of this on the most elemental human level.
These aren’t matters of speculation and they’re not value judgments assigning motive—they’re just me looking at you and what is measurable; the candidate you voted for, the party you’re endorsing, the legislation you’re supporting, the platform you’re co-signing, the things you’re posting online.
Closing borders, building walls, banning Muslims, harassing Transgender teenagers, exploiting the ill and the elderly: Just why are you okay with these things—and if you’re not okay with then, then why in the hell are you so silent in the face of it all? Why aren’t you standing alongside people like me and saying so? Why does it feel like I have to do all the heavy lifting without you?
I hear anger in your words, I see terror in how tightly you hold things, and I wonder where that comes from. I imagine you might somehow feel yourself marginalized, but I can promise you that isn’t reality.
No one is telling you that you can’t marry the person you love, that you shouldn’t be able to care for those dear to you who are sick, that you don’t belong here, that the color of your skin or your faith tradition or your nation birth disqualify you from inclusion here.
No one is trying to exclude you. You’re fully included. We’re just wondering why you seem so burdened to exclude everyone else.
Your candidate won and your party has legislative control, and I guess I’m trying to figure out why you still seem so miserable, why your anger seems more fevered than ever.
There’s a cruelty I think I see in you that is foreign to me.
ESPN talk show host Jemele Hill posted a series of Tweets calling President Trump a white supremacist who has surrounded himself with other white supremacists.
Lots of white Americans promptly and violently responded in a way that suggests she probably shouldn’t have stopped there:
‘Cause nothing says “we’re not white supremacists,” like a bunch of white people publicly bullying a woman of color for speaking out on white supremacy. That’s helpful and definitely not racist.
The White House joined in the caucasian outrage, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declaring that Hill’s comments constituted a “fireable offense.” Maybe it’s me, but if calling the President a white supremacist is a fireable offense—then him actually being one sure as heck should be.
This is the heart of the hypocrisy on display here, and the reason Hill isn’t wrong, even if you disagree with her conclusions or her methods.
You don’t get to hire Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, Sebastian Gorka, and Jeff Sessions—and simultaneously mount a high horse of righteous indignation at the suggestion that you’re probably a bigot.
You don’t get to spend a lifetime exemplifying the absolute insulation from accountability that is white privilege—and get to play the victim card when a black woman brings it up.
You don’t get to call a violent horde of torch-wielding nazis in Charlottesville, “fine people,” and blame the deadly violence on “both sides”—and then act as if charges of supremacy are without merit.
You can’t be the Presidential candidate officially endorsed by the KKK, and then bristle when people of color question your commitment to equality—especially when nearly every Cabinet appointment bolsters such questions.
And if you’re supporting this man, you don’t suddenly get to tone police someone for their audacity or cry “hurtful language”. If you’ve continually defended the King of Crass who you’ve applauded for “speaking his mind” and for “telling it like it is.”—that criticism of Hill doesn’t ring true. It also seems a disconnect to ask for a sports talk show host to be fired on grounds of inciting racial discord—when you voted for a man who has done nothing but fan the flames of bigotry.
In the wake of a white (and White House) wave of outrage, Hill has since publicly apologized for her comments and ESPN has “accepted her apology,” which honestly both feel like confirmation that she was probably right and evidence that Donald Trump’s America is turning back the clock on any progress we’ve made toward racial equity.
For a sports network whose heralded “30 for 30” series often documents the way sports, politics, and civil rights offenses have overlapped—you’d expect it to be among Hill’s most fierce defenders. I guess they haven’t been paying attention to their own programming—or they’re going to wait 20 years and feature her in an episode where they laud her candor.
We can argue all we want about what is or isn’t appropriate for a sports talk show host to comment on or whether Hill’s Tweets were abrasive to some, but that’s a fruitless diversion; it’s just talking around what we should be talking about here. It’s disingenuous for supporters of this President to feign offense at Hill’s tone or her bluntness. If they really want to call out vile hatred, stereotyping, and bullying—they need to check his recent resume again. That white people are more incensed by her comments than by Trump’s body of work, is exactly why we have a problem here.
White supremacy isn’t a club you officially join; something that either is or isn’t true. It isn’t like eye color or blood type or nation of origin. Saying you believe someone’s outward actions reveal a prejudice or an irrational fear is an opinion. Everyone is allowed to say what they see in us. People evaluate the fruit in other’s lives and make evaluations. You can disagree with their conclusions but that doesn’t mean they’re lying or wrong. Racism, homophobia, bigotry, misogyny, anti-Semitism can’t be proven or disproven. If someone says they see that in us we should pay attention.
Jemele Hill is a woman of color speaking plainly about her experience of America and about what she sees. Rather than arguing with her experience, telling her why she doesn’t see what she sees, or trying to badger her into silence—more white Americans should just shut-up and listen.
Maybe we should sit with her observations and sift them for their truth despite what feels offensive. Perhaps we should refrain from responding with the kind of ferocity and vitriol that illustrate exactly what she and others have been saying.
Maybe instead of defending a President whose Administration has displayed the very essence of privilege, white people should be trying to hear someone brave enough to speak that clear truth to a corrupt power. And if Hill’s position as a talk show host represents to you, a dangerous bully pulpit wielded irresponsibly, you may want to examine what the White House represents.
Perhaps white Americans should stop enabling bigotry at the highest levels of government and stop trying to silence people of color who speak out, whenever their words hit to close to home or piss us off too much. Maybe that outrage is an alarm going off inside us, telling us something stinks here—and it’s probably not a sports talk show host’s Tweets. Maybe we sense there’s hard truth there that we’d rather not deal with.
Not only that, but the white clergy of this country needs to condemn Donald Trump’s coddling of racists and supremacists instead of excusing it from the pulpit, instead of normalizing it and pretending Jesus is okay with it.
And a network like ESPN who understands and usually leverages and exploits the way that sports, politics, and civil rights intersect—should be using Hill’s comments to further dialogue on the racial fractures in this country, rather than simply shutting her down and pretending to get back to why LeBron James’ legs are getting too old to whether another full season.
Jemele Hill is right to speak and she shouldn’t have to apologize for seeing what she sees. If you feel she unfairly lumped you into a lazy stereotype that doesn’t apply to you—maybe you’ll understand how frustrating that is, and you’ll try to be more willing to see people as individuals and not caricatures you can accessorize as you wish. Maybe as a black woman, Jemele knows what that feels like better than you and I.
She’s giving White Americans yet another chance to prove that the pain of people of color is worth more than our discomfort at the expression of such pain.