Testing Our Nation in the Unfinished Work

The pies are made. My son is home from college. We get to be with friends and family for the Thanksgiving weekend. All is right with the world.

Except it isn't. And it seems that it never will be.

I'm a white mom, married to a white husband, with white kids, living in a predominately white neighborhood in the middle of America. I live in a place where people leave their cars running on a cold day when they run in the store to get milk, and where many doors are left unlocked.

As my daughter and I cut and chopped apples and pureed pumpkin I got to pretend -- for a millisecond -- that my Currier and Ives, Norman Rockwell-esqe existence was true ... and that others get to share it, as well. But I know the truth. The truth is that, per FBI statistics, "about twice a week, or every three or four days, an African American has been killed by a white police officer in the seven years ending in 2012." (To learn more, read Isabel Wilkerson's piece, here.)

I've written about our nation's scourge many times in various publications, but it feels like it doesn't matter. Sometimes, as a voice in the wilderness, I'll post on my Facebook page. On August 25 I posted this:

This morning I am returning home from bringing my 18 year-old son to college. This morning Mike Brown's parents are burying their 18 year-old son. The hate and fear that murdered their son is endemic in our nation. The truth is that most of my friends who are African-American are in mourning . . . and too few of the rest of the nation will notice. Ella Baker's words from 1964 are more true than ever: "Until the killing of black men--black mothers' sons--becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother's son, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens." We have a lot of work to do, friends.

On October 14 I posted this:

A surreal moment. I watched the news tonight. When Ebola was talked about, the director of the CDC regretted not getting to Dallas sooner so that the nurse could have avoided contracting Ebola; no mention in the ABC clip of regret in no saving Thomas Eric Duncan who didn't receive similar care to others in the U.S. I took a walk to pray--and pondered on Henrietta Lacks as well as Harriet Washington's "Medical Apartheid" . . . wanting to believe better . . . BUT. No mention--at ALL--of my friends who were arrested in Ferguson. In the clips of the football game last night--no mention of the civil disobedience. No mention of the protests at Wal-Mart or the Police station. No mention of dead black bodies. . . . So, to interrupt my thinking / numb my soul, I mindlessly flip on the T.V. What comes on? "Hotel Rwanda." In the movie, I hear news reports on the radio of an interview where the BBC interviewer asks the American official: "How many acts of genocide have to occur before you can say that it is a genocide?"

We have a profound problem in our nation -- a problem that we don't want to admit or address. Racism is in the soil of our foundation and has fed our economics, policies, and perspective. We have much to learn as a nation -- and we have wise and able teachers. We have Michelle Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness," who wisely observed: "It's much easier telling the truth about race and justice in America to strangers than to my son, who will soon be forced to live it." We can listen to the voices of the mothers of Ferguson tell of their experience. We can listen to the wisdom of authors like Ta-Nehisi Coates, who observes: "And this is the country that we, the people, now preserve in our fantastic dream. What can never be said is that the Fergusons of America can be changed -- but, right now, we lack the will to do it."

This past week, I eagerly waited for my magnificent tall, blond, blue-eyed son to return home from college. Friends speak of hearing the joy in my voice when my children are all home. But this is a joy that Sybrina (Trayvon's mom), Lucia (Jordan's mom), and Lesley (Michael's mom) will never experience again. Ever.

SO as we approach the holidays, will we have the difficult conversations around holiday tables that we need to have as a nation? I understand the discomfort, the fear, and the distrust. We all have a version of "our" America.

But around this season of Thanksgiving, we need to remember the words of President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, uttered 151 years ago that same month that he nationalized the Thanksgiving holiday:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. . . . It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us . . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

It is up to each of us to determine if all Americans will have a "new birth of freedom." The past four hundred years have indicated that this is not our desire -- that we do believe that some are "better" than others. We have absorbed the racism that insists that something must be feared in black males -- and so we participate in their destruction in higher incarceration, lower life expectancy, less employment, and less access to basic services.

But as we see if our nation "can long endure" we must recognize that there is much "unfinished work" and a "great task remaining before us." As the school break began, my daughter observed that she wished she didn't have so much homework. As I waited for her to complain about the teachers who assigned it, she maturely continued, "So it just means that I have to do the work."

So we have to do the unfinished work. As you sit with family, I invite you not to simply nod as family members opine, "the law said Wilson should not be indicted" or "that's what they do -- they destroy what they have." Rather, engage in conversation -- and be willing to speak the truth. What is it to be denied basic justice because of the color of your skin? What is it be presumed guilty because of your size or color? Read the articles included in this piece and learn the numbers and the stories and speak of what you learn. And speak the Truth. It will set you -- and our nation -- free ... to a "new birth of freedom."