A year ago I wrote and published a poem called ‘White Silence Drowns Out Black Voices.’ I just re-read it for the first time in many months.
I can’t read my own work in a vacuum. I must bounce it against The Current Conversation to see if it remains relevant, is now dated, or is in danger of being misapplied.
A poem, like any other piece of art, lives in danger of being appropriated or interpreted in ways the artist does not sanction. But that’s the way of art. Art is nothing but an opinion, after all. Artists create art and launch it into the world. How the art is received is up to the receiver.
How art is received also says more about the receiver than the art itself or the artist.
As an artist, I reflect my own opinion or observation, or lay out memoir-as-verse. All my creations are photograph-like. They are static snapshots, reflecting a moment, a vision, a feeling. They aren’t likely to stand for all time. They aren’t likely to create a movement, only a mood.
I cook the dish and you taste. Then you decide whether you like it or send it back to the kitchen.
Back to the poem, which is about how my choices not to speak against injustice help injustice flourish. In The Current Conversation, it might be easy to read this work as only being about the Black Lives Matter movement (whatever that is any more), or the larger historical struggle for equity and equality.
While the poem does speak to these matters, and indeed was inspired by The Previous Conversations about them, it was written as a much broader expression.
We get so distracted arguing dualities: black versus white, black versus ‘not black enough’; white versus ‘institutional racism’, ‘content of our character’ versus ‘anti-racism’, etc.
All these dualities are, by virtue of our Twitterfied society, merely fields of combat – places where we can line up and yell at one another meaninglessly and stoke division and fan the flames of strife. They don’t address the problem, which is human sinfulness stemming from human pride. The idea that I’m better than you.
None of those dualities touch the meaning of ‘White Silence Drowns Out Black Voices.’ The meaning is a simple acknowledgement of the need for reconciliation. Yes, between different ethnic groups, philosophies and methodologies. But more generally, among all people of disparate views.
Here’s the key stanza:
I’ve been silent far too long,
And my silence kept me from traveling
The hard road to redemption,
That is best walked with a brother.
Read it as a sentence: I’ve been silent far too long, and my silence kept me from traveling the hard road to redemption that is best walked with a brother.
For you, that redemption might be seen as racial reconciliation. For another, it could be the seeming unfairness of captalism toward the poor. For still another, it could be the fact she only earns 65% of what’s given her male colleague. For me, we could consider the wounds inflicted in my childhood from sexual abuse or those that came from my own bad choices around drugs and alcohol.
One person’s reconciliation is another person’s outrage. One person’s weakness is another person’s strength. One person’s faith is another person’s encouragement.
In my own case, I couldn’t have gotten sober alone, and I surely was unable to come to faith alone, even with God’s help. I need brothers and sisters to walk the hard road to redemption with me. I need their faith, and I hope they need mine.
We need discipleship in all things worthwhile. So let’s speak up for one another, especially in the hard things. Otherwise we are just opposing lines, on someone else’s field of play, yelling at one another, to no effect.
Photo by cottonbro via Pexels