Can a Television Show Help You Be Anti-Racist?

Last night as I watched the television show “Station 19,” I was reminded how impactful fiction can be. When the show returned this season, it began where it ended, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  In a strange coincidence, last night’s story line took place following the events of May 25, when George Floyd died. For those who don’t know, the show takes place in Seattle, a city that made headlines throughout the summer of 2020 due to protests.

While the protests were addressed as part of the show’s story line, the focus of last night’s episode was on the individual characters in the fictional firehouse and their reactions to these events. From the start, I was drawn in and am impressed with the sensitive way this was handled. One by one, (mostly through conversations with a therapist) the characters talked about their personal feelings, their internal struggles, and their perceived places in the outside world.  It was a real, if emotional, overview of some of the various ways Americans have struggled with our individual and group identities over the past year.

The writers gave the characters words that I’ve longed for; words that might help explain the concept of “white privilege,” which is something all white people are born with whether they want to admit it or not. The dialogue also highlighted the exhaustion and frustration many Black people have endured in trying to explain their reality to many white people who, though they want to be allies, don’t truly understand.

When the show ended, I went to social media, to see if others had been impacted in the same way. I was surprised and disheartened to see that most of the comments on the show’s Facebook fan page (of all places!) were negative. People complained that it was all too much, that we lived it; we don’t need to see it, that it was creating racial divisions, that it made cops look bad. Some went as far as to say they would never watch the show again.

I, obviously, disagree.

If we want a better world, we need to do hard things.

Those of us who are white, and consider ourselves (or want to be) allies to our Black and Brown neighbors, co-workers and friends, need to take a stand. Sitting quietly beside them isn’t enough. Quiet only reinforces the status quo. But we also need to be mindful of not speaking over those we seek to support. It’s a delicate balance. It’s uncomfortable. It’s hard. We need to accept that, though our intentions may be good, sometimes we will say and do the wrong things.

The first step is for us to educate ourselves. It is not the job of those who have been oppressed to show us how words and actions do harm. As the show pointed out, racism is inherent in society; it has been taught in schools as part of history. Most of us are racist (to varying degrees). But being racist doesn’t make you a bad person – hateful actions do. We need to know better to do better. There are plenty of resources out there, including a number of movies and television shows as well as books. Last night, Shonda Rhimes presented an unexpected gift to white people: a valuable lesson wrapped up in a popular prime time network show. Find this episode and watch it. Listen. Learn. Do better. Be better.

Why I Dread Palm Sunday

As a child, I looked forward to Palm Sunday. After all, Palm Sunday Mass features a giveaway and the Gospel includes major audience participation. Sure the Mass was longer than most, and there was more standing/sitting/kneeling than most Sundays, but it was different, and like I said, you went home with something tangible.

As an adult and as a mom, my thoughts and feelings on the day have changed. Today it is the day in the liturgical calendar I most dread. I know that it is important to commemorate Christ’s Passion, to pass on the story, to keep it fresh for each coming generation, but I don’t like hearing it. I especially dislike the participation part.

I want to stand up and say, maybe even yell, “No! He is innocent. He has committed no crimes. He is a good and just man.” But I can’t. I have to suffer through the narrative. I have to relive the tense moments and see and feel the mob mentality. The only way I can protest would be to, like Pilate, refuse to participate, to wash my hands of the immense wrong done that day.
I think about Mary, His mother, and how this all must have been for her. Did she cry out or break down at the verdict? Did friends and family have to pull her away for her own protection? Did she plea to take his place? Her story is absent in the Bible. As a mother, I can’t imagine the horror. How could you bear to see this happen to your child? Yet how could you stay away and make them go through this ordeal alone?

I think of Mary Magdalen and the many women who followed Jesus, whom he welcomed into his circle and taught about the kingdom of God. How did they cope with this reality? Did they sit at home, knowing how things would turn out and believe that it would be too difficult to bear? Or were they there, hoping against hope that people would see this was wrong, that justice would prevail? Did they try to call out? Would their voices have been muffled by those around them or worse, dismissed, since they were just silly women? Did they feel powerless and insignificant living in a man’s world?

Though there is no mention of women at the trial of Jesus, we know that they were there when he was crucified. We know that they were at the tomb and despaired when they found his body missing. This, I believe is significant. Unlike some of the men, they were not afraid to be associated with Him at his death. As far as the guards were concerned, they were insignificant; their voices were ignored.

While I cannot change the past, times have changed. Over the centuries, the influence of women has grown. Women now have more power in society. Their voices are heard (though not always listened to). In most of the world, women are free to be educated. In many countries they are free to speak their minds, to run for public office, to influence or outright dictate policies. I am privileged to live in such a society and believe it would be wrong to squander these freedoms by remaining silent when innocent lives are threatened.

While I cannot change the past, I can work to effect the change Jesus advocated for in the world. I can speak up for Christian values and more importantly, live them. Over the past year and a half, I have been more outspoken in my belief that all humans should be treated fairly. My family asks why I worry about these things. I won’t really be affected, at least not directly. Many of the things I am speaking out against will not make my life any more difficult. But how can I be silent? I speak out because it’s the right thing to do. Honestly, I cannot understand why anyone would not.

The sort of mob mentality that caused Jesus’ death has not gone away. In fact, it seems we have seen a resurgence of it in recent years. I have heard many people speak of their concerns about being in crowds. They say they make sure they know where the exits are every time they are at a public gathering. They even try to avoid such events. Why? Because they worry about terroristic attacks or that rallies or protests may turn violent. They know that the mood of an event can very quickly change and a group of angry people is never a good thing.

I share their concerns. This will not make me avoid public events, but I am now hyper-aware of my surroundings. However, I am unwilling to sit back and watch as innocent people are unjustly punished, as our society and what we stand for is being diminished. My voice alone may not make a difference, but I believe that there is strength in numbers and that most of us want to do what is right. I believe in the basic goodness of humanity and will speak out against the voices stirring up the mob.

Unlike women of past centuries, my voice has power and I intend to use it to protect the “least of my brothers.” I have resources they don’t. I have been blessed with good fortune in my life. I have had challenges, but I also had the means to challenge and overcome them. How can I sit by and watch when unlike the women of the past, I have a voice with the potential to make a difference?