I'm not a super touchy-feely person, especially in public. Maybe it's my East Coast upbringing. Maybe I'm just private. I'd rather talk about ideas and current events and social issues and have no problem sharing my feelings about those things rather than talking about my personal feelings. That's just unnecessary.
However, I know that feelings matter. I know that you can't talk away your feelings or pretend not to feel what you feel. When my mother died, I couldn't pretend I wasn't sad. When a friend betrayed me, I couldn't pretend that I wasn't hurt. When 3,000 babies are aborted daily in this country, I can't pretend that I'm not furious.
As much as we can't deny our feelings (even if we don't want to talk about them), we also can't dictate how anyone else should feel. I can't make anyone value going to church just because I value it. I can't tell anyone else to care about the Syrian refugees just because that country was my parents' home and I care about the displaced. I can't tell anyone else to love high quality shoes because shoes make the outfit. Those are my personal feelings. Some may share them – some may not.
While I can't tell someone else how to feel, I also cannot expect anyone else to understand how I feel. Sometimes, with discussion and explanation, another person may learn to understand and respect my feelings regarding a situation. But other times, even with empathy and sympathy and compassion, it's just not possible.
I am a white woman. No matter how much empathy I extract from my (unfeeling) heart, I simply cannot understand what it means to be a black woman. I might share some experiences or emotions or reactions, but how much can I truly get it?
Recently I tried to explain it to someone this way:
I am a woman. There is never any time in my day when I am not fully aware that I am a woman. What I mean is this – without sounding utterly conceited, I know that men are watching. The Male Gaze is a real thing. I am constantly aware of who is around me and whose eyes are on me. When I walk to my car I am infinitely in tune to anyone within 20 feet of me. I always have my keys ready and glance over my shoulder intermittently. I am ready to fight if anyone I don't know comes anywhere near me. I use common sense when I'm out at night, even if I'm just running to Trader Joe's for milk. As a woman, this is my reality. No matter how strong I feel that I am or how much self-defense I might know, I fully recognize that I most likely could not fight off the physical attack of a man.
Another woman – regardless of her race – will understand this. A man will not. I get it. A man is a man – he is not a woman. How could he possibly understand what it is truly like to walk down the street as a woman in society today? I'm not throwing myself a pity party to be sure, but there is a certain vulnerability that even I, a Christian feminist, cannot and will not deny.
A man will never know what it is like to be a woman. As a white woman, I will never know what it is like to be a black woman. I may not understand the nuances of the Black Lives Matter movement. I may not agree with all of its principles, methods or effects. But I cannot deny the feelings. The feelings are there. Black people feel targeted. They do not feel safe. They feel vulnerable. My approval or understanding is not necessary to affirm their feelings.
The battle is raging. We can join the fight or we can be peacemakers. Instead of throwing out ugly words, we can throw out our arms in solidarity, in empathy, in support of humanity. We can talk less and listen more. We can work together to make our communities a better and safer place for our children. We can effect positive change.
I'm not a loopy idealist. Well, maybe sometimes, but only because I believe that we are called to a higher purpose – to love like Jesus loved. These are not loopy idealistic words; this is a reality that we are called to live out.
We have to start somewhere. We have to acknowledge the reality of the problem. There is so much anger and rage and hurt and nowhere safe to put those feelings. They cannot continue to come out in riots and looting and retaliatory attacks. That has to stop. Instead, there has to be a way to harness and use that passion in a useful and practical way. We can do it.
Reach out... Ask questions.
Talk less... Listen more.
Share ideas... Work together.