On the Side: July 2020
Justice Comes First
* I am writing this from a place of humility. I am white. I recognize that everything I say, think and type comes from a place of white privilege and that even as I work to be empathetic, to understand deeply and to stand with my black sisters whole-heartedly, I cannot fully understand. Please know, I know this.*
The teacher asked to meet with me after school. She told me that the fourth grade would be taking a field trip, but the bus was not accessible. Would I mind driving my son Benjamin and his wheelchair behind the bus? I was heartbroken that his experience would look different than his peers. I was angry that he would miss out on the fun of the bus ride. I was sad I couldn’t fix the injustice of life with cerebral palsy.
I wanted to sign both my boys, Mason and Benjamin, up for Cub Scouts as soon as we moved to Phoenix, Arizona. I called the number on the flyer the school sent home. I received a not-so-nice voice mail in return. Scoutmaster could not and was not willing to accommodate “boys like mine” in his scout troop.
The email from the world-famous archaeology professor didn’t tell Mason he couldn’t join the excavation. Rather, she chose her words carefully as she warned him of the rigors of the program and fully implied he couldn’t do it. She bluntly informed my recent college graduate that she would leave him behind on off-site trips the team might take rather than look for ways to accommodate him. She made all of these statements based on the words “cerebral palsy” on his application. She didn’t meet Mason first nor did she take the time to talk to him about his abilities before jumping to conclusions based on two words on his application.
Cerebral palsy has given us a glimpse into the world of discrimination. Cerebral palsy has forced us to view the world through a lens of bumps in the road, boulders in the road and sometimes full on mountains in the road.
Traveling over and around these bumps, boulders and mountains is exhausting. It wears on me. It wears on my peace. It wears on my joy.
And when the wearing has been too often, too much, too frequent and the exhaustion too high, it affects the way I respond. It affects the way I interact.
Once, early in our journey as a family with special needs, we were at our favorite theme park trying to get to a particular ride. We knew we would have to park the boys’ wheelchairs and carry them on the ride. We parked the chairs in what seemed a close, easy-to-access spot. A park employee came to us and told us we would have to park further away. I explained the situation and asked, since we needed to carry them, if we could keep that spot. He said no. I implored him to understand our special circumstances, he said, “No,” louder. Shaking, indignant and exhausted from the battle, I raised my voice and demanded his manager. I couldn’t control the tears. I couldn’t control my volume. I was so bone weary of life being so much harder for us than for those who could easily walk on to the ride that I lost my stuff.
And that was after six years of living in a world that often is not a place of justice for my boys.
And so, I have watched the protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death with the understanding that these protesters haven’t just lived with this for six, or even 23, years. These protests are after decades and decades and centuries of injustice. These mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters have nothing left but the rise in their voices, the demands in their hearts and the volume of being heard too infrequently with far too little effect.
“… and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, ESV).
For years, I have prided myself on being kind. I tell my children to choose kindness. I sculpt my social media statuses with kindness as my first thought. I have even, upon overhearing my son Benjamin use voice recognition to scribe a post, told him on too many occasions that the post “doesn’t sound very kind.”
And yet, in reading and searching and trying to find a way to actively stand with my black sisters in light of the unrest going on right now, I have gone back to Micah and re-read this verse. And it was in my re-reading that I realize justice comes before kindness. Justice comes first.
And while kindness is important, we have to figure out the justice piece first. We must.
I am taking an online course on racism taught by writer and activist Rachel Cargle. Ms. Cargle teaches that racism exists, woven into the fiber of our nation. She said we must choose to do the work to stop the spread of the poison of racism. We can sit in it, or we can actively work to end it.
I believe it is this active work God is calling us to when He says to do justice.
In all honestly, I find kindness a much easier pill to swallow. Kindness does not require me to be uncomfortable. Kindness does not require me to confront.
Justice does. And it is time. As medical families in our communities, I believe we have a platform to model, promote and fight for justice. There is no place for racism in the world. It is time we stand up and join hands and fight for justice for our sisters. It is time.
“‘Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’ [Jesus] said to him, ‘What is written in the Law? How do you read it?’ And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have answered correctly; do this and you will live'” (Luke 10:25-29, ESV).
Your neighbor needs you. Your sister needs you. Jesus commands it.
To my black sisters, I pray you know you are not alone. We want to stand with you. We want to pray for you. We want to work for justice beside you.
And for my sisters whose skin color resembles mine, my prayer for us all this month is that we are willing to get uncomfortable. My prayer is that we will search our hearts and minds and confront our own privilege, examining it so we can examine our hearts and minds and allow God to cleanse us and make us new. My prayer is that you will pick up a book that helps you actively confront your own heart. My prayer is that you are willing to get uncomfortable. My prayer is that we each find a way to become active in justice.
Resources for getting uncomfortable:
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (Christian Theologian/Activist)
How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi
#DotheWork 30-day Course by Rachel Elizabeth Cargle
Carol Mason Shrader writes from Wilmington, Delaware where her husband is a pediatric orthopedic surgeon. She is trying to follow the example of her children in refusing to sit quietly and watch during this time of unrest in our country.