What does revolutionary love look like now?
[Content Warning: police brutality, murder, coronavirus]
Our cities are burning. The National Guard is rolling into our streets. People are running from tear gas and batons. Just now, the President vowed to deploy the military on his own people. Even as the dying words of George Floyd are still echoing in our ears – Please. I Can’t Breathe. And we are reeling from 100,000 deaths in a pandemic that is disproportionately killing black people.
What does revolutionary love look like now?
Revolutionary love is when you are brave enough to see no stranger. That means George Floyd and Tony McDade are our brothers, Breonna Taylor is our sister — and every black person who is suffering, sick, poor, or dying in America is part of our own family. You have a role to play right now. Even in this breathless moment. There is something that must be done that only you can do.
To my black sisters, brothers, siblings: We witness the pain you are feeling in your body. Grief. Rage. Fear. Hopelessness. Numbness. Because you are just so tired. Those of us who are not black cannot feel what you are feeling, but we sit in this darkness with you, and take your hand and say: You are grieving, but you are not grieving alone.
This moment may feel like what your parents and grandparents had to fight. But something new is happening: There are more of us with you than ever before. More than in 1968. More than 1992. Never before have so many non-black people of color and white allies and local leaders exercised their voice to say: Black lives matter.
We are calling out the centrality of anti-black racism in America. I don’t know where this will lead, but I do know that we are rising up with you. And that means you do not need to do all the labor alone, not anymore. May you take time to breathe and rest and take care of your body, your children, and your families. Your revolutionary act is to love yourselves in a time the world wants to make you strange to yourself. Breathe before the next push.
To people of color who are not black, especially my Asian American family: This is our moment to show up for the black people in our lives like never before, like they are our aunties and uncles, parents, and children. Our civil rights were won by black communities, yet we let ourselves believe that anti-black racism is the problem of white and black people. Too often we have been complicit in anti-black oppression in the slang we use at the kitchen table and the privilege we hold. But we are also survivors of hate violence and white supremacy, and we know what it’s like to be left alone with our grief.
We have a choice: Are we like Officer Thao, standing by, following the rules, keeping our heads down while black people are dying? Or are we what our great spiritual teachers and wisest ancestors dreamed for us – Are we agents of revolutionary love?
To our white allies: We ask you to be more than allies. We ask you to be accomplices – and conspire with us to break chains of oppression. Our nation’s legacy of racism is not your fault, but you have inherited a nation designed to benefit you – America’s social, political, and economic institutions run on the assumption that black bodies are disposable. That means that we alone cannot solve the problem of racism. But you can.
To all of us:
If you are grieving right now – Let this grief into your heart. How many black people were feeling this grief before, in the wake of past police killings, while we only noticed it from afar? Reach out to the black people in your life and tell them that you are here, witnessing and holding them in this pain. Grieving together is frontlines social justice work. In every great social movement, when people who had no obvious reason to love each other came together to grieve, they gave birth to new relationships, even revolutions. Then they organized together. Grieving with others will teach you how to fight for them.
If you are angry right now – Honor your rage. For too long people of color and women have been told to suppress their rage in the name of love. But our rage carries essential information. It returns us to our body’s ability to fight for our lives, and the lives of others. The key is to process your rage in safe containers that don’t harm yourself or others. Be with your people. Shake. Cry. Run. Scream. Rant. Breathe. And then you can step into the role of translating the raw reactionary rage in the street to those who cannot understand it. We can help America understand the pain of those whose cries have fallen on deaf ears for too long.
If you are afraid right now – I am too. As I write this, helicopters are circling over us, shaking the house, sirens are sounding, and there are fires near my son’s preschool in Los Angeles. I am afraid for my brown children. I am afraid of the militarization of my neighborhood. I am afraid of the night. If you are afraid too, place a hand on your chest. Go on. Can you feel your heart beat? In this moment, you are alive. You are here. You are safe enough to read these words. All you need to know is what to do now and next. What do I need to do to keep my body and the ones I am responsible for safe? And if they are safe —What can I do to keep the black and brown people around me safe?
If you feel hopeless right now — That’s okay. Hope is a feeling that waxes and wanes: your job is to be faithful to the labor. I offer you a question I ask myself: What if this darkness in our nation is not only the darkness of the tomb — but the darkness of the womb? What if this is our great transition? Labor in birth is cyclical — a series of expansions and contractions. At your place in the cycle, your moment in history, you may be seeing around you the earliest stages of a movement taking form. Or you may be seeing the president’s pen on a civil rights bill. Often when you bear witness to the first, you will not be in the room for the second. What matters is the choice to show up to the labor in front of you, with the specific gifts you have been given, to play your particular role. When we labor in love, we not only make future victories possible. We also begin to transform the world within us and around us, here and now.
If you are ready to breathe and push with us — Scroll down for actions you can take, including joining the Movement for Black Lives in a week of action that starts today. And join us at our next virtual gathering with Bryan Stevenson on Thursday, June 18th at 5PM PT, hosted by Dream Corps and One World, Random House. We will move beyond resistance to reimagine the world as it ought to be. #seenostranger
You are invited to our fourth Virtual Gathering on Thursday, June 18th.
In conversation with special guest Bryan Stevenson, Valarie will orient us to the historical moment, read an excerpt from her forthcoming book, and host a live Q&A. We encourage you to pre-order SEE NO STRANGER: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, out June 16th!
All are welcome.
Show up in solidarity with the black community:
- RISE UP with Movement for Blacks Lives in their Week of Action.Follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for latest details; and change your profile picture to the image below to show your solidarity and commitment to defending black lives.
- DONATE to #BlackLivesMatter. Urgent support needed.
- SIGN this petition calling for the officers responsible for George Floyd’s death to be charged with murder.
- CALL Hennepin County Attorney and Mayor Jacob Frey to demand justice.
- EQUIP yourself. White accomplices, watch this Facebook live with Showing Up for Racial Justice.
- WATCH this know your rights video from ACLU if you or anyone you know is planning to attend a protest.
- EDUCATE yourself and others with these anti-racism resources.
Watch this conversation hosted by Anasa Troutman between Kerri Kelly and Valarie Kaur in last week’s The Wellness of We series. Process your grief and rage through storytelling, ritual, community rooted in joy.
Header image in memoriam of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade by @broobs.psd on instagram.
The Revolutionary Love Project envisions a world where love is a public ethic and shared practice in our lives and politics. We generate stories, tools, and thought leadership to equip people to practice the ethic of love in the fight for social justice.