I had returned to the Lillian E. Smith Center for the Arts in the mountains of North Georgia for three weeks of solitude in July 2013. … When I reserved my cabin at the Lillian Smith Center, I had no way of knowing that my stay there would coincide with the final days of the George Zimmerman trial. I had come to Georgia to read and write about the ideology that undergirded lynching, how it continues to infect white Americans, and why we must make this history visible. To my horror, every headline and news report about the trial confirmed the urgent need for this work because the politics, patterns, and policies of lynching were brazenly reproduced in that Sanford, Florida courtroom.
This morning, I am heading to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains for a two-week writing retreat at a place I discovered quite by accident in 2011. I’d been searching online for an affordable writing residency when I stumbled upon the Lillian E. Smith Center in Clayton, Georgia. To find a place of solitude and beauty in the mountains of north Georgia was itself a source of great joy; to be on the very mountain where Lillian Smith wrote Strange Fruit (1944) and Killers of the Dream (1949) was more than I could have imagined.
Twenty-eight years ago, when I was wrestling mightily with vocational decisions, I had the privilege of hearing the late poet, essayist, and activist Audre Lorde speak. She introduced herself that night by saying: "I am a black, feminist, socialist, lesbian, mother, poet, doing my work. Who are you? And are you doing your work?” I could have sworn she looked right at me when she asked those questions, but my hunch is that everyone in that auditorium would have said she looked at them.
Thirty years ago, on October 23, 1987, Eleanor Morrison and I filed incorporation papers for LEAVEN, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources, education, and training in the areas of feminism, anti-racism, spiritual development, and sexual justice. We chose the name “Leaven” to express our commitment to providing support and nurture for those who seek to be leavening agents for change – resisting oppression, engendering hope. Our organizational motto exclaimed: “If we would be as leaven, there could be an uprising of hope.”
My Facebook feed and my own posts are full of outrage at what occurred in Charlottesville and how Trump has revealed himself to be an apologist and enabler of white terrorism. In the wake of Charlottesville, many of my white friends are calling on white people to declare where we stand in relation to white supremacy; to decide which side of history we are on.
I believe that our declarations are important, even essential. But I don’t believe they are enough.
Dear White People:
Earlier this week, in another outrageous, egregious miscarriage of justice, the Cuyahoga County Grand Jury failed to indict the white police officer who killed a 12-year-old black child, Tamir Rice. And once again the justification for letting a uniformed murderer go free is that the officer believed he was in mortal danger.
Dear White People,
Difficult as it may be, you and I must listen to and grapple with the words that Dylann Roof spoke as he began shooting the people who warmly, graciously welcomed him into that Bible study circle at Emmanuel AME Church.
“You are raping our women and taking over the country. You have to go.”
Those words are a mirror for us as a people – as white people.
At a time when some presidential candidates, elected officials, and pundits are maliciously and falsely labeling Syrian refugees, Muslims, and Black Lives Matter activists “a terrorist threat,” let’s review events of the past few days to determine who constitutes the real threat.
The work I do and the person I am bear the indelible imprint and modeling of my father, Truman A. Morrison, Jr. (1918-2006). In such a time as this, I miss him more than I can say.
My father believed racism was a white problem and that he, as a white man, would be held accountable by his Creator for what he did or failed to do to confront, name, and mend this deep wound in the soul of America. As he was fond of declaring from the pulpit:“