I read this morning that the great Representative James Clyburn will introduce legislation asking Congress to designate the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as ‘America’s Hymn’ (alongside “The Star-Spangled Banner” as our national anthem) as a hope — as an offering — as a reckoning — for racial healing and unity. I was so — disheartened — by some of the cynical and dismissive — and racist — responses that I felt compelled to respond.
As a psychotherapist I can say it is a gesture like this, small as it may seem, that DOES in fact aid in healing. Racism and bigotry are acts of violence, and living with them, surviving them, IS a kind of persistent trauma, that makes those affected by them feel disconnected and unanchored from a society that keeps them safe. (If you want a brilliant read on this please look at Howard Thurman’s “Jesus and the Disinherited” and any book on trauma).
The collective national embrace of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as our American Hymn says, hopefully, to those who have been abused both “out loud” and “in the shadows” in this country “Yes. We see you. We see your journey. We see what you have survived. We see the injustice. And we can bear witness to it” — because bearing witness is vital in healing.
There is no healing without it.
If it helps you to personalize it in order to get there, think about the traumas and injustices in your own life. I know in mine, it was only in having them witnessed and acknowledged that I could heal. It has been the joy of my life to witness and acknowledge yours. In doing so, we make meaning of humanity. We touch the sweetness of existence.
Now think about the many codified and legislated traumas our country has inflicted on “the other” — as most countries have and do — that have not been witnessed or acknowledged. The ideals in our constitution will only be made manifest if we are courageous enough to drag our particular darkness into the light.
To name it, claim it and cast it out.
To those who are dismissive — or cynical — of Clyburn’s “gesture” — read the lyrics to that song — learn its history— and ask yourselves what darkness in your heart compels you to want to withhold something that could be healing, not only for those who have survived injustice — but — ironically — and miraculously — healing for those who perpetuated it. It’s a collective “taking of responsibility” and an ask for forgiveness. Not only individual forgiveness, should you need it, but national forgiveness for our national wrongs.
This small gesture contributes to a “great good work” — our collective freedom.
Of course it is symbolic.
Of course it is a gesture — and deep and substantive work must also be done legislatively and judicially with “boots on the ground.” We are not naïve. People of goodwill understand that. But societies are constructed of symbols and gestures.
Symbols and gestures are anchors that can frame our actions and point the way.
Symbols and gestures of a just society are what is lost in injustice and trauma.
Is now not the perfect moment to construct new ones?
I think this gesture, this symbol, is beautiful. I think it is kind. I think it necessary. I think it has power. I am writing to my own congressional leaders to lend my support.
My dear friends — we are at a crossroads in our national identity — we are at a crossroads with our own humanity.
Kindness is needed. A radical kindness — that includes accountability and action and empathy.
The good news is — I know you. You are kind.
Do it today.
In your own home.
In your community.
In your state.
Practice active actionable accountable kindness. And demand it from our nations leaders.
I promise you — you will feel less — overwhelmed by the ugliness you see around you — and the inability of our government to lead.
They are not going to save us.
We will save us.
We will save each other.
We will save ourselves.