White Folks Facing Race: The Power of Names and Grief
My heart has been so heavy, like something is pressing on my chest. Emotional grief, compounded with the onset of covid in our household, has had me focusing on everyday activities and very little else for the last couple of weeks.
Even so, there are moments of clarity. The power of names and the power of grief, for example.
The act of naming things can be a path to truth, which can lead to growth. Naming an institution’s role in upholding the system of slavery. Naming the dynamics in a relationship as abusive. Naming historical and current realities of one’s lived experience.
Names are also memory and legacy. Many families name their children after beloved ancestors, linking past and present in a person’s identity. Sometimes names cause families to protect a particular reputation or status that the legacy of their name has achieved, often tailoring to the point of a break with reality. The names of schools, roads, and institutions declare who should be remembered.
Names and their use carry the power of being seen or erased. Using a person’s chosen name (and their associated pronouns) or refusing to. Renaming enslaved people or indigenous children in boarding schools using English/western conventions, erasing their cultural identities and connections. Removing last names, breaking a familial connection, uprooting people and separating them from each other. Erasing an aspect of people’s humanity.
So when a deadly event occurs, it is right to name the victims of violence, to commit their names to our memories, to choose to never forget them. To let their names, their humanity, propel us forward in making changes that will prevent another such event. It should make us pause and consider — how will our names be remembered?
There is another set of names to be considered and how we use them can have a particular power. Naming perpetrators, naming slaveholders, naming legislators. Holding people accountable for their action/inaction, showing them that their names and the ways they are remembered are not guaranteed to be positive or lasting.
For example, John Boozman, Mo Brooks, Mike Crapo, Rand Paul, Donald Bacon, Andy Barr, Cliff Bentz, Michael Burgess, John Carter, Madison Cawthorn, Michael Cloud, Andrew Clyde, Rick Crawford, Dan Crenshaw, Jake Ellzey, Pat Fallon, Drew Ferguson, Mike Flood, Virginia Foxx, Tony Gonzales, Kay Granger, Marjorie Greene, Brett Guthrie, French Hill, Richard Hudson, Jr., Patrick McHenry, Carol Miller, Greg Murphy, Troy Nehls, Greg Pence, Hal Rogers, Mike Rogers, David Rouzer, Chip Roy, Pete Sessions, Mike Simpson, Adrian Smith, Van Taylor, GT Thompson, Jr., Beth Van Duyne, Randy Weber, Sr., Steve Womack (US Senators and Representatives endorsed by the NRA in 2022).
So now for the power of grief. Based on my observations of American culture, our social conventions around grief demand restraint, control, expression of emotions only in private. In many cultures around the world, grief is shown in public lamentation, in community expressions of loss. What would it look like for our communities to express our grief in a more public way, to stop hiding our tears and our wails and our screams? What would it look like to speak the names of those who have died through voices that break with the knowledge of humanity lost? What would it look like to chant the names of those who allow violence in our communities, in our schools, to continue unchallenged, to call them out ritually, publicly, as part of our expression of grief and outrage?
In times like this, we must use our voices and our power in any way we can find, including (and maybe especially) in ways that make those in power uncomfortable.
Listen. Amplify. Follow. In Solidarity.