I know little of one but, perhaps, too much of the other. I haven’t decided if they are one and the same thing – they sound like they might be … but yet they look very different.
Both are rooted in fear … ignorance … division … oppression … war.
We will deny that we hold racism, or bigotry, as a life value … but look closer, dig down, and we might be surprised by what we find in the secret, hidden and silent places.
Racism is all across our news feeds just now. Opinions are polarised. Voices shout loudly. Anger brews. Violence erupts. On both sides of the divide.
And then there is the sound of silence. And that silence is being called to account.
My story stands in silence … in the space ‘in between’.
Not in the space between Black and White … but in the space between Catholic and Protestant.
Photo © CAIN
As a family we stood in the in between. We owned a hotel that employed, and served, both Catholic and Protestant alike. In Northern Ireland. In the 70s … in the 80s … during ‘The Troubles’. That was not a normal thing in a divided, segregated community.
My father was a Protestant – and was fiercely proud to call himself that. But, beyond that label, he was a Peacemaker. He was one who stood in between and bridged the gap. He taught us, his daughters, to do the same.
Staff lived with us as family – Catholics and Protestants together – at a time where fear and hatred of each other lived just down the road. There were things we didn’t say. Questions we didn’t ask. Thoughts we didn’t share. Opinions we didn’t voice.
There was a sound of silence … and we spoke it loudly.
Silence didn’t rock the boat. Silence didn’t cause hurt and offence. Silence didn’t cause fear and suspicion. Silence didn’t cause anger and hatred.
I learnt that silence was good. Silence was safe. Silent was who I became.
But that spoken silence did not keep us safe. Our actions spoke louder than our words … as they always do! Our actions, as Peacemakers, made us a target.
Being a Peacemaker is not silent … it is not safe. It irritates … hurts … offends. It stirs up fear … suspicion … anger … hatred.
Being a Peacemaker meant that my father got to collect blown up body parts from the electricity pylons that he climbed. Meant there were roads that he could not drive down. Meant that there were roadblocks that he knew he needed to drive through FAST if he wanted to get home alive. Meant he got shot after. [He downed a very large whiskey when he got home that night – faster that I had ever seen one downed before … or since!]
Being Peacemakers meant that we lived with bomb scares as a norm – not just the norm of them being in the towns where we lived … but the reality of having a bomb on our doorstep … primed and ready.
Being Peacemkers meant that there were times where we were followed home to make sure that we got home. Times where the police stopped me as I approached a bridge patrol, greeted me by name and let me know that I was later crossing than I should have been and dad was expecting me home! Times on Sunday evenings when I couldn’t record the Top Ten because of a radio signal blocker around the hotel. And a very bizarre time when I learnt that we’d had the SAS living in our roof space for a while!
These things were not normal … but they were our normal.
So, today, as I hear silence being called to account in the media, and in our conversations, I have some understanding of why many may be silent in the face of bigotry … or racism.
They may, like me, have learnt that silence feels safe.
But perhaps we can all stretch beyond our spoken silences and allow our actions to speak the louder story – as they always do!
Being a Peacemaker is not safe, but it is brave!
“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18
Blog cover photo: Liam Johnston https://www.instagram.com/p/B3AI4r7jxwS/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link