My recent columns, through “One Woman’s Window,” have been about energy and personal relationships as I see them. I have written books on the subject and led workshops using the HeartMath® program. But not today. Today I honor my father and all of his generation who valued good over evil enough to risk their lives to defeat the Nazis. For me to stay silent after the horror of watching the hate-distorted faces of neo-Nazis and White Supremacists making the Nazi salute and flying Nazi flags next to the American flag on a peaceful college campus would be the act of a traitor to all this country stands for. What is happening requires that all people of good will must speak, sending the energy of the strong heart to counter the energy of hate.
Speak out you got to speak out against the madness
You got to speak your mind if you dare.
Crosby, Stills & Nash from “Long Time Gone”
The vision of these neo-Nazis, KKK members and white supremacists marching with their torches and weapons is emblazoned in my brain. The scene was blasphemy, erupting in energy so vile and virulent my hair stood on end. All the horrors of World Wars and the loss of life in the fight for racial equality did not happen so these criminals could carry weapons onto a peaceful campus, chant hellish slogans and, eventually, cause loss of life.
You might ask how I understand discrimination—after all, I’m white, from a prosperous family and attended a private Catholic school in my youth. Discrimination lay lightly on me as a girl, except for the standard of only boys being allowed on the altar. My brothers could serve the Lord, but I couldn’t. After stepping foot on the altar, and being punished severely, I put this away in my memories, until I went to college. At the age of seventeen, I was a freshman at the University of Florida when all that feeling of “less than” flooded back.
The writings of Therese Tappouni… “One Woman’s Window” Series
My boyfriend asked me to help him with a report. He needed references from the Law Library. Of course I said “Sure!” Once we were seated at the long, heavy, highly polished wooden tables, he went to the librarian to ask for the books. As I sat with my head down, reading his assignment, a vibrating began in the room, shaking the table where I sat. This was followed by the drumming of dozens of pairs of oxfords on the wood floor, until it was deafening. My boyfriend came back, and tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up and saw all those white male faces staring right at me. “The librarian said girls are forbidden,” he whispered. “We have to leave.”
We walked out into one of those flawless autumn days where the leaves crunch under your shoes. My ears were ringing, my face was hot and my whole body shaking. The sound of my “drumming out” flowed out through the thick wooden doors and onto the sidewalk. Passers-by stared, and then one smiled. “I guess they didn’t tell you, huh sweetie?” In 1959 I doubt there were any female law students, but if there were, they wouldn’t have been allowed in the law library. My boyfriend was annoyed. Somehow, I had caused this scene. Something in me accepted this. I was “less than” and should have known better. I was a second class citizen. The look on those men’s faces was something I remembered for a long time. Without my knowing, these became pivotal times in my life and caused all kinds of discrimination to stand out like neon.
It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent. Madeleine K. Albright
Many years later, my husband was invited to a function at a country club. A University golf team was going to be honored there. When it became known that there was a black man on the team, the club shuffled the plans to keep the team on the course for their lunch. In those days, negroes were not allowed in the public spaces of the club unless they were serving food or cleaning up. Later, my then husband would ask, routinely, why I cared about certain things—like integration and women’s rights. It was obvious that those incidents had given me a clue, although a very small one, to what it felt like to be “less than.” I was less because I was female. Today’s targets are less because they are not white men. I learned I had to speak, and act, for if good people don’t, we are consenting. To say nothing is saying something.
It’s more than our minds can cope with, this silence. But the heart is bigger—more encompassing, more forgiving. Bigotry, hatred and intolerance are the uniform of the bully who, ultimately, feels inferior unless he is expressing power-over. This is the first time in my lifetime I have felt this from a U.S. president. This is the lesson of Charlottesville. It is a jackboot turning over a rock so the sun can shine on evil. And once we see it? We have a moral obligation to speak of it and name its spokespeople. Being historically ignorant or raised badly is never an excuse. Adults make conscious choices. A white supremacist couple was asked about the death of Heather Heyer. The woman said she should never have been there. Her partner replied that she should—she deserved to die. Don’t underestimate the lack of morals or empathy of these people.
The memorial in Charlottesville soothed my soul. People by the thousands carried candles and sang songs of peace. The contrast with the previous day couldn’t have been more obvious. The souls of the dead and wounded heard them, and they will hear our voices. We cannot tolerate what is happening and it is modeled from the top. Make no mistake about it—this is our time to rise up or sit down and hide. My dad rose up against evil, as did millions of others around the world. We cannot know where this will lead if we do not speak truth to power. We won’t get another chance. As poet Audre Lord proclaimed: I am going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me.
Your silences will not protect you.
For Further Insight:
The writings of Therese Tappouni… “One Woman’s Window” Series
(This, and many other exercises and meditations, can be found in the store as the Gifts of Grief MP3 at www.theresetappouni.com.) If you don’t have it, put on some quiet music, or just stay in silence.