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National Day of Mourning and the Language of the Unheard

Today we stand with our civil rights colleagues, our siblings of color and all people in a national day of mourning for the toll our government has inflicted on African-Americans. We urge you to take time today to mourn, to grieve and to rededicate yourself to anti-racism and to justice. We are rededicating ourselves to the work of communications rights and media justice as part of our work to a just society.

The events of this week and last combine the power of the media, technology and the power of prayer and the anguish of people who see and know that their voices are not being heard. As our colleagues in the United Church of Christ in Minnesota reminded us, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “A riot is the language of the unheard.” Media justice and communications rights are about the language of the unheard. Our country started to learn these lessons when in the 1960s we faced riots in the streets of African-American communities, and the Presidential Kerner Commission concluded that racism and segregation in the media was part of the problem leading to that unrest.

Now, as then, media can show us the current manifestations of centuries of structural racism, pressing down our family members, friends and colleagues because of the color of their skin. Now, as then, media can be both the problem and the solution. Social media can reveal to us the horrible actions of police officers killing African Americans without provocation. It can allow us to organize and support each other, to find solutions and human connection even when a pandemic requires us to be physically apart. But traditional and social media can inflame hate and vitriol, turning ignorance, anger and fear into violence with the power of a lighted match on dry tinder.

Now, as then, media can be both the problem and the solution.

The power of prayer can hold our Black and Brown brothers and sisters in our hearts and see their pain, it can bring everyone the strength to work together for a better world. And yet faith can be used as an excuse to maim, harm, dehumanize others.

UCC Clergy-led protest in Minneapolis
UCC Clergy-led protest in Minneapolis

We have seen the President go after social media companies for following their own freely-adopted policies against violent and dehumanizing language. We have seen peaceful protesters attacked in front of a church for a photo-op. We join with the national setting of the United Church of Christ in condemning the modern lynching of Black people — carried out today with guns and choke holds by employees of the state.

The UCC’s requiem for Ahmaud Arbery

In these moments it is easy to break apart, shut down and give up. And as Rev. William J. Barber III said last Sunday, “We cannot try to hurry up and put the screams and the tears and the hurt back in the bottle, just to get back to some normal that was abnormal in the first place. Hear the screams. Feel the tears. The very people rejected over and over again are the ones who have shown us the possibility of a more perfect nation. They are telling us these wounds are too much. This death is too much.” We must stop and hear our siblings crying and gasping for breath. We must take time to nurse our wounded souls, reach out in support. We must use our communications tools to see each other and hear each other and tell the stories of the people we have lost.

Today is a day to mourn. And tomorrow we must take up our tools, our stories, our words and get back to work to bring about the justice that we know, one day, we can make real.


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