Dear Friends of CPI,
When Rabbi Heschel was asked how he prayed while on the march from Selma to Montgomery, he said that he “prayed with [his] feet.” We pray with our feet when we honor our loved ones by living a life of service and taking action in the face of despair. And so I find myself writing because I’m caught in a paradox of simultaneously needing to find a way to act, and with the feeling of helplessness and despair because I am unclear about what can be done to fight back against the seemingly endless suffering this world serves up.
A little more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, over 500,000 people have died in this country. Many of those deaths might have been avoided had we as a country put people over profits. COVID suffering has been universal, but not equitable, and has taken the most from those that have the least. COVID has been an opportunistic disease; it has found a home in the places we’ve neglected.
But COVID is not the only opportunistic disease, racism – systemic and interpersonal – has also nestled deeply in the places we’ve neglected as a society. Over the last few weeks, I have been unable to sleep thinking about my Asian American and Pacific Islander American siblings. We have all watched, many of us too quietly and without enough action, as AAPI folks have been increasingly targeted for violence, verbally abused in public spaces, physically assaulted while walking down the street, and murdered at work. This abuse is not limited to the Atlanta metro area; it’s happening across California and right here in San Diego County.
So, how do I walk myself out of the paradox and into walking prayer as Rabbi Heschel did? In the midst of this meditation on purpose, two women propel me into the day and back into this work. On the one hand, I hear Fannie Lou Hamer: “nobody is free until everybody is free.” Her words have been a mantra for me. And on the other, I am inspired by Xiao Zhen Xie, a 76-year-old Chinese American woman who was assaulted on the streets of San Francisco and fought back against her attacker. I saw her attacker carried away safely on a stretcher as she stood bloodied and crying. Though I didn’t understand the words she spoke, her cries were familiar to me. They were the sound of women in my life who are both strong and fragile. The women who put more than their share of love and care into the world, and who the world never cherishes enough. Xiao Zhen Xie is going to donate the money raised to support her (nearly $1m) to combat anti-Asian hate and racism. According to her grandchildren, she is doing so because “we must not submit to racism and we must fight to the death if necessary.”
I find myself once again nervous about writing to you in this deeply personal way. We are encouraged by so many aspects of the power structure, internal and external to the movement, to be analytical and detached if we want to be taken seriously. But at CPI, we resist this pressure because to do the work that way is to leave our own humanity behind. We refuse to lose sight of the radical power of love, the inherent resistance of caring, and the life-sustaining practice of cherishing humanity.
We are tired, but we are still fighting to be free. Thank you for being in this fight with us. We will do it, together.
Kyra R. Greene, PhD (she/her)