On the morning of Saturday, August 12, 2017, I boarded a plane bound for Munich, Germany, to meet my parents who were coming to visit me in Europe. Later that afternoon, I heard news reports of Nazism in the United States, in Charlottesville, VA. Though a world away, I was struck by the eerie familiarity of Saturday’s headline with the daily reminders of the historic Nazi regime I encounter throughout Berlin.
Brass “Stolpersteine” (stumbling stones) mark the street entrance to homes where residents were once arrested and taken to work and concentration camps. The Reichstag’s tall glass windows reflect a message of legislative transparency, in contrast to the historic secrecy that once existed within German government. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, 2,711 cement blocks, stands in the middle of the city where locals and tourists alike cannot avoid its obtrusive presence.
Together with the 3.5 million other residents of Berlin, I have these daily reminders of what happens when one race grows superior in the eyes of the masses. Former Nazi buildings haunt this modern metropolis of tolerance. Landmarks and memorials offer counsel, urging us to be courageous today while reminding us of the high cost of silence. Here, there is no excuse for ignorance. The past cannot be silenced. And neither can we remain silent today.
The point of these historic reminders is so that we have no excuse for anything like this to happen again. But on that Saturday in August in Charlottesville, VA, it did happen again. At first glance, most of us might seem far removed from the situation, not pledging support to any alt-right, Nazi, or white supremacist group, nor even residing in the southern United States. However, in reality as fellow human beings, we are personally involved in what took place that day. As mutual image-bearers of God, it is indeed our responsibility to identify with those who were the target of such attacks and to speak up on their behalf.
It is at this time that our brothers and sisters of color are exhorting us to move out of our silence. Each and every one of us possess individual responsibility for repenting from and contributing change to this systemic racism that pervades our human hearts. It begins with a good, hard look within and confession of what we find. Each of us must determine what not staying silent looks like and be prepared for what might happen. Not staying silent is to counter a long-fixed system of racism, perpetuated by one generation to the next, and often inadvertently.
In a world where people are de-humanized daily and reduced to stereotypes and labels, we must affirm one another’s humanity and inherent worth. In a culture that urges us to compare and contrast, we must practice looking for and calling out the image of God in each other. In times when this is threatened, we must fight to protect our brothers and sisters. In a world existing of categories: immigrant, Christian, black, Muslim, white, refugee, welfare-dependent, we must replace such labels with the name of a person. In a society that tells us to prize our personal safety and success before another’s, we must be willing to sacrifice comfort for the wellbeing of another. This is what not staying silent looks like. And this is really nothing new. Jesus Christ spoke the solution more than 2,000 years ago: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Nothing besides this love, His love, can break our silence.
May we be brought deeper into God’s heart for human reconciliation. May we possess the courage to call evil what it is and furthermore, to lament it. May we walk humbly in our attempts to learn from and seek to understand one another, extending grace and asking forgiveness when necessary.
Lord, forgive our silence.
words by Danielle Germaine and photo by Abby Melrose