Another Type of Cancer

by Melissa Fuoss
Stephen Maturen / Getty Images

There are some things that you can’t “un-see” . . . even though you wish you could. I just watched the video of police killing Alton Sterling. I wish I could un-see it.

I got goose-bumps. My throat felt tight. Tears squeezed out.

Seeing it makes me responsible. It holds me accountable. There will be part of my brain that will want to listen to the voices that will probably eventually say things like: “He had a gun. He was a threat. He was a thug. He had a criminal record. “ Part of my brain will want to find refuge here. Here in this place that helps this not feel so awful. Maybe if I can separate myself and my husband, and sons from him, it won’t be as bad. Maybe if I desensitize myself just a little more, it won’t seem like we have a crisis on our hands. And this part of my brain is not evil, it is not bad, but it is wrong. It is dead wrong.

We cannot find comfort in making Alton Sterling, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Tarika Wilson, and the countless of other people who have suffered this same tragic fate – seem less than ourselves. If we go there, we are missing the point, we are failing each other.

I am a white woman. I cannot, even for a second, know what if feels like to be black. But we don’t need to be black to be devastated by this. We cannot let our brothers and sisters suffer alone.

Please. Please. Please. Do not allow yourself to rationalize these deaths. If you find your brain clinging to words and phrases that make this violence seem justified: thug, threat, criminal, dangerous — watch the video. And ask yourself: even if it is all true, even if he was a bad man, with a bad past – what happened to the part where he is arrested, read his rights, and taken to jail? What happened to that part? Watch the video.

You will not be able to un-see it. You will wish you could. But human suffering should stir something inside of us.

I have written my blog about my journey with breast cancer. But this is a different type of cancer. One that makes us all sick. It is easy for some of us to pretend it is not there, silently racing through our veins. But these episodes of senseless brutality and violence, they are symptoms of this disease. We cannot heal until we admit that we are sick.

Cancer made me sick, but it also taught me how to heal. I couldn’t get well until I knew what was causing the symptoms. We have to know what we are up against. We have to call this what it is: racism. We have to be vulnerable, and weak, and admit that we need help. We have to be good to ourselves, to our souls. We have to feed them with truths, and empathy. We have to be willing to lose something: our comforts, our artificial harmony, our quiet meetings.

When I was sick, those who loved me suffered alongside of me. They were uncomfortable at night, they begged and pleaded with God. They sacrificed their time, and their energy and sat with me and made me soup. They suffered alongside of me. And they did it so gracefully, that I never once had to yell: “you wouldn’t understand, you don’t have cancer! You don’t know what it is like.” They were graceful, and sorrowful, and even though they didn’t have cancer, they felt my pain, too. This made me feel like I wasn’t alone, like I was still connected, like my fight, was their fight too.

I want to stand up for my black brothers and sisters. For my friends who will have to teach their sons of color about keeping their hands visible, their heads down, and their voices soft. I want to suffer with them because I know, and believe that “No one is free until we are all free” – Martin Luther King.

I am healing from my own cancer, but sickened by this one. Watching the video is like seeing the pathology report.

But what? What can we do? The truth: I don’t really know. I truly don’t. When problems feel THIS big, I feel this small. I raise my hands up, and shake my head. And feel like one drop in the ocean.

And then last night I attended a performance by Show Me Art’s Academy as part of their “Spreading the Love Youth Tour”. As I was waiting for the show to begin I read the back of the program: “SMAA, was established by Marty K. Casey, a little more than a year ago, due to the civil unrest in Ferguson, which highlighted very serious concerns for the overall welfare of youth in the St. Louis area.” Marty got on stage before the performance and told us that she wanted to be part of the solution, and she had this idea that she could use music to heal. She called her friends, she rolled up her sleeves, and took a risk.

Melissa Wood

And there I was watching a group of 20 students, both white and black from all different zip codes sing their hearts out. The final song was “Glory”. The lead vocalist was young girl. She came out on stage with crutches and sat on a stool. The song began to build as the Hazelwood Drumline circled around the audience. The volume grew, and their powerful voices rang out:

“The biggest weapon is to stay peaceful

We sing, our music is the cuts that we bleed through Somewhere in the dream we had an epiphany Now we right the wrongs in history No one can win the war individually…”

The crowd was on their feet. I watched young singer’s face change as she saw us: white and black, young and old rise to our feet. I looked around and saw everyone begin to join hands. My eight-year-old son set his program down and grabbed the black man’s hand next to him, I reached for the woman’s hand to my right. And we lifted our arms together. The music poured into our souls. Tears streamed down my cheeks, and the girl on the stage could see this, the kids singing on stage could see this, they were healing us. Their words, their voices, their passion, it ignited the room. This is what healing looks like.

When I was falling asleep last night I kept hearing the words, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Watch the video. And turn off the voices inside your brain that attempt to make Alton the “other”.

There is no other. There is only us.

As my one of my favorite writers, Glennon Doyle Melton, always says: “we belong to each other.” This is a crisis. This is a cancer. How many more lives will be lost before we open our eyes?