What Do Our Hands Reveal?

For years, I have carried a few lines from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” in my heart. He wrote, “On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings, I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking, ‘What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred?'”

For too long we have disregarded

the hands that write the oppressive, racist laws;

the hands that sit idly folded in laps;

the hands that toiled to build places of privilege

but were excluded from those very places.

Each year, I have my students trace their hands for one or more writing activities. Sometimes they fill the tracing with the names of things they hold dear. Other times, students fill the open hand with memories. Our hands are important. They are symbols. Hands say a lot about who we are — long nails or bitten nails? Callused or smooth hands? Open palms or clenched fists?

When I reflect on what my hands have wrought, I find a mixed bag. I remember times I allowed my hands to remain idle when they should have held up signs in solidarity. Conversely, I recall times I used my hands for good, for equality, for justice. If I traced my open hand right now, some of the elements I could add shine bright while others call out for redress.

In the quiet of an early Saturday morning, I know my hands have much work left to do.

6 thoughts on “What Do Our Hands Reveal?

  1. Tracing of hands! One of the most cherished items I have from my when my son was young are tracings of my son’s hands. This is something I will do when my students come back in person next month! Thank you.

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  2. I’m glad your students’ have a teacher who leads and teaches from a place of seeking racial justice, and who can understand her limitations and will strive to do better. This is what we should all be asking of ourselves. Thank you for your post!

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  3. This is the second post I have seen about hands today. I love thinking about hands. You make me think about what my hands have done in my 50 years. I love your ending, and I look forward to using my hands for more good. I have much left to do.

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  4. I’m so glad I read your slice! I appreciated your honest reflection through the lens of the work our hands can do. I like the idea of looking at the way we choose to draw our hands and how that leads to stories and truths. I know my hands have a lot of work to do too, specifically in becoming a real advocate for BIPOC. Thanks for bringing our attention to this.

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  5. I love these lines: “ For too long we have disregarded / the hands that write the oppressive, racist laws; / the hands that sit idly folded in laps; / the hands that toiled to build places of privilege / but were excluded from those very places.”

    This post makes me think about my hands in a different way. I developed a lot of skin problems w/ them about five years ago. They’ve been very painful this week, but this physical pain is nothing compared to the pain of racial injustice. I’m going to think about that when my hands hurt as a reminder of all the work I need to do to be an ally and an anti-racist.

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  6. I love your reflection on your own hands, sharing the areas of growth and achievement. You made me think about some of the quick writing I have done with my own students in a different way. I will be bookmarking this mentor text as well!

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