If you were able to wake up today, get ready for work or do chores around the house, drink your coffee, get your kids out of bed and to whatever summer activities they had planned, all without knowing or seriously considering what happened yesterday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Falcon Heights, Minnesota, consider that your privilege allows you that luxury. Because for far too many in America, what happened last night and what continues to happen is causing fear that I have never, not once, had to face for myself or for my family. No one in this country should have to.
If you are completely fine with a white guy openly carrying an AR-15 through your local neighborhood, but you attempt to justify police murders of black men when video evidence indicates that lethal force is not warranted, consider why you perceive one to be a threat and the other simply expressing a constitutional right. Why does one make you feel safe and the other warrant state-sponsored violence? (Also, if you are a member of the National Rifle Association, ask why no outrage from their very active political and media machine.)
If you are a white person and have zero friends of color, and I mean real friends, not just someone you say hi to at the coffee shop, can you understand that you might not be able to truly grasp how many people who don’t look like you are hurting and scared, and yes, angry? Can you see how your day-to-day going about your business without doing something communicates ignorance and indifference to their suffering? What are you doing to seek out these different voices to listen and understand?
If you are wild about your college’s sports teams until the black student-athletes on those teams withhold the use of their bodies to take a stand against injustice that directly affects them, their family, and/or friends, and then you decry them because “it makes your school look bad,” does it bother you that you value the reputation of an institution more than the well-being of the students who are currently attending it?
If you respond to the #BlackLivesMatter movement with “All Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter,” you demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the movement. We do not believe that our police, our justice system, and our schools value black lives the way they do mine, or yours, if you are white. They are crying out for what you assume as a given. Also, if you dismiss the fact that police officers in 2015 killed five times as many young black men as young white men of the same age, despite the fact that black males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprise only 2% of the total U. S. population, what does that say about whether you really believe that “All Lives Matter?”
Philando Castille. Alton Sterling. Dontre Hamilton. Eric Garner. John Crawford III. Michael Brown. Ezell Ford. Dante Parker. Tanisha Anderson. Tamir Rice. Eric Harris. Walter Scott. Freddie Gray. Trayvon Martin. Sons. Brothers. Husbands. Fathers. All lost, human tragedy of our own making. OUR making, because the system we so blithely accept as protecting us fails to protect all of us, and in the face of evidence that demonstrates again and again that it does not, we do nothing. We are convicted. Lord, hear our prayer.
In the past month, I watched a pickup truck parade a huge Confederate flag around Liberty, Missouri (irony, yes?). In a country where every institution is a “white culture center,” why on earth do people need to defend this bloody flag as a symbol of “white pride” or “Southern heritage?”
In the past month, I have had a colleague and friend ask me sincerely why I think so many working class white people are blind or dismissive of the systemic and painfully individual injustices that are so plain to her, and to me. It breaks my heart that she needs to ask this question. She shared her concern that, as an African American, she and other persons of color are seen as less than human, even as she expressed compassion for the fact that so many white working class individuals are losing economic ground and have their own fears. Her ability to be compassionate toward such people is astounding to me.
In the days after the Orlando shooting, my husband was at an area golf course/country club and overheard a group of older white males joke that the only thing that would have been better about the incident was if the victims were black. My husband was shocked and visibly shaken when he told me what happened.
At an Independence Day party, a friend, who is white, confided in me that as she reads the coverage of Donald Trump’s not-so-subtle racism and the continued support he receives, she cannot help but be filled with rage. Trump himself continues to spur anger at persons of color with his cries to “build that wall,” and his assertion that a United States District Court judge, born and raised in Indiana, cannot be impartial due to his Mexican heritage.
Tonight, I head to a class on Theology, Race, and Literature co-sponsored by two Kansas City-area churches. One church congregation is primarily white; the other, primarily black. Only by being with each other and listening and sharing can we begin the hard work of true reconciliation, as a church and as a nation. And if there is any hope I can draw from my sick feeling that this country is about to ignite in ways not seen in 150 or so years, it is that opening up this festering wound of our original sin is the only way for us to heal.