I feel incredibly sad right now. I also feel incredibly angry. I’ve been praying for months about the race issue in our country, and the last two days have torn my heart back open again.
One of the things I’ve been praying about most is how I’ve heard it discussed. Here’s what people have said:
- “Well, if THEY just wouldn’t resist and would respect the police THEY wouldn’t have anything to worry about.”
- “Just because some cops are probably racist doesn’t mean all are. THEY should just respect them more every time THEY get pulled over.”
- “Racism isn’t an issue in our country anymore. If people would stop talking about it, no one would be upset, and things like this wouldn’t happen.”
First, the conversation always divides into US and THEM. That’s the part that really wounds me. Emancipation, the death of Jim Crow, and many events throughout time in the last centuries were efforts made to end the division. To be bluntly honest, the divide that slavery caused when Africans came into this country as property to be beaten, used, and cared for like or less than animals will have implications that ripple across time. It did make white Americans the “US” that owned and controlled “THEM.” The sad thing in this is that some people don’t see the privilege divide that was created there exists and shows itself in the situations we continue to see. I will state this clearly now as to be clear here for all the points I will make: THIS DOES NOT MEAN ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE RACIST. This does mean that we exist in a system now that has been influenced by racism that has been distributed down generations.
Has not resisting arrest been a proven method to avoid being shot in every situation? No. If we can all be honest about that, then there can be real change made. The problem is that there is immediate bias when people see black men. Words like “scary” or “intimidating” are often used. You don’t think they notice. Every black man I know or am related to notices this. They notice when you clutch your purse a little tighter next to them. They notice the difference in what it takes to be recognized in a conversation as an intelligent professional. They notice when they are being followed through a store. They notice. It is not lost on people who are raised to know what to expect – that they are going to have to navigate the world differently than people who don’t look like them.
I remember my parents talking to us about being respectful to cops. They had dedicated conversations with my brothers that extended beyond “be polite” because there was more they needed to know. Keep your hands on the steering wheel if you get pulled over. Don’t reach for anything. If they ask you for your information, ask permission before you try to get it. Don’t make eye contact unless you’re asked to. Don’t ever get out of the car unless you’re asked to. They explained the danger in appearing intimidating or threatening. Sure parents have to talk about driving safety with their kids, but how many have to be so specific because history taught them that one perceived wrong thing could cause them serious consequences?
Again, I will say we were taught to respect police and all those in service. We were raised in a small town where the cops knew who your parents were. They came to school from the time we were young and talked about being there to protect and serve. There are several cops I know and love and call friends today that I pray for because they put their lives on the line for the sake of others. I do not doubt that these men are anything short of honorable with real desire and passion to protect and serve. I can acknowledge that, but those who say, “Sure some are racist, but just be respectful and you should be fine,” aren’t considering that you’re asking people who might be seen as “scary” or “intimidating” to hope if they get stopped for a random search or pulled over, they get the “luck of the draw” of a cop that is not going to be immediately on the defensive just because of how they look. It’s almost like saying, “Sure there are probably a few bad ones out there, but most of them are good so just take in the whole without question.” This is a Skittles analogy turned on its head that doesn’t work for me any more than the first I heard. This speaks to a need for reform. This speaks to a need for change.
That was our generation’s lesson (trust the police, but be careful how you interact), but generations before us couldn’t trust them. Generations before us and in different geographic areas grew up being told that you couldn’t trust the police because they actually couldn’t. They experienced brutality and witnessed murders done by the hands of racist cops before a time when it wasn’t illegal for black people to be shot or hung or set on fire while still breathing as a mob or those dressed in their bed sheets deemed it appropriate punishment. The generations that witnessed these atrocities and crimes taught their kids a different story because their experience was a completely different narrative. How many of us will take time to consider that narrative when thinking about why not everyone hears the same story we do? Those stories are part of a real history that taught whole generations they couldn’t trust the police and recent events are reteaching those lessons.
Bill O’Reilly isn’t correct. Racism does exist today. It is no longer supposed to be reality, but it is. Just because it is not a part of your reality doesn’t mean that others don’t know its glaring hatred and haven’t been or don’t continue to be wounded by its implications.
Legally it’s not supposed to exist. Legally this battle is supposed to be over. Since that is plainly not true, we can’t expect it to ever end unless we acknowledge it and seek to do our parts. It starts at home. The heritage of racism or biases can begin to be put to death in how we raise our children. It’s not just about what you say. It’s about how they see you interact and what you do. The world will teach them lessons and biases you don’t want them to have if you don’t have the courage of conviction to talk about it.
Next, be an appropriately active voice. Think about who you’re voting for. Think about what they believe. Write letters to your representatives. Don’t just get on Facebook and make or share a status update. Do something valuable with your voice.
I think about how I’ve seen people using their voices since these unarmed shootings started. Don’t be a voice that shares posts that try to make things like the Confederate flag cute. I will say here what I know will offend, but if a group of Muslims decided to establish their own country inside the borders of America, started a war where they killed Americans, lost that war, but wanted to fly the flag that represented their army, most of you posting these things would lose your minds. What is the difference beyond Muslims hypothetically doing this and white Americans who actually did it besides skin color and religion? Why is this a part of history that is still honored in some ways? Why are they not called terrorist who splintered off and created a nation, and then started a war so they could maintain the right to keep rights out of the hands of those they felt entitled and privileged to own?
Don’t use your voice this way or post things that outright call black people criminals or whiners and not expect people to think things about you that rub up against your own self image and make you uncomfortable and defensive. If you are posting things where the goal isn’t clearly aimed at sowing peace and eliminating divide, you are part of the problem.
Love. Give love away. Love others. You don’t have to think like someone or agree with them on every issue to love them. Loving people in how you engage them and serve them is another opportunity for us to come together and be catalysts for good.
I wrote this today because I am genuinely heart-broken and worried. I, now more than ever, have to be worried about my brothers and uncles and cousins and nephews and my friends. They could do all the things those carefully repeated conversations told them do and still end up dead on a highway. That is a haunting realization. To think those you love aren’t safe because of genetics being a point of perception more valuable than character is something that will keep me praying in the days ahead.
I want to close by sharing something that was done at the Village Church that inspires hope in my heart. They did an incredibly difficult thing by confronting the culture that supports or allows what’s happening today by having the conversation that most won’t. They did a whole series on Racial Reconciliation that I would highly recommend.
I hope we can reach for love and abandon hate. I hope that will be our generation’s legacy.