[May 30, 2020] I know it sounds trite, but we are all in this together and we better start acting like it. I’ll go first. I remember the moment I came face to face with my indoctrination about race and discovered it was different from what I’d been telling myself.
Let me preface by saying that I was 11 years old growing up in west-central Minnesota before I saw my first non-Caucasian person: he was a porter on a train handing out towels and cleaning up and I remember he smelled so good. There was ONE African American student in my entire high school the year I graduated in 1972. So, bless my heart, I didn’t get any of that early programming that kids in the south or kids in the cities get about people of color staying in their place, whatever that means. I liked everyone and everyone liked me. Really, I grew up clueless about race issues of any kind.
I was a thirty-something professional woman working at a finance company in a five-story office building at 91st and Meridian on Indianapolis north side. Respected company, great boss, upwardly mobile, the whole shebang. My husband was still traveling 280 days a year with the band so I often worked late.
I got to know the people who showed up in the evenings to clean our office space. For the longest time, he was an older black man. His name was Harry. He was chatty and really sweet. We struck up a little friendship. We enjoyed relaxed small talk, he showed off baby pictures of his grand-kids, and he was so happy when I showed him pictures of our oldest son coming home from the hospital. We’d laugh and share stories as he emptied trash and ran the vacuum.
Then one day he was gone. And his replacement was a middle-aged white guy. And I got nervous. I started to leave the office as soon as I saw him wheeling his trash caddy through the hallways. I don’t know why but he gave me the creeps. I was listening to my gut telling me this guy was sketchy; after all what kind of white guy is still emptying trash and cleaning office space halfway through his life. He must be up to no good, casing the joint, some kind of perv, a criminal, or some such.
Scurrying out to my car one evening, my mind flashed back to my old friend, Harry. I wished he was still my cleaning guy and not this new sketchy white guy. I was comfortable around Harry. Sweet. Harmless. An old guy earning an honest living doing manual labor.
I stopped in my tracks! What? A middle of the night office cleaning job was an honorable living for an elderly black man but NOT for a white guy? What is wrong with me? How did this line of logic slip quietly into my psyche? I nearly suffered whip-lash at this realization. And I resolved at that moment that my thinking had to change. With me. Not with the politicians. Not with the media. With me and my circle of influence. So I tried everything I could to begin to fend off lazy thinking and old stereotypes. That was over 30 years ago.
This week the news is once again ablaze with race in America, police brutality, and downright evil from the pit of Hell with a capital H.
This week in Minneapolis it was a white police officer who kneeled his full weight on the neck of a handcuffed black man for over 8 minutes until he died right there in front of God and everybody. And I do mean EVERYBODY #socialmediastorm.
Last week in Central Park it was an African American Harvard educated birdwatcher who was falsely accused of threatening an angry white woman who couldn’t control her dog. She took exception when “someone lesser” had the audacity to ask her to simply put her dog on a leash.
Last month in Georgia they finally arrested a couple of angry white guys who hunted down and shot to death a young black man jogging in his own neighborhood, three months after his murder, but not until cell phone video of the murder went viral and public pressure demanded their arrest.
And all of this against the back-drop of Coronavirus where people of color are infected and dying at a rate far greater than the rest of us.
What the hell is going on? What is wrong with people? It is a century and a half after the end of the Civil War! It is 66 years after the Supreme Court ruled on Brown vs The Board of Education, the same year I was born. It’s over half a century since Martin Luther King was murdered. It’s almost 30 years since Rodney King; I remember playing on the floor with my 15-month-old brown baby boy when the news cycles started showing that footage over and over again. What is wrong with people?!
The Biblical answer is probably something like this, “There is nothing new under the sun.” In the words of Will Smith, “Racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” I can’t help but wonder if people of color in America have felt the knee of power and white supremacy pressed upon their necks, in one way or another, for a very long time.
I could take up this air space to share family stories of white privilege exerting pressure on the hearts of my bi-racial sons. Like the time our 16-year-old was slammed to the floor by a rent-a-cop while waiting in the nacho line at a Carmel movie theater at the behest of a nervous white woman who reported to the pimply-faced white theater manager that someone matching my son’s description brought a gun into the theater. When my Caucasian husband picked up our Black teenage son, he asked the security guard, “Would you have thrown me to the ground before asking questions?” The rent-a-cop had to admit, “No, probably not.”
Or the time he was pulled over on 465 driving his brand new Mazda and asked to step out of the car and searched while semi-trucks and cars whizzed by at 80 miles an hour. Aren’t the rest of us told to stay in our cars while they run our plates? When he asked, “Was I speeding, officer?” the reply was, “We just needed to see if you owned this car.”
Or the time I overheard a fight with his girlfriend; she was screaming, “If you don’t let me in, I’m going to call the cops and tell them you’re choking me. I’m serious, I will tell them you’ve been touching my baby daughter.” She knew that simply uttering those hysterical words to the police officers would be his judge and jury sentencing my innocent son to jail or worse.
How about the time our younger son found himself two hours from home enduring dinner table vile racist language as he met extended family members for the first time. Completely outnumbered, he just kept his composure and stayed polite until it was time to go home.
And then there is the time a teammate on a U-8 soccer team asked my son why his skin was the color of poop. Incidentally, kids are 7 years old on a U-8 team.
I won’t even mention the fact my boys are followed and surveilled every time they walk into Best Buy. And I am sure there are more incidences my kids haven’t even shared with me because this kind of thing has become commonplace for them now as adults.
Just as disgusting is the list of instances where I have enjoyed the fruits of white privilege and didn’t give it a second thought. It is a much longer list.
These kinds of injustices happen every day for people of color and not always at the hands of police. We all know it’s wrong but here we sit like deer in the headlights. It seems to me that we always want someone ELSE to blame. We can easily blame the current administration for giving validation, even encouragement to these fearful small-minded people in places of power, so much so that, even knowing they are being filmed, they firmly believe they will get off scot-free because they are white and he is black, or they are cops and he is black, or because they will be automatically believed and he is black. I could go on and on. I could scream!!
I would submit that this may a sin thing and not necessarily a white privilege thing or a black thing or a cop thing or a power thing or a current administration thing. And because it is a sin thing, we all have a part in the solution. White people have indeed been profoundly misled to believe there is no problem because it doesn’t affect us.
As citizens of this planet and children of God, we have the power to change things. Jesus is grieved by this crap and He is calling all of us to step up and stand with the oppressed. I can’t fathom how much this grieves Him, but I doubt He’s surprised by it. Tonight Minneapolis is on fire and the flames are spreading like corona-virus to major cities across the land of the free.
Itching for another civil war fueled by race riots, militant white anarchists from out of state cowardly hide behind disguises and smash windows and toss accelerants inside. Ridiculous media commentators fan the flames along with well-meaning upstanding Christian brothers and sisters who retweet messages insinuating that destroying a Target store is a crime more egregious than squeezing the life out a human being in broad daylight as he begged for his life.
In 1953 Martin Luther King said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” He wasn’t condoning violence, I think he was “just sayin.”
Not original with me: “Some of you Christians don’t realize that God would burn down ALL the Target stores if it would set some oppressed people free. Read the Exodus story again.”
Also not original with me, “If the rioters were really from Minneapolis, they would have burned down the K-Mart.”
As evil as that corrupt cop in Minneapolis cop was, I’m here to tell you that one person will not be our undoing, nor can one person save us from ourselves. Change is going to take all of us undergoing a cosmic shift in our way of thinking.
A shift away from the “us vs them” way of thinking.
A shift away from fear-based thinking.
A shift away from everybody’s-out-to-get-me way of thinking.
A shift away from lazy stereotypical thinking.
A shift toward inclusion.
A shift toward being the love of Christ to people who don’t look like us.
It’s going to start within the heart of each of us. Really, I know it sounds trite, but we ARE all in this together and we better start acting like it.
Full disclosure: I read this essay to my sons mostly to make sure my memory of the events lined up with theirs and also to get their permission to post it. That evening Walker sent me a i.redd.it photo of a woman protesting with a sign, “I can’t believe I’m 66 and still protesting this shit!”