To my tribe; An essay on injustice.
For some time now I have done my very best to avoid posting controversial statuses or comments on social media. Last summer, I learned the hard-way that profitable discussion on Facebook is out of reach, as it’s easy to insult another person when sitting behind a screen. It’s also impossible to communicate all of the emotion, concern, caveats and body language necessary for us to understand one another. If we talk in person, we can disagree but remain amicable… if we disagree online I find that we leave our discussions open-ended. More than likely I haven’t heard you, and you really haven’t listened to me. I also discovered that posting my every opinion online isn’t particularly profitable for our ministry. I had several different people suggest that I change my opinions or risk losing their financial support of our children in Kenya. This challenges me to understand how we form our opinions about social and political issues, and how as a society we can allow them to affect our interpersonal relationships in such a way that is damaging. I promised Jennifer that I wouldn’t post anything political this election cycle, and I think I’ve kept that promise so far. It’s been increasingly difficult but I’m not sure that my one-off comments would persuade anyone, and I also doubt that we would truly read to listen and to understand.
And so one must ask not if the days of human communication are closing, but how in an age of armchair comment sections can we engage with one another in a meaningful way? How when I live across the oceans can we seek to listen and understand one another? I’m honestly not sure and thus my silence on the issues of the day.
And yet today, I watched something that I cannot keep silent about.
I feel that my silence would be a contribution to evil, that by remaining quiet I would join the world as we turn our eyes from injustice. It’s not that I can blame us entirely; the human mind cannot process the weight of everything we see on the news. One moment we are hearing of beheadings in Syria and the next we listen to corruption on Capitol Hill. For all that we are hearing, we couldn’t possibly care about it all, that is a job designed for God himself, to take on the weight of the world’s problems, to hold in his palms our best and our worst and somehow reconcile them in himself. This is why we have activists and prophets, they seek to jar us from our slumber, like waking a sleeping giant of feeling we are often shocked by what we hear and see, our minds unable to fully see it. I once heard a man describe visiting Africa this way; he said that describing his visit to friends would be akin to telling a jellyfish about space travel. Until you truly see, you do not see. And that brings us again to the world of social media, jarred awake to new ideas or visions of a reality you do not understand, we revolt with insults and slander. At best we position ourselves in the corner of our predetermined positions, carefully calculating our words to ensure that we are articulating ourselves to that others will hear and fear what we say, surely we are more informed than they. But today, I’m asking for something different from us. I’m asking for impassioned introspection about something that is seemingly beyond our comprehension, I’m asking for pre-supposed ideas to be suspended in the search of our God-given capacity to love.
Today, I watched something I cannot keep silent about it.
In full disclosure you should know that what I think about race today has not always been. My high school years are a great embarrassment to me, as I was in most respects, a racist. I had black friends, I even used that line to convey that I wasn’t in fact racist, but it was a cover-up of my truth. My impassioned arguments that I wasn’t racist only proved that I was. The truth is that I don’t get to decide if I’m a racists, or a sexist, that is a determination made by the community that is experiencing violation. It wasn’t until college that I truly began to repent and that is a process I continue today. A few years ago I was sitting in a room of missionaries in Kenya, I’m not even sure what we were talking about when suddenly our friend Brittany spoke up and shocked us by declaring “ya’ll are a bunch of racists.” Here I was years removed, feeling somehow more informed about the world, and even working cross-culturally when to my core I was rocked by the accusation. She wasn’t wrong. I’m not writing this to say that I’ve gotten in all worked out, but my heart is on a journey of listening, feeling, and understanding. It’s only through this journey that I can become a person that reflects the heart of God toward all people, at all times. So, to my white brothers and sisters, today I write to you as recovering racist. I write not to simply inform, the news does that, I write to you with what feels to me to be the heart of an activist or to borrow from the bible, a prophet.
Please listen and hear my fair-skinned tribe, because today I watched something, about which I cannot keep silent.
WARNING GRAPHIC VIDEO
Today I watched the murder of Terrence Crutcher. If you didn’t know, Terrence was shot and killed by police on Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Terrence was not a criminal. Terrence was unarmed. Terrence had his hands up. Terrence was shot because according to one officer “He looks like a bad dude.” Now before I continue, I know my audience and must make a concession for you regarding police. I know that many, many police are out there doing their jobs and working hard to ensure public safety. This is not an essay about the value of police that is for another time.
This is about Terrence Crutcher and all the other unarmed black men that have been shot and killed by police. This essay is about our human response to systematic injustice.
I remember when I thought differently about Terrence Crutcher, when I thought that all black men looked like “bad dudes.” I can remember bemoaning black on black crime, and wondering why they didn’t just behave and not get themselves in so much trouble. Didn’t they know if they obeyed the law everything would be OK? I know some of you think this, I’ve heard you say it. I’ve listened in as my tribe complains and pontificates about everything from Trayvon to Chicago; I’ve heard the subtle implications of racism from southern gentlemen and women alike. The “those people” comments, and how “they’re just different, I don’t mean to be racist.” I’ve heard the words used in secret. Thug. Nigger.
Terrence Crutcher wasn’t killed because the office couldn’t see his hands, he was killed because in the mind of the officer black man=dangerous. There is a systematic misunderstanding and misrepresentation of black people in our country that has created a mindset of fear, and ultimately hatred in Caucasian people. You see, what we fear, we hate. The simple fact that from their view in the helicopter the officers could tell that Terrence “looked like a bad dude” is wildly revealing, my nearly blind great-grandmother can do the same thing. Because in her mind, dark skin is scary. Through her blurry vision she can tell color, she doesn’t necessarily know the person, she can’t even see the color of their eyes.. But black skin? That’s dangerous. It was the very same mindset present in the helicopter floating above Terrence’s car, ‘I can’t really tell anything about this guy… but he’s black, so something’s not right here.’
There is implanted in our minds, a fundamental belief that African Americans are a cause for concern. It’s systematic racism that has turned into systematic murder as Terrence Crutcher becomes yet another name and another statistic to a growing list of unarmed black men killed by police. You can add him to the long list of racial injustices that have been carried out against the black community in the history of our nation. The mass incarcerations (six times that of whites), the fact that 5 times as many whites use drugs as African Americans, and yet African Americans go to prison at 10 times the rate of whites. African Americans serve virtually as much time in prison for a drug offense (58.7 months) as whites do for a violent offense (61.7 months). Or that in 2002, blacks constituted more than 80% of the people sentenced under the federal crack cocaine laws and served substantially more time in prison for drug offenses than did whites, despite that fact that more than 2/3 of crack cocaine users in the U.S. are white or Hispanic.” (source)
And yet we get upset when we hear Black Lives Matter, as if it means that no other life matters. The problem is that we haven’t listened. In our insecurity and fear, we think someone else declaring their value indicates they are devaluing others. This isn’t the case at all. Black Lives Matter is a banner cry of human value, it’s an oppressed people declaring their humanity to the world, crying out against the injustice perpetrated upon them by the white establishment. When Colin Kaepernick sat down in protest, some of us took it as a slight to service men and women, instead of listening, we assumed. Instead of paying attention to the outcry, we lick our own wounds. Offended that someone would do something culturally that we would never do, mostly because we’ve never had to.
I’ve kept myself silent for sometime now, not willing to offend, worried about what you would think of me.
And I’m afraid my silence has only contributed to the cause of injustice. By not speaking, I have allowed racism to continue in my community.
Trust me when I say that I know difficult times and conversations are ahead of us. We will talk and consider, argue and disagree, but I hope at the very least we will listen to the cries of Terrence Crutcher’s blood. My hope is that we will begin to take the time to listen and understand, to tear down the walls of fear, to eliminate our hatred and assumptions, and to forge together a new future.
Whenever I see the images of Dr. King marching, with white men in the background. I often wonder, would I have marched with him? The answer I want to give is an impassioned yes, but really… would I have? I think the answer is found in my silence these many months.
But I know the man I wish to be.
I wish to be the one who locks his arm with Dr. King, foregoing all social constructs and fears, to share the pain of my blood brother, to march and sing, to be beaten and attacked. I wish to see a movement in which Black lives matter is enough for us to say, a day in which we feel no insecurity or slight, but we can proudly and boldly stand and proclaim, They matter! They matter indeed!