White Complacency & Ferguson
For six years, I attended church at the Ferguson Church of the Nazarene. This church is located on the north side of Saint Louis in what is often referred to as “North County,” although it is officially part of Saint Louis County as a whole. I attended church in North County but lived in West County, an overwhelmingly white, middle-to-upper-class part of Saint Louis. North County, on the other hand, has been plagued by “white flight,” where white families have moved away from the area to farther, whiter suburbs, in part as a response to an increase in the black or minority population. It was always odd for me to attend church and also experience an overwhelmingly white congregation, especially since the Ferguson area was approximately half black and half white at that point. I would always talk with my parents about it and how strange it seemed, thinking it might be a good idea to partner with a local congregation that is primarily black. But none of it came to be.
As Ferguson continues to erupt in protests over the shooting of Mike Brown, the responses of white folk I knew from the North County area saddened me. Posts containing thinly veiled racism. Posts unconcerned with the death of an unarmed young man. But I wasn’t surprised. White complacency in the face of black oppression is an American tradition. Nothing speaks to this tradition more than the plight of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and so many more. So many white folk completely missing the point of the protests, instead saying, “Oh he smoked weed, what a thug” or “we need to support the police because they keep us safe from the looting.”
Now, as a white man, I can in no way comment on the black community’s response to these issues, or think I have wisdom to share for those who have experienced injustice and prejudice that I can not even imagine. However, I can speak to white folk who find themselves uncomfortable with the idea of racism still existing. Who find themselves with an visceral opposition to protests against police. Who are more concerned with security than justice.
We pride ourselves in living in a country that promotes itself as one of the freest in the world. But, fellow white folk, I encourage you to educate yourself on the situation of many in our country who do not enjoy freedom. Fellow white folk, until you are willing to truly understand the anger and frustration that has built up in the communities we so often ignore, you can not claim to live in the land of freedom. Until you realize that “reverse racism” is bullshit, especially when REAL racism is alive and well in this country, you can not claim to live in a country that upholds the pursuit of happiness. Until you look deep inside yourself and recognize the humanity of each person, even Mike Brown, even the “thugs,” you can not claim the belief that all men are created equal.
I have no doubts that white complacency will plague our country for years to come, especially as gentrification moves “undesirable minorities” from our cities and white flight removes white folk from neighborhoods that have suddenly, for some unknown reason, become unlivable. However, I hope that the complacent white folk will understand that they do not live in the country of the Declaration of Independence, no more than Jefferson did. They live in a broken society not yet ready for justice. Not until they break out of their complacency.