Sunday, July 17, 2016

Racial tension

As I saw the news of this month’s two new cases of police officers needlessly killing black men, I cringed with thoughts of “can this really be happening again?” I read the words of lots of friends on Facebook about the cases, their venting and their prayers and sharing of news stories, and while my heart ached at the divisive situation our country is in, I couldn’t find the right way to put my feelings into words.
But that doesn’t let me off the hook. The issue is too big to ignore.
I imagine that if I was a teenager in the 60s, I might not have been brave enough to take part in Freedom Summer, but I would have taken part in a local sit-in. I would have spoken up on my beliefs of civil rights, and wanted to be a part of the change that needed to happen.
And as uncomfortable as it is to talk about race relations 50 years later and now in my own lifetime, I don’t think they are any less important. To be silent is to support the status quo. Not that I think putting my opinion on Facebook is going to change the world, but it’s something. So while I’d rather share pictures of my awesome tomato plants or tell a cute Rye story on Facebook, I’ve held back until I could make at least some statement to recognize these significant and disturbing events that have occurred. And yet I’ve been at a loss for words.
So let me start by sharing some of the best things that I’ve read this week, from friends on Facebook.

This poem by Nikki Giovanni was shared by my sister-in-law Julie:

I killed a spider
Not a murderous brown recluse
Nor even a black widow
And if the truth were told this
Was only a small
Sort of papery spider
Who should have run
When I picked up the book
But she didn’t
And she scared me
And I smashed her
I don’t think
I’m allowed
To kill something
Because I am

Wow. I’m just going to let that sink in.

And my friend Katie reposted a quote from Christian writer Stephen Mattson:
“Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Samaritan lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Children’s lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Gentile lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Jewish lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Women’s lives matter.”
Instead of saying all lives matter, Jesus said, “Lepers’ lives matter.”
Even though Jesus loves everyone, even to the point of dying for their sins, he went out of his way to intentionally help specific groups of people — the alienated, mistreated, and those facing injustice.
So saying “Black Lives Matter” and participating in a movement seeking justice, positive reform, and empowerment is one of the most Christ-like things we can do.”

I haven’t gotten on board with the “#Blacklivesmatter” phrasing of our current racial situation because I don’t want to believe that that’s how far backwards we have to go before we can start moving forward. It feels one step removed from #Blacksarehumanstoo, which might have been the slogan of abolitionists in the 19th century if they had used hashtags.
But I’m not black. I don’t know what black people in my community and country experience because of their skin color and the stereotypes and prejudices that non-blacks attach to them because of that color. The only way I can judge the level of racial discrimination in my community is by hearing what level of ignorant, racist speech other non-blacks publicly express or share in my presence because they for some reason believe that our shared white skin means we both “get it.”
As an outsider on multi-racial interactions, growing up in a county that was 86 percent white (and a high school that was 99 percent white) and now living in a ZIP-code that is 91 percent white (not kidding, I looked up the census data), I always thought that racism that was dying out more and more with each generation. People of my grandparents’ generation would loudly and unembarrassedly say racist things; people of my parents’ generation would say fewer things, in a hushed tone while looking over their shoulders; and among my peers anyone who was overtly racist was always the odd one out, and someone I stopped interacting with. But now I realize it’s not enough to just ignore racism, it has to be confronted, and not just by minorities and those who suffer from it.
Part of me wants to write this whole issue off as a problem with cops. I in no way want to say I’m anti-cops or want to paint all cops with a broad paint stroke labeling them as overly-aggressive and racist. But that said, I generally don’t trust cops. When I get pulled over, I keep my hands on the steering wheel and don’t reach for the glove compartment until the officer is at my window, my window is down, and I inform them I have to get my car’s registration out of the glove compartment. And I’m a 5-foot-tall white woman driving a well-kept Honda Civic! But you never know, maybe I look like someone this officer has dealt with in the past or a current suspect. I’m not taking any chances.
And not knowing at all what it’s like to be a minority, I know for sure that if my skin was even two shades darker, “suntanned” instead of “nude” as the hosiery companies like to call it, I would be a compliant robot when stopped by the cops. Which is not to say I put any blame on the victims—only that I believe the threat to them from cops is real.
How have things gotten this way? Are the cops responsible for these shootings just looking for a reason to shoot a black man, or are they that frightened? Are cops being trained in the liberal use of lethal force? If cops are that afraid/threatened, can’t they just wear body armor like this is Fallujah or something?
So I have no answers, nor really organized thoughts, but I want to remain active in this conversation, even if I’m not the one doing the talking. I think everyone will benefit if we all do a little more listening than talking.
And a final bright spot on Facebook, posted by my friend Jamie, from St. Francis of Assisi’s prayer:
“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”