In light of the outbreaks of anger, protest, violence, and grief going on around our country, I don’t think anyone has the luxury anymore of brushing off racism and ignoring it. Rather, I think progress will only come by discussing it. That’s right, I think it is high time for white and black to sit down at the same tables, on the same couches, in the same vehicles and to talk about what is going on…to share our perspectives in a calm and open manner…to listen to what is being said by the other side and to develop any solution based on facts instead of assumptions or racial stereotypes.
We need much, much more mature and open dialogue between races… but not an intense, defensive dialogue…rather one that takes into account that the person (or people) sitting across from us are ALL God’s intricate and beautiful creation.
I was privileged to have such a conversation several months ago. I have a precious friend who is also a Christian, a wife, a mother, a college graduate, and an African American. We didn’t plan to, but we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of this discussion. It began when I asked her what college she had attended. While I was really just making small talk, her answer completely intrigued me.
She had attended a college in Florida, but that wasn’t the interesting part. The part that blew me away was that she had attended this college despite hard, hard protests from her immediate family and even in her community. She lived in the South Florida “hood”…her words, not mine. Not many in her community had attended college and none of her family members had ever finished college. So when my friend asked the guidance counselor at the school how she could get into college, she was stepping out into risky territory in her black community. She was told that she should start volunteering for various organizations, because that looks good on a college application. When she began doing this, her family and friends began calling her “white girl”…”here comes that white girl”… She endured arguments and battles with her family as they assured her that she would never make it through college…that it was a waste of time for her. She was labeled “whore” for her apparent betrayal of her “roots” and finally kicked out of the house when it seemed she would not be derailed from her dreams. This was all from her black community. She not only had to fight through the remnants of a “white system”…she had to fight her own community to make college happen.
She did not deny that racism is still a problem. As a matter of fact, she expressed to me how she sometimes calls her husband if he will be driving home from work to remind him to be careful. She does this not because she is afraid of deer, but because she fears for his safety as a young black male. She reminds him to keep his Christian rap music turned down low so it doesn’t send off “thug” signals that might draw officers of the law. Whether she has reason to be concerned here in Albany or not, old habits die hard, and both of these sweet people grew up in areas of town where shakedowns were the normal day to day routine. She mentioned how, in the past, her husband has been overlooked for promotion after promotion because of the color of his skin… and I totally believe it would only be race that could keep this man from promotion because he is dynamic and competent and educated and respectful. Clearly there is still a problem… clearly.
She was clear, however, that what she sees in the world is a double standard reflecting on black communities as well as white. She is as stumped as I am that thousands and hundreds of thousands of black people can kill each other all day long, but no one in the black community has a problem with it until it is someone in power, especially someone “white” in power. This has an effect of delegitimizing the cries for justice. Additionally, most people who are “fighting the system” only seem to care about justice when it comes to black lives…they are noisily silent on all other issues. Maybe they have been told that this is the way to further their narrative, but it can make them come across hypocritically.
For me, this conversation added another dimension to this problem that we are all anxious to solve. What if the system is predominantly white, not because we don’t have the right laws or enough protests or incentives for black communities…what if it is predominantly white because to succeed in the system in any way is frowned upon by the black community? What if black people are afraid to succeed in anything “white collar” because the persecution and flack from their families is just not worth it? What if they refuse to talk a certain way, dress a certain way, work a certain job, or do well in school because it will make them “white” in the eyes of their community? What if there is systematic peer pressure in these communities that keeps the victim mentality alive and waiting for somebody to pay for historical damage? And until that revenge is enacted to the satisfaction of those waiting for it, they refuse to move forward or let anyone else move forward.
This is a problem. This is a HUGE problem. When it is the expectation of your own community that you either become a rich superstar who can still “look and talk black” or you struggle like the rest of the community. Maybe this is where the violence and crime in the black community come from… a lack of support to educate…no, not just a lack of support, but an expectation to be uneducated or else. Because if you are too educated, you turn white. I just have a hard time accepting and believing this, but we see proof of it every day. We see it in the attitude toward any successful black person who has stepped out of the victim mentality and taken responsibility for themselves…every black person who has made the choice and decision to be somebody and go somewhere whether the system works right or not. We see this every. day.
Is this a bigger problem than white cops? I think so. I think that there are bigoted, evil men out there in uniform and they need to be rooted out. Do I think the system is trying to remove black people from the planet? Not even close. I think that the system is doing what it is forced to do by criminals…control crime and keep people safe. I think that there are problems and issues in any system created by man. And if there is systematic handing down hurt to generations coupled with a system that shames it’s members if they step out of that system, I think that an end to this type of system should be called for as well and just as strongly and emotionally. Because I have to say, as uneducated as I am about black history, I think this might be a whole lot deeper of a root than white people.
Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn had much to say on a subject like this when he was accused of being rude for taking a phone call during a confrontation with protestors in his city. The protestors were angry about a shooting of a mentally ill black man by a police officer (I don’t know the whole story of this particular incident, so I can’t speak to justice in this case, but it became a matter of protest). While in the middle of a shouting matching, Chief Flynn answered a call on his phone. He was later questioned about it at a press conference where he lost his cool and revealed that the call was about a drive by shooting that had just occurred where a young girl had been shot as she sat on her father’s lap. The Mass Live article articulates what he said next…
“Flynn noted that each year in Milwaukee, 80 percent of homicide victims, 85 percent of aggravated assault victims and 80 percent of shooting victims who survive shootings are African-American (wronged by African Americans).”
(Flynn said) “Now, they (the protestors) know all about the last three people who have been killed by the Milwaukee Police Department in the course of the last several years. There’s not one of them that can name one of the last three homicide victims we’ve had in this city,” Flynn said. “But this community is at risk alright, and it’s not because men and women in blue risk their lives protecting it.”
I could be totally wrong, but I think there is a bigger problem than white law enforcement for our African American family and I don’t believe that throwing all the focus and energy behind blaming white people can solve the problems that our African American communities are facing.
I know I am white, so that obviously will give you the option to discount every word of this, but I take the chance of writing this because I am desperate to see some forward progress between people of different colors…and this issue will never be solved if we can’t have the conversations that matter. We are all tired of the cycle…shootings, followed by uprisings, followed by more shootings, followed by destroyed communities, followed by some rebuilding unity, followed by silence, followed by uprisings…how do we fix it?
This is the question I posed to my friend. We called it the “million dollar” question. How do we stop the cycle? This woman who is wise beyond her years pointed her finger at her two year old son and said “him”. Of course! We fix it by teaching our children that their answer is in Christ and in Him we all are offered wholeness. We do it by raising up another generation who will succeed despite…another generation with dreams that will not die, like my sweet friends. We do it by raising up a better generation that looks past skin color and instead sees a person… a God created being…with worth and value beyond a stereotype. We do it by raising up a better generation that believes with all their heart that racism is wrong, but forgiveness is always a part of the answer. We do it by raising up a better generation that is not afraid to have a conversation…who will not put up defenses when they hear something from the other side that stings. We do it by raising up a better generation that knows how to take responsibility and to respect authority…even when that authority is wrong (because two wrongs just don’t make a right…they just don’t). We do it by raising a generation who will multiply until suddenly our system is so repaired that we are celebrating, in different ways, the same things…not the white race things…not the black race things….but the human race things.
We do it by being the generation that the next generation needs to see to be better.
Do we really want racial reconciliation?