Day 237: Deciding to be different

“And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.”
― Libba BrayThe Sweet Far Thing

Last evening, I was a part of an interesting conversation on my Blog Talk Radio show on the Life Coach Radio Network about race, racism, police militarization, Michael Brown and Ferguson. It was a moment in time when it seemed important not to just go about our normal calendar, but put things off for now, converse with people who have skin in the game — literally and figuratively — and think about how whites and blacks can use this as a moment to open up the sometimes uncomfortable conversation (primarily for white folks) about race, and the sin of racism that oppresses both the majority and minority culture, both black and white.

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We do not live in a society that treats everyone the same. We want to. Many of us wish we did. Some of us who lived through the Civil Rights Movement and saw us elect this country’s first President of African descent believed that perhaps we had become post-racial. But we haven’t. Brown and black bodies are not of equal value as white bodies. White deaths still take precedence over black deaths. People of color and whites are treated unequally by local police and all branches of law enforcement. People of color know that they have to teach their children survival techniques when dealing with those who have sworn an oath to protect them. Too many incidents in recent days have clearly shown that police officers all too often do not have the same regard for the lives of people of color as they do for the lives of white folks.

Not all police officers are bad — many are good — just like not all black teens are thugs — many are good. We paint our world in broad strokes and we react out of fear in circumstances when trust has been broken. Trust between police and black/brown communities has been broken for far too long. When I was growing up, I knew that if I had a problem, I could go to a police officer and they would help me. They were there to serve and protect. But too often police protection in communities of color has been non-existent at best and harassing at worst. Many children in these communities have been told that they need to fear the police, and have been taught to shout to them, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” rather than be the next victim.

Things have to change, and we need to help that happen. All of us, doing what we can when we can. I blog, I host a radio show that folks listen to, and I pray that what I do will make a difference somehow, some way. I can’t make it all happen at once, none of us can — but if we do what we can when we can, one day at a time, one gesture, one small thing, and if each of us do just one small thing, we can change the world. We can decide in our circle of friends and family to be different. We can decide to hold our police and law enforcement authorities accountable. We can change what we can when we can, and things will change. They must.

We can’t sit idly by in communities like mine and say that Ferguson doesn’t matter, or that Staten Island doesn’t matter, or the Chicago doesn’t matter. Black and brown lives matter. They matter to God and they need to matter to us. Love our neighbors as we love ourselves, Christ taught us. We have to widen our definition of who our neighbor is.

So I challenge you to do something today, just one thing that will change you. Decide to show up differently. Decide to stretch yourself outside your comfort zone. Read more and become educated on the issues. A good place to start is Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. Keep an open mind. Challenge your assumptions of how the way the world is. Decide to be different.

If we have learned anything in the past two weeks it’s that we cannot do this work alone. We need to work together — not with white folks leading — but following and taking cues from our black and brown brothers and sisters who know what they need, and what their communities need. As whites we don’t need to speak as much as listen — listen to the pain that is coming from these communities, and allow it to seep into your bones. Accept your part of the blame for perpetuating the status quo. Show up and shut up. Follow. Stand in solidarity. Pray. And the world will change.

But first we have to decide to be different.

Day 236: Taking the Road Less Traveled By

“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one “less traveled by”—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.” 
— Rachel Carson

I won’t win any popularity contests among folks who for whatever reason want things to stay the same as they are right now by saying that something big has got to change. But it does. This country has to be willing to take a long hard look in the mirror and question whether or not when we say we live in a “free country” that means freedom for all or freedom for some.

These folks don’t consciously want freedom for some — and will say that they want freedom for all. But to create that society where all have equal freedom (and yes, where all have equal responsibility that this freedom brings) might come at a cost for those in our society who have benefitted from the system as it stands right now.

And those are folks like me — folks of European ancestry — who settled this country by force, displacing and slaughtering those who were here when they “discovered” the land, brought enslaved Africans here to live in captivity, and have believed for centuries that the “American Dream” is possible for anyone. These are the folks who “live in the bubble” as I called it in my last blog post.

I want to believe in the power of our ability to be self-reflective and learn from the mistakes of the past, but I don’t. I wanted to believe that Columbine and Newtown would change our view on guns and it didn’t. And while I desperately want to believe that the killing of unarmed and seemingly non-threatening black men and women by armed and threatened white police officers will call us to rethink what we do in the name of law enforcement and, perhaps most importantly, how we do it — I don’t believe it will change anything unless people of faith and conscience refuse to be placated by explanations that just don’t add up.

We have to demand that we do better. We have to acknowledge the sin of racism and the ways in which it devalues each of us. We need to see one another as holy and beloved children of God. If we cannot see each other as our brother or sister, we will never be able to love them in the way that we have been commanded in scripture. What is the greatest commandment? Jesus was asked.  How did he respond?

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Therein lies all the law and the prophets.”

If we are going to call ourselves Christians, we need to love as Christ loved. And perfect love, the epistle writer James said, casts out fear. You can’t love and fear at the same time. And we are called to love. And love calls us to change — change how we see one another and how we interact with one another.

A week ago, John Oliver on “Last Week Tonight” did an amazing piece on Ferguson. I think everyone should watch it. (Click here to go to the video.) It speaks to the ways in which we as a society are contributing to situations like Ferguson.

I don’t want to see another Ferguson, another Michael Brown or Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner. I don’t want to see another Antonio Smith — the 9 year old boy who was shot multiple times just blocks from home on the south side of Chicago. I’m tired of the killing, and the violent society in which we live. When we give police officers military weapons we make our streets a war zone.

Let’s go down the road less traveled by — let’s decide today, right now that enough is enough. Let’s stand together, show up, speak out, work harder to make our communities, our homes and our churches places of peace and sanctuary. Let’s pray for our communities, and for those who work hard every day to keep them safe; and let us pray for everyone and for every encounter with law enforcement. Let us strive to dismantle racism in all its forms and to make positive changes in communities most affected by violence.

Day 232: Why Things Won’t Just Settle Down

I’ve recently learned how easy it would be for me, a white woman married to a white man and living in the Midwest, to live my life blissfully ignorant of the world around me. I moved just over a week ago, and despite my attempts to get service connected when expected or even sooner, the cable installer has yet to come – meaning that I have not had access to television or the internet (except on my phone and iPad) for over a week. And if I wasn’t on Facebook, I wouldn’t even be aware of the events taking place in Ferguson, Missouri.

I’m somewhat disconcerted by that. I’ve moved into life in “the bubble” – the bubble of comfortable white middle class life where no one has to talk about Ferguson and no one has to talk about race; in fact, no one has to do anything. No one has to be uncomfortable. No one.

I’ve not always lived in that bubble, so I can at least see the bubble for what it is, and appreciate the privilege that I have to live therein. But it’s discomforting to me — downright disconcerting. Is anybody out there with me on that?

There was a time, earlier in my life, where my everyday life bore witness to the realities of racism. I was helping to raise a young black man – a teenager when he lived with his father and I – and I remember what it felt like in the pit of my stomach every time he walked out the door. I knew that he would be treated differently than I would by the police and I prayed a thousand prayers for his safety.

I would have thought that in the nearly twenty years since that young black man lived with me that things would be better – that things should be getting better, not getting worse. But I think they are worse, perhaps even 100 times worse. I did not have to school him to say the words, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” While his father regularly reminded him that if he had any contact with the police he was to be respectful and do as he was told, we all knew it would only be worse for him if he didn’t. But I didn’t fear that the police would shoot him — perhaps that was naïve on my part — but our overriding fear was that he might be in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people.

Ferguson has brought all these memories – these feelings – back to me with a vengeance. I’m so sorry for Michael Brown’s mother and for all the mothers of black and brown male children who have become all too easy target by the police – those whose names we don’t know, in communities we don’t want to know. From NYC’s policy of “Stop and Frisk” to the teargasing of innocent and peaceful protestors and neighborhoods in Ferguson, to the shooting of an unarmed young man with 6 police bullets, the culture of violence that is allowing these things to happen has got to change. But from what I can see, it won’t be changing any time soon. As long as civilians can roam the streets with concealed weapons, and the police can hide from public scrutiny and prosecution – even when they are in the wrong – nothing will change. It will take more than retraining our police officers to be more even-handed. The mistrust is palpable and it runs deep. I don’t have any answers. I’m not even sure that I am raising the right questions.

But for all of my friends and all the mothers I don’t know who live in fear that their children might walk out the front door and never return. I am sorry. And I am culpable. I live in the bubble, in the house in the suburbs, in the quiet neighborhood in what seems like a place so far removed from the violence of the streets of our cities and towns — towns like Ferguson. And while I may be far removed, I am not far away; I live less than 30 miles from the city limits of Chicago. This is the city that I love, and the city that has been plagued with seemingly uncontrollable violence and death – particularly during these summer months.

So I will testify to the realities of racism — both as I experienced them and the structural racism that pervades our culture. Perhaps I can speak to some who live in my bubble and don’t understand why things don’t just settle down in Ferguson. It’s not about settling down, I’ll say. It’s life and death and fear and intimidation and systemic racism and racial prejudice and…without justice, there can be no peace. There must be justice – for Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and all the other young men whose only crime was WWB (walking while black). And I will continue to listen to my brothers and sisters who never get to walk away from this fight, and when invited, stand with them in solidarity. And I will tell my story, for what it’s worth, and hopefully help someone in the bubble think a bit more deeply about why things won’t just settle down.