WIT is happy to publish another guest post from Nancy Blackman. You can read her first post for WIT here. She describes herself in the following way: “I love all things food like a female version of Anthony Bourdain. I am drawn to small gatherings with meaningful conversation and have learned that creative and cultural things are important for my soul. I wrap myself in creativity like many in Hollywood dress to go out for dinner.”
Since the violent events in the United States over the last few weeks I have taken time to ponder the direction that this country is moving in with regards to racial tension and police brutality. It is easy to throw angry slurs out, but what really needs to happen?
I have been asking questions like: When will the explosion of violence and hatred end? When will we, as a nation, begin to understand that we are responsible for the violence. When will we begin to understand that silence is a message as well? When?
Hatred and power struggles are not a fruit of God. But neither is silence. Silence emulates a response that says, “I’m ok as long as it doesn’t bother me.” So, as your hearts sink and you cry into your pillow for Michael Brown Jr., Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Dontre Hamilton, John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Dante Parker, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Phillip White, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Artago Damon Howard, Jeremy Lett, Lavall Hall, Thomas Allen, Charly Leundeu Keunang, Naeschylus Vinzant, Tony Robinson, Anthony Hill, Bobby Gross, Brandon Jones, Frank Shephard, William Chapman, David Felix, Brendon Glenn, Kris Jackson, Spencer McCain, Victor Emanuel Larosa, Salvado Ellswood, Albert Joseph Davis, Darrius Stewart, Samuel DuBose, Christian Taylor, …… There are so many names. I encourage you to look at the names on http://killedbypolice.net. The two most recent are Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
Since last week I have sought out prayer groups and attended city meetings to listen to city officials, the police chief, several police officers and citizens. Here is where I have landed thus far. All people, no matter where you live, are your neighbors and when the scripture says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” I stop and think about what that means in my life. What are the numerous ways that I love myself and how do I extend that same love to my neighbor?
When it comes to issues of race I believe that loving your neighbor does not mean that we are to be silent! No! If you are a Christian and have been silent, I implore you to first turn inward and talk to God, asking what ways you can “love your neighbor.” Love does not equal silence.
Since last week and when issues of race have come up I have been angry. I have been heartbroken. I have wept. I have prayed. I have listened and I have spoken.
It is very easy for me to get angry at the police. And, let’s be honest, in the incidents that have grabbed media attention, they are unwarranted. I have heard from several police officers that the brutality used in several of the events were extremely unwarranted and not what they would turn to. Admittedly, there are bad apples in every bunch. The police officers have admitted this.
And so my question for police officers is: If you are a police officer and you know there are bad apples in your department, then why are you silent? And shame on you, if you are a Christian!
It is easy for all of us to get angry and point a finger at someone else and, therefore, I have chosen to first, turn inward. I cried with God. I got angry with God. I prayed with God and faith communities and I listened for God to speak.
Since going inward and reflecting, thus far, I am choosing love for a couple of reasons: I am bi-racial and in some circles, the color of my skin warrants that I stand on the same side as Blacks. I generally am more concerned about my heritage in this country more than I do the fact that I am a woman, although I recognize both are strikes against me. I need to love my Black friends as my family just as much as I need to love the police officers. I need to.
I am a humanitarian at heart. When my fellow brother or sister is being unnecessarily harmed, I am generally one to step in. I choose to love with a heart of Jesus, as best as I can. Did I mention I’m bi-racial? My racial heritage doesn’t warrant a profile with police officers as being a threat. Most police officers when speaking to me do not keep one hand on their gun. In fact, most police officers don’t automatically pull me over when I’m driving because of my skin color, even if it is not white. I choose to love my neighbor despite how they see me.
Every day I have choices. I can choose to be angry or I can choose to love. I choose love. As best as I can, I choose love.
Another action I have taken in the last week, as I mentioned, is to attend events where I could listen to city officials and police officers and faith leaders. I have also spoken to my friends and cried alone. Here is another realization that I have come to. We need to have conversations surrounding racial tension and police brutality. And when I use the word “conversation” I mean dialogue. The dialogue needs to continue.
In listening to some of the police officers I was struck with the thought that many of the police departments are understaffed. In fact, at both events that I attended, police staff were encouraging people of color to apply for jobs. With police departments being understaffed I would imagine that each officer, a civil servant to their city, goes into every shift with a heavy burden placed upon them.
So, as much as I want to point a finger at the police officer, I also have to love that police officer as my neighbor. If a police officer is over worked, running from call to call and faces one or more fatal calls in a shift, what do you think happens to that person’s heart and mind? If the police agency doesn’t have the staff to pull that officer off the streets for debriefing and processing, what do you think is ruminating in that officer’s heart, not to mention their mind?
On the other side, I was heartbroken to hear from several Black fathers that, at a particular age, they have “a conversation” with their sons. No, not about sex although I would imagine that “conversation” occurs as well. The conversation they know they have to have with their sons surrounds the color of their skin and how to interact with police officers. I know for a fact that my father never had a conversation like that with my brother.
I believe it is the responsibility of every person to start having conversations about race and police brutality. If this is the first time you have thought about doing this with your friends and family, then here are some pointers on where to start:
Start a conversation about the deaths of blacks by police officers. Ask your friends and family how they are feeling about all the death? Do they see these individuals as their neighbors?
Do some research on racialized history in the United States. It didn’t just start when Michael Brown was killed. It has been going on for centuries.
Refuse to believe the rhetoric of “he/she was a good kid” or “he/she was a criminal.” These deaths should matter because they are all human beings created in the image of God! If it were your brother or sister who was stealing cigars from the store, do you think they deserve to be shot and killed?
Be aware of your language. Understand words such as disempowerment, oppression, disinvestment and racism. The ideologies behind each of these words exists in your community.
Don’t believe that it doesn’t. Instead of using words such as “riot” and “looting,” try to understand what righteous anger is for the supporters and advocates of these individuals. They are protesting for justice and for their words to be heard in the mayhem of chaos.
Be aware of modern day slavery and how they are intricately tied to the police, courts and prison systems. Instead of plantation slavery there are prisons that confine these neighbors to much longer sentences than white people. The Jim Crow mentality still exists, just in different forms.
Think about the justice and interaction between poverty and race. Class does not outweigh race. Race outweighs class. Yes, the two are mixed together, but don’t think that the two can be untangled without a big mess. The injustice of racism bleeds into economic injustice.
Don’t just read from one news source or listen to one news station. Pay attention to the voices from many. Include media representation from Black, Asian and Native American stations. Yes, it might be hard for you to hear, but isn’t it hard for every person who is not white to get out of bed every day?
Don’t allow violence to be your leader. Martin Luther King in his book, Stride Toward Freedom, lays out principles of nonviolence. His very first principle states that it is “a way of life for courageous people.” Be courageous. Stand up. Advocate. Be courageous. Be nonviolent.
Find community where you can be encouraged to be challenged and go further … Together. Attend the White Privilege Conference or the Facing Race Conference. Ask for a scholarship if you cannot afford it. Go. Learn.
Seek the Scriptures. The Bible has a vast number of passages that can guide. Seek out faith based organizations that address these issues.
You might be unpopular. Don’t be afraid. When you are silent, it is the same as if you are supporting slavery and oppression. Stand up for the dignity and equality of all people.
Be a change agent in your community. Organize conversations and encourage the support for your local police department. Being proactive means you are not just reacting when a non-white person is subjected to oppression but you are understanding the depths and are doing your best to advocate by speaking up. Systemic racism permeates this world, and more importantly, this country, in horrific ways.
Need more ideas for action? Start a committee of like-minded people and brainstorm, find a venue to show the documentary Race– the Power of an Illusion and invite everyone you know or come into contact with and, lastly, educate yourself constantly.
If you are wanting to start a group, I would strongly recommend having guidelines. These guidelines could include points such as: Listen. Don’t interrupt. It’s ok to be uncomfortable. It’s ok that there might not be resolution right now.
Don’t stop trying. Don’t stop, please. Racism in the United States has existed for many years and it will take awhile, but you, the change agent can do your part. The role that you play in your community, right where you live and work and play is vital to the trickle down effect. As you reach more and more people and affect each person, they will carry that message and your advocacy becomes widespread.
People of color have been trying to stand up for the injustices, but, frankly, we need help. We need white voices to carry our messages, to believe in us and to help. Transformation can happen with you.
I encourage you to read this passage slowly. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) and ask yourself how you can do that right where you are.
Photo Credit: geralt at pixabay.com