Tuesday, July 19, 2016

cracking white open

I had a Come to Jesus Meeting the other day. It was one of those stop-dead-in-my-tracks kind of epiphanies that felt more like a gut-punch than an, "oh, now I get it," revelation. Sobering, humbling, disturbing, convicting. 

It began the day after five police officers were shot in Dallas, which in turn followed the shootings of Philando Castile in Minnesota, and Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I am essentially without television these days, so social media (Facebook) is my exposure to what is happening in the world, and in turn my exposure to the reactions to those events as they appear in my news feed.  Rest assured it's not just memes. I follow or read the shared links by others to news sources that I trust to report accurately, and other posts that help me read more widely and probe more deeply.

The political views of my friends and acquaintances on fb cover the spectrum from waayyy to the left, to waayyy to the right. I read the outcry from BLM communities and supporters, and see the Blue Lives Matter posts, too. Related to the latter, I was also seeing posts the day after the Dallas shootings depicting an outpouring of support to law enforcement: pizzas and cookies, hugs and selfies with local police officers, stories of compassion and more about our men and women in blue. I got it. Celebrate the good they do and acknowledge the sacrifices they make. Show the love. We've got your six. What was missing from my feed was any sort of demonstrated support to people of color. 

I was roused from my reflection about this by the sound of a crowd chanting nearby in the neighborhood. I wondered if it was a protest march, since we're not far from the state capitol. It soon became apparent, however, that the gathering was stationery, and I decided to go take a look. 

I went out the front door, noting a couple of police cars parked across from the house and a handful of uniformed officers standing on the sidewalk. I then ventured down the street to the corner where I could see, across the street and up about half a block, a group of people marching in a circle, carrying signs, and being rallied by someone with a bull horn. The words on the signs seemed to indicate an issue related to health care. I wondered about the presence of the police, but imagined that it was related to safety after the events of the week. I turned to head back to the house, and just as I was about to pivot up the steps leading to the house, I felt compelled to go speak to the policemen across the way. Black lives matter to me, and so do blue ones. 

I approached them with a smile and said hello, acknowledged that it had been a tough week, and let them know I was thinking of them. They appreciated the thought. We chatted briefly about the gathering drawing our attention, and I learned that the group was in violation of a noise ordinance. Bullhorn. A little bit of small talk followed, then I waved a farewell and returned to the house. 

While I had been talking to the policemen a woman who lives up the street passed by on the sidewalk. She was Black. I felt awkward. I wondered how she perceived what she saw, and the absence of support to the Black community in my Facebook feed gnawed at me. It's easy to show up to the local precinct with a plate of cookies, but where do you show up for the Black community? I could bake cookies for the kids who play in the park every day, and who get excited when Juliet comes through on her walk. Seriously, though. Cookies? To say I'm sorry for and lament the racism that plagues your life and runs like a toxic stream through our society? Cookies?

For the next few days I stewed about this, feeling utterly helpless to make a difference in stemming and reversing the tide of racism. As more and more of my Facebook page pushed back against the increasing presence of the BLM movement in communities across the country, denying white privilege and asserting All Lives Matter in retort, the truth of my own racism sank like a stone into the depth of my being. It isn't enough to understand how racism permeates our institutions and perpetuates prejudice and injustice. It isn't enough to see the statistics about minority crime and incarceration and know that the context for interpreting them is absent from public discourse. It isn't enough to live in neighborhood where whites are a minority.  My open mind and inclusive heart aren't enough, and the reality that I am part of the problem cuts through me like a knife. I thought I knew about white privilege. Instead I am the face of it.

I feel powerless in the face of this overwhelming sin from which I benefit, and as difficult as it is, it is nothing compared to the powerlessness that people of color feel and face every day. Because of my privilege, I stand a chance to rise above the feeling of powerlessness with relative ease. It's one of the ways that the system can work for me to help dismantle the system that works against others. That is how it starts. Use the tools available to me. Work with what I've got. Step in and do my part. And grasp the reality that my brothers and sisters of color know a whole lot more than I do about the meaning and power of love, forgiveness, and grace. 

I've come to Jesus. I've got such a long way to go.

This post on another blog also addresses this topic in a way that might be helpful if you are struggling with this same issue.

5 comments:

Ginger said...

Amen. I, too, have been struggling with the question of "What does this mean for me. I must be called to act in some way," (which, as you point out, is a privilege) "so what is that, and what will have most effect?"

KGMom said...

Sobering word, indeed. And thoroughly within the OT model of prophets speaking truth to power. Preach it.
Sometimes I think we (who are white) need to live for a length of time in a community where we are the only people of "color"--i.e. white living in a brown or black world. It does help enlighten your perspective.

The Bug said...

Amen!

Jayne said...

I, too, have had a bit of an epiphany regarding my white privilege, and how I am pretty much oblivious to how it makes life so much easier for me. I never once even gave thought to the institutional biases that permeate lives of people of color. I don't think I've ever been the minority at any time or place in my life. And the well meaning "All Lives Matter" people simply have not come to look in the mirror yet. What do we do, indeed.

Anvilcloud said...

As a Canadian, this is hard for me to relate to, but I try and appreciate your (and others) struggle with racism. We are far from perfect and have some great stains on our past, but our demographics are different.

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