Monday, February 06, 2017

being change

There's a story going "viral" on social media about the commendable actions of a white police officer who pulled over a black teenager to caution him about texting while driving. The boy was frightened to be pulled over, and the officer only wanted to encourage him to drive safely. Said officer shared his story on Facebook, with this concluding paragraph:
I truly don't even care who's fault it is that young man was so scared to have a police officer at his window. Blame the media, blame bad cops, blame protestors, or Colin Kaepernick if you want. It doesn't matter to me who's to blame. I just wish somebody would fix it.
Did that paragraph make you blanch, as it did me?  Here's why I take issue with it, in the order by which the paragraph unfolds.
  1. I'm truly sorry the officer doesn't care enough about the real issue people of color experience that has come to be known as "driving while black," to take the time to understand its genesis. I'm glad the officer was moved by compassion to want to act on behalf of the teen's safety. That is commendable, and it's a place to start. It's going to take more--a lot more--before that teen and others like him will ever feel safe behind the wheel, or on the streets. This was an act of compassion related to behavior. Still in need is empathy related to the experience of people of color, and understanding why white people with good hearts need to understand our complicity in systemic oppression, racism, and injustice. The film 13th is an excellent first step down that road.
  2. Blame the media? Um, no. The media is bringing to light what has been kept hidden for generation after generation. It's uncomfortable, and it should be. It's shameful, which I hope is a catalyzing force for each of us to take a close look at how we understand privilege, come to terms with it, and begin the work to shift our attitudes and actions so that we become part of the solution. And yes, I'm guilty, too.
  3. Blame protestors? Perhaps he meant by this that the protestors have drawn attention to the injustices of profiling and violence against people of color, and this new awareness has caused members of law enforcement to be mindful of its truth. Blaming protestors for shining a light on systemic wrongs doesn't hurt the victims. It does, however, make perpetrators of injustice uncomfortable, and usually defensive. I surely hope he didn't mean that protestors are responsible for promoting a false narrative. Nothing could be more false than that.
  4. Blame Colin Kaepernick? Seriously? Again, CK's action of protest is to draw attention to the blindness of our society to its consistent perpetuation of injustices against people of color, and underscores the unwillingness of those who benefit from this rigged system to take responsibility for it and be accountable to correcting it. See the note above about protestors.
  5. It doesn't matter who's to blame? I believe it does, not because I'm fond of blaming (I'm not), but because it is important to understand how we got here. That's the easy part, and I say that a bit tongue-in-cheek. Once we become informed we then have to sit with how that information makes us feel, and, God willing (and I believe God does, given that justice is a pretty big deal for the almighty), be changed by what we learn. Then it gets harder, because belief not translated to behavioral change or action is nothing more than an idea taking up space in our being. Even a good idea, independent of some demonstrable reflection, doesn't have much value. 
  6. He wants somebody to fix it. How I read that? Somebody else do it, it's not my problem. Sigh.
I invite you to join me among the ranks of white allies trying to do better. Every day I see evidence of how much work there is to do in this arena, and it's daunting. There are so many struggles that beckon our time and energy, and we can't engage all of them. This is the one that owns my heart.

Let me say at the outset that I don't have the guide book for how to engage this work, I can simply share what I'm doing: reading, listening, watching, stumbling, and trying to learn. It's a transformation that is going to take the rest of my life, and I'm committed to it. Walk with me.

I referred to the film 13th. In two hours you will get your head filled and your heart challenged with mind-exploding and heart-expanding information. Let it work on you.

Read. There are lots of books available to help the transition from privileged white person to ally. And just a note as I look back on that sentence: if white, we will always be privileged. This journey is about living a life committed to reversing racism and intersectionality. This list on the RevGalBlogPal website is a great start.

Listen. We each have to find our own way to do that, but there are two distinct voices to whom I pay attention on facebook, and I commend following them. They are both ordained leaders. One is Traci Blackmon, a minister of the United Church of Christ in St. Louis, and woman of color, whose insights, compassion, honesty, and wisdom have helped me understand the many complicated layers of racism. The other is Mike Kinman, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. Mike is a friend and colleague who does an extraordinary job of articulating how privilege manifests itself. By listening to him I am learning how to recognize privilege at work. This post is an example of that, and I hope it is helpful to others who want to walk this walk.

What's that saying, be the change we want to see in the world? I'm working on it.


2 comments:

Jayne said...

I honestly can admit, that before this year, I never gave much thought to it either. Why? Because when things don'g affect us directly, we tend to put it way back in our subconsciousness. But, also, like you, I now SEE that my life and privilege has made it easy for me to not HAVE to see. I want to see now. I want to understand. Fully. It's the only way things will change so that all of us are some day, treated as equal human beings. Thank you for this post.

The Bug said...

Amen!

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