Saturday, January 23, 2016

Black Lives Matter

In college one of the most interesting guys was a man (grown man, as he liked to declare) named Jiggy Jay. He was one of the most solid guys I met in school. Jay would constantly be interceding. I try not to use that term lightly, but what he did was more than just pray. I cannot remember anyone who disliked him as he was so friendly. He also could run for miles (literally a real life Chris Traeger, he'd call a 10 mile run a quick jog.) One afternoon, several of us had gone to the store and on the way back it was nearing dusk. Less than a minute after we left the store lot I was pulled over for no headlights. The whole time, Jiggy (who was half black half white) was saying “It's because I'm black! Racial profiling!” At the time, myself and the others laughed at him, telling him he was overreacting and it was because I broke the law. He continued all the way back to the dorm after I had been excused on a warning from the officer. This scene and my reaction and misunderstanding of his reaction has played back over and over in my head in the past year or so since the start of the Black Lives Matter movement. Regardless of your thoughts on the facts on the situation that initially spurred the movement into existence, the true fact remains, systemic racism exists. The worst part is that the majority of us have (previously or even currently) no idea that it does exist.

Kids are being shot. Men are being suffocated. Women are being thrashed around in police cars. The number of incidents is disproportionate between blacks (and other minorities) and whites. I unfortunately used to be part of the group who believed it was simply because “they” brought it upon themselves. If only “they” would behave and follow the law, “they” would stay out of jail. “They” wouldn't be getting shot. “They” would have jobs and good lives. Then I started praying for my eyes to be opened. I was confronted by the ugly truth that it is not “their” fault. It is ours. We are responsible. Whether we go back to the slave trade or we come closer to present day with the civil rights movement, it was us whites perpetrating this injustice on minorities. We not only started it, we have fooled ourselves into thinking it was settled with desegregation.

Case in point, one of the biggest objections to the Black Lives Matter movement is that “All Lives Matter.” Yes, this is true. However, as multiple analogies point out, this is minimalizing what blacks face. One analogy puts it this way: a row of houses has caught fire, and their homeowners are shouting “Our houses matter! Help!” On the other side of the city, far from the fire, other homeowners shout “All houses matter!” This and other versions have one simple point. By trying to declare the fact that “all ___ matter” we are ignoring or dismissing the urgency of the situation for those actually in constant danger. One black man, who happens to be a lawyer, talked about how he was improperly searched and handled by officers because they assumed the worst. All he had been doing was sitting in his car in front of his house listening to music. Or, the little black boy who had a toy gun who was shot within two seconds of the police officer stepping out of his vehicle. Or the black man who may have been breaking the law selling cigarettes was sentenced to death without trial by an officer performing an illegal choke hold on him. Or the countless other examples where injustice is done not only in the actions and discrimination on the day of but later as the justice system fails to indict and hold officers and officials accountable.

I know firsthand what white privilege is. I have been pulled over seven times, that I can recall. I have been ticketed ONCE. Not a single time did I see the officer put his hand near his club, holster, or cuffs. I freely walk or ride my bike or perform any other public activity without fear of harassment. It has taken a national movement to bring it to my attention that blacks (who have been declared free citizens for 150 years) do not have that freedom of movement. I should have listened to Jay all those years ago. Instead of laughing, I should have asked for him to tell his story. Unfortunately, I had the privilege to not have to worry myself with those details. Instead, I could continue my life as normal, unfettered. While I may never have as much privilege as Stephen Colbert, I believe I can still more align with his point of view than Deray McKesson in their recent interaction on the Late Show.

Do I know what to do with my new knowledge? No, not entirely. What I do know is how to dispel falsehoods, through my writing and my conversations. I know how to better interact with my black coworkers. I want to make a difference, and I know the only way for me to do that is continue to question everything I know and accept nothing without know the truth. I pray that you do as well. If you are Christian, I pray you long to be like Christ who would have sided with the beaten down more than those who do the beating. Read widely, and ask questions. Learn of your privilege. Stop spreading “all lives matter” memes. Don't cross the sidewalk when a black man approaches (or tense up, look away or otherwise show fear.) Love everyone and support true justice. Encourage cities to hold police accountable. When blacks and others “complain” about protest about racial profiling, instead of mocking them, listen to them.

This does not mean support all facets of the movement, primarily the violence and rioting. In fact, the majority of those in the Black Lives Matter movement don't support those outliers either. Mob mentality can work both for worse or for better, so we must all speak up however we can. For myself, this is currently my best platform. For you, it may be connections to politicians or other officials. Yes, there are other urgent matters such as climate change and radioactive waste leaks that we must speak on as well. Those should not be ignored, but if we behave as decent humans and hold our justice system to do the same, the persistent race issue will be a much easier fix than the climate or nuclear contamination. Until it changes though, #blacklivesmatter.


I haven't read it, but plan to read America's Original Sin by Jim Wallis. 

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