Dear Black people,
To be blunt, we White folks don’t feel what you feel.
Our hearts aren’t ripped from our chests when a Black man is killed by law enforcement. When a Black man is choked to death on a sidewalk, shot in a convenience store parking lot, shot to death at a traffic stop, shot to death for reaching for his wallet, shot to death for shopping, shot to death because the orange tip was missing from a toy gun, shot to death by a rich White guy playing Deputy Dog, shot to death for trying to stop his own car from being stolen, we are empathy empty.
We don’t seem to feel parental compassion for a teenage son who sobs “Daddy!” at a press conference, or little children, mothers, wives, girlfriends left with a void. In our rush to assign blame to anyone except the one or ones who actually caused the death, we look for any factor that provides justification: he was selling loosies, he was “resisting arrest,” he had pot, he had a rap sheet, he didn’t follow directions, he had an attitude, policing-is-hard-work-you-try-it, and on, and on. It’s as if extrajudicial execution is appropriate for any crime at any time, including those for which time has been served.
Most White people are strong believers in justice because most of us have never experienced systemic injustice. We’ve never lived in places where the county budget was financed largely by traffic citations and court costs levied for years on minority populations. We’ve never been falsely accused, wrongfully arrested, lost a job because we could not afford bail, forced to plea-bargain to a crime we didn’t commit to avoid losing our kids to the state, then lose nearly everything to pay costs we never should have incurred.
We don’t share the concerns about law enforcement so many of you have. We don’t have to have “the talk” with our kids. Many White people–and most of us in suburbia–have never had a negative experience with law enforcement. We know police officers. We go to church with them. The LEOs we know are honorable men and women.
We’ve been taught since childhood that the police are our friends, they are to be honored, respected and obeyed. For the most part this holds true throughout our entire lives because we never have any contrary experience. The percentage of White people shot and killed by law enforcement each year is not a blip on the radar of our lives.
When many White people hear of a person being shot and killed by the police, their automatic response is, “He must have done something.” Many, if not most, White people believe people get arrested because they’ve done something to get arrested. Most of us have never been handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser.
Most White people simply don’t have the framework to process what you experience when yet another unarmed (or legally armed) black man is killed by law enforcement. We don’t feel what my friend Dan calls “corporate lament.”
Dear White people,
We are the majority culture, and we have been since the founding of this nation and the New Home for Indians Project. None of us living in the United States have ever been part of a racial minority in the overall demographic. Being the overwhelming majority is all we know.
The majority of the United States Senate is and has always been White.
The majority of the House of Representatives is and has always been White.
We had 43 White presidents consecutively, will soon have another, and our Black president is half-White.
For 240 years the majority of our governors, state legislators, country sheriffs, deputies, police chiefs, officers, principals, school teachers have been White. When I was in public school even the majority of the “cafeteria ladies” were White. In twelve years of public school I did not have a single Black teacher, less than a dozen Black classmates.
Our pastors are White, our scout leaders are White, our Sunday School teachers are White, as have been our friends, our friends’ parents, their friends and their friends’ parents.
We’ve rarely if ever been judged by the color of our skin, have long since stopped being enslaved even to a minimal degree, saw few of our ancestors victimized by the Convict Lease System, were on the top side of Jim Crow laws, and, until recently, were the lesser arrested and sentenced in the “War” on Drugs. Systematic injustice never bothered us; we put the systems in place.
We’ve rarely if ever been victims of redlining, poll taxes, literacy tests for voting, stop and frisk, or racial profiling. White guys married to Black women do not get stopped by law enforcement so she can be asked “Is everything alright?”
If you think all this time in the majority has resulted in a bias-free living experience for all Americans, think again. And again. And again.
Is there any chance that being so long in the majority has shielded us from things many Black people (and other minorities) experience? Is it not a possibility that what they feel is as legitimate as what we don’t feel? That their tears say things our dry eyes do not?
Dear Jesus Followers,
Yesterday morning as the story of Philando Castile was starting to spread, a friend asked:
God have mercy on us! When will it end!?!?
In truth, it may never end.
But, we’ll get closer when those of us in the majority stand with those in the minority and say “Enough!”
It will get closer when those of us who claim the name of Jesus, who pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven put action to those prayers.
It will get closer when we stop acting like “Obey the governing authorities” overrides “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
It will get closer when we weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. When we empathize with the fear behind a Black mother’s eyes when she contemplates her son growing up into manhood.
It will get closer when we understand the multiple levels of complexity in places like South Central L.A., Baltimore, and Chicago’s south side, rather than thinking they should be like Bugtussle, TN, population 25. When we stop foolishly raising issues we think Black people should be addressing (Black-on-Black crime, urban crime, fatherlessness) while ignoring other issues they are raising.
It will get closer when we study how corruption, failed schools, gang wars, and economic deprivation affect entire areas and hundreds of thousands of lives. When we come to grips with the fact that people cannot work where there are no jobs, and that in far too many instances Black drug dealers get rich off White drug users but only one group usually lands in jail.
It will get closer when White followers of Jesus are intentional in befriending minorities at work, in our communities, and at church. When we listen to them. When we learn from them.
Dan, quoted above, continues:
So a word for my friends of majority culture who have a legitimately hard time processing why times like this are such a big deal to some: Can I urge you to consider what many are experiencing in their souls through tragedy like this. It’s not just a conversation point to be debated. It’s not just something trending on social media. It’s all too real and it’s the stuff of nightmares keeping many up at night thinking of their own families as the system they’ve been taught to trust seems to have failed them once again. It’s something evil happening in their community at a horrifying rate. It’s systemic injustice that has devalued the lives of an entire community of people.
And particularly for Christians, a suggestion to mourn with those who mourn in empathy. We would never tell someone who has lost loved ones in tragedy that the ways they’re mourning are wrong or need to be better thought out. Imagine how you would want others to treat you in your time of family mourning and do the same to others, especially those you consider your family of faith.
Pray how you may be a person of peace and healing in a time so rife with chaos and division.
Note: My capitalizing of White and Black is atypical and done in this post, specifically, for emphasis.