It’s been almost a year and a half since I have written a blog post. After starting my new job at the beginning of last year, I simply have not really had the time to keep up with regular writing. But over the past week, I have felt it important to speak up. I wasn’t sure initially what that should look like. And now we are facing what can only be described as a crossroads for our nation.
Over the past several years, racial division has been thrust front and center and a reality so many have wanted to ignore for so long is finally beginning to be recognized. While the divisions and problems we are facing now are not new, they have finally reached the forefront of social and political discourse. Which feels just like an absolutely absurd way to say that black people are being murdered and we are finally talking about it. Ahmaud Arbery, who was gunned down by people who saw a black man running and decided he had to die. Breonna Taylor, who was gunned down in her own apartment because a judge granted police a “no-knock” warrant for a supposed drug bust for a suspect who had already been detained by authorities. George Floyd, who died while his neck was crushed by a police officer’s knee as he cried out for his mother. These are just the most recent examples that have gained our attention. And these human beings whose lives mean something, who deserve to be seen and known and heard are the reason I’m writing this post.
For white people, we are faced with an uncomfortable reality. I, like many others, have balked at the notion of white privilege knowing that everything I have is because of the hard work and perseverance of my family, including my father who faced many challenges often associated with minority groups. I, like many others, have felt inclined to reply, “all lives matter” when faced with statements that seek to highlight a particular racial group. But as I sit here today writing this, I have finally forced myself to see through these knee-jerk, defensive reactions and recognize that white privilege, while a grating term, is real. That while of course, all lives matter, the statement, “black lives matter” is about drawing attention to an issue that for too long has remained ignored. What I realize, far too late if I’m being honest, is that recognizing white privilege and saying black lives matter are not about white people. These are not indictments on the white community, but instead concepts that all people must accept in order for us to move forward as one nation.
When I, as a white person, reflexively react defensively to statements regarding white privilege, I am in fact proving its existence. Do I have everything I have today simply because I and my family are white? No, but that is not the point. The point is not that white people have things they don’t deserve, but rather that black people experience life in America in a way so different from white people that we don’t understand it, and as a result ignore it. And what I’ve realized is that I’ve done exactly that. I’ve watched as black men and women have been murdered whether by cops or by self-proclaimed vigilantes, and stayed out of it, mostly because it feels like too big a problem for me to fix, and because as a result of my privilege, I can say it’s too big a problem to fix. But for black people, it’s too big a problem not to fix.
I have listened as people have said “black lives matter” and allowed myself to associate that statement with violence and rage. Indeed, I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve even invoked a favorite refrain of white commentators that more black men are killed by black men than by white people. That statement is made as if it is some sort of vindication of white people, when in reality it is a remnant of systemic and pervasive racism that held black people in oppression for hundreds of years. So to my white friends and family, when people say “black lives matter” recognize that for hundreds of years, our society said they didn’t. And that we are still trying to heal the ramifications of that abominable dehumanization of an entire race.
Over the past couple of days I have watched as Americans have protested all over the country. I’ve watched as those protests have turned violent, and I’ve watched as people both justify and condemn the violence. Last night, I watched a video of a confrontation between Texas Department of Public Safety officers and protestors at the state capitol. These actions have been among the hardest for me to get my head around. While I do not condone violence, I also do not believe I can completely condemn it today. Many of the justifications I have seen have invoked the American Revolution, or the Civil War. These justifications are misguided. The American Revolution was a military conflict between an organized, volunteer militia and the British army. It was not, for the most part, an attack on innocent civilians. Likewise, the Civil War, was actually initiated by the oppressors with an attack on a military installation. So while these violent protests which have largely resulted in property damage and attacks on innocent people (many of whom are actually members of the community being oppressed) cannot be likened to the American Revolution or the Civil War, they can be largely understood by the fact that for so many years peace has meant keeping black people quiet so that white people can rest easy.
Violence of the kind we are seeing in these protests is hard to swallow, but it is understandable, so long as it does not result in actual bodily harm to people, with one exception. I truly believe that white people should join with black people as allies and supporters in this battle for justice and equality. But white people are acting in their own privilege when they engage in the types of violence we are talking about. The video I mentioned above of the protest at the state capitol showed a mostly white group of protestors surrounding a black DPS officer who was trying to protect his fellow officer who had arrested a white protestor for vandalizing the capitol. And I was struck by the realization that these white people, in their own selfish arrogance of believing themselves to understand the plight of black people had actually put themselves in a position to antagonize a black man who had sworn to serve his community. This kind of violence from white people merely undermines the cause of justice sought by those in the black community who do not have the luxury to go home after the protest and not have to worry about whether they will be the target of racism the next day. And so, I do not participate in protests or violence, though I fully support those engaged in peaceful protests and I certainly understand how people who have been silenced for so long can feel the need to engage in violence. However, let me make clear that I do not, and cannot condone attacks on innocent people and to the extent the violence extends beyond property to actually harming individuals, it crosses a line.
I have always struggled with how one person can act to effect change when it comes to racial division. I honestly believe that I have tried hard to be aware of any unconscious biases that I may have and to actively act against those biases. And I know that is the first step, but I also know that it is not enough. So, I pray. And I know many people think prayer is not enough, that it is not action, that it is a cop out. But as a Christian, I recognize that prayer is the most powerful action that I can take. Because I am calling on the omnipotent Creator of the universe. The only one who has the power to change the hearts and minds necessary to bring justice. And here is what I pray: that God will show me where I act in my privilege, that he will break my heart for the hurting and oppressed, that he will give me opportunities to act in a meaningful way for people who are hurting.
While we may look at the times we are facing and despair, there is a truth that remains and it is an incredible encouragement to me. It was beautifully captured in this excerpt of a poem that was actually written during another time of incredible strife and angst in America, the Civil War.
I cannot fix this. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. And so this post is me trying. It’s me sharing that I believe black lives matter. That I recognize my privilege. And it is me calling on you to do the same. Take a long hard look at how you think about those who are different from you. But don’t wait too long. We are running out of time.