I remember the night one year ago. I remember how I read tweet after tweet in disbelief. I remember how I covered my mouth with my hand as of to suppress a scream as I watched the live video recording tear gas and tanks and screaming men in uniform disrupting a mob of protesters. The video was green - the color you see looking through night vision goggles, and I remember the feeling of horror and how my heart kept sinking deeper and deeper.
My heart was sinking because I was watching what looked like a war scene. Except it wasn't a war, it was a clash between American police officers and American protesters. It was mesmerizing in the way that surely if I watch long enough and stare hard enough, I'll see the green screens or find a blooper or finally see the credits roll and breathe a sigh of relief that it's just fake, made-up, a dream. But it wasn't. It was #ferguson, and it made history - history in my heart, and history in America.
It was a few days after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown that I saw the protests in the Ferguson, Missouri from the live stream video of a bystander. It was as if my eyes had been opened to this world colored in night-vision-green, a world that I thought had been equalized in 1964. There was George Zimmerman before Mike Brown. Then there was Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray. I followed these stories because I was aghast that the possibility of racism was still alive in America today. I was living in a upper-middle class suburban whitopia, preparing a move to a large American city of global diversity. I was speechless at what this could mean for me, and what it would mean for my country.
I don't pretend to be knowledgable in politics. I don't pretend to have a purely unbiased view of these incidents (who does?). I don't pretend that I'll say everything right. But I cannot pretend that racism is dead in America when a white man enters a bible study in a church in Charleston, South Carolina and kills 9 people for no other reason than the color of their skin. Starting with Ferguson, my eyes were opened to the deep wound inflicted on African American lives through the course of our history. The wound haS begun to heal, yes. But there is still a scar, and sometimes scars feel just as painful.
What does it all mean for me?
I define myself as a middle-class white Christian living in the Midwest. I'm quite average, and look an awful lot like the typical American. What does all this mean for me? I've come to some conclusions after a year of reading articles and seeing breaking news and trying my very best to find pure, unbiased information about the Black Lives Matter movement. This is not about naming the good guys and shaming the bad guys. It's not about police officers vs. suspects and who's right and who's wrong. I have family and friends in law enforcement, and I have the highest respect for them and the safety and protection they bring to our lives. This are simply the things I've observed in my world and in my own heart, and the changes I want to make because of it. Here they are. They're imperfect, they're evolving as my understanding evolves, but they're heartfelt. I can't close my eyes to these things.
It is dangerous to be a black man in America in 2015. That statement is offensive to some. But read the stats.
Because of this,
I will raise my fair-skinned son to have no thought for color of skin in regard to worth and value and equality. I will teach him that God made every man in his own image, and that in the core of us, we are all humans with the same heart and the same needs and the same fears. God created skin tones because he delights in beauty and he wanted to display in us his creativity. God created us as individuals, yet equals.
Racial tension still exists in America today, and racial reconciliation is a deep, deep need. Some things have changed, yes. Segregation is no longer legal. We've seen an African American become president of the United States. Blatant racism may not be as common, but there are still prejudices in the hearts of Americans that stem from race.
Because of this,
I stand behind the #blacklivesmatter movement. Yes, I agree that all lives matter, of course I do. But that's not the point. The point is that there's ongoing injustice against African Americans that has come to light in my lifetime, and I will stand against this injustice because I serve a God of justice. He loves righteousness and righteous deeds and uprightness (Psalm 11:7), and racial prejudices are none of those things.
Facts are always- and ever-disputed. And some facts have died with the lives that lived them; we may never know whether Michael Brown did or didn't have his hands up when he was shot to death. But facts are not the only part of the story. There are also feelings, and feelings also play an enormous role.
Because of this,
I will take the advice of Thabiti Anyabwile, and remember that "a man, if he wants to say a thing, ought to be able to say the thing in the way that he feels it. It may or may not be right, but the humanity that's involved in being able to say it is incredibly important." May I never deny a fellow human that humanity, whether African American, police officer, neighbor, or friend.
Each of us are beautifully different individuals. We're more the same than we are different, but it's still easiest to flock toward people who look and act like us. It's comfortable. But it's pretty boring, and it's not even the way God designed it to be. Christ died to "gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad" (John 11:52).
Because of this,
I will celebrate the differences of people I meet in my world, and I will embrace our similarities as the things that tie us together. I will strive to understand those people whose life experiences and cultural backgrounds are different than mine, and open myself to the difficult conversations and vulnerability that may be needed in order to reach that understanding. I will seek out and befriend people who are not like me, whether it be in experiences, in culture, in race, or in likes and dislikes. The gospel demands and paves the way for unity (Ephesians 4:4-6), and I am not attempting to force it, but celebrate it. God uses each of us with our individual gifts, and I would be foolish to close my eyes to the gifts he's given you!
This is not a political tirade, though I do believe there is work that must not be ignored in the realm of American civil life. This is simply the outpouring of a heart that was broken a year ago at Ferguson, and will not ever be the same. This is my little offering for the cause of unity. Political unity and racial reconciliation, yes. But even deeper, the reconciliation and unity that comes by way of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"Our end goal is not just getting black and white people in the same room. Jay-Z can do that. Our goal is to proclaim the peace and unity that Jesus has already accomplished and calling people into [it]. We want people to enjoy the fullness there and proclaim it everywhere they go. And we want that for every generation."
I've compiled a list of resources that have impacted me in the past year as my eyes have been opened to racial tensions and the need for reconciliation. I've listed them below and would encourage you to read and think carefully about them if you're interested in this topic too. If you have other resources you've encountered, I'm always looking for more to add to my list! Just comment below or send me an email.
And speaking of comments: I welcome discussion about this sensitive topic. I'm seeking to grow in my understanding as a sheltered Caucasian who has lived in homogenous environments for most of my life! But I do not welcome disrespect of any kind. If you wish to add your thoughts and experiences, please do so in a thoughtful manner, and let's give each person dignity and the opportunity to say what is on his or her heart to be said.
- Trip Lee's Millennials and Race video. Watch this first. Such wise words.
- Black and White: Learning together from Ferguson from Thabiti Anyabwile
- Why It's So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism
- Anything from Pastor Anyabwile on TGC
- Just Mercy, a lawyer's account of his life work of defending wrongly condemned imprisoned people. Brian Stevenson is called a modern Atticus Finch.
- Bloodlines, by John Piper on Race, Cross, and the Christian
- 12 Years A Slave
- Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter from a Birmingham Jail (easier-to-read version here)
- Trip Lee's rap Coulda Been Me