The Last Thing You Want to Read

“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.” -Kofi Annan

“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity. Racism can, will, and must be defeated.” -Kofi Annan

This is quite possibly the last thing you want to read. You’re tired. You’re tired of reading about it and so am I. I want to scroll through my Twitter and Facebook feed and see “what song are you?” quizzes and people dumping buckets of water on their heads and middle school selfies. I could never get tired of that. I will never again be tired of that. Let’s just go back to that.

Because when I read the word “Ferguson” I feel the things I’ve only read about in books.

When I watch the videos of Garner’s skull being crushed against the pavement, my insides turn to mush and I’m holding my breath with him.

And when I see a red hoodie or skittles, all I can think about is my own little brother. Just not him. Keep him smart. Keep him sharp. Anyone but him. 

I’m tired of reading about it. But what’s more, I’m tired that I have it to read. I have no desire to read about another black man/black child dead on the street at the hands of a white cop, while the world screams Racist Killer or Thug Who Deserved It. And so I retreat. I tell myself that the last thing the world needs is another black voice telling it to pay attention to black voices. So I read every other voice I can find. And I cry. And I pray. And I theatrically punch my headboard. And I keep my voice tucked deep between the lies that I don’t matter and nothing will change.

But as I lay here trying to tuck that voice a little deeper, a little farther back, it begins to scream. Like nothing you’ve ever heard because it’s like nothing I’ve ever felt. Because Eric Garner… and I can’t breathe. And Trayvon Martin and I have a little brother and I cant breathe. And he had his hands up and I’m typing with mine, and no one can breathe– no one can think– no one can live if, despite all our best efforts, at the end of the day, the color of my skin ignites so much fear in a person, that they’d rather kill me than speak words to me.

And if you are tired of reading about this, tired of hearing about this, please wake up. Stop scoffing at protesters and dismissing Facebook posts. Stop rationalizing your privilege and power, stop defending the justice system and this nation’s great strides. And instead, just acknowledge that a population of people is hurting in such a profoundly painful way that some of them might just feel like the only thing left to do is precisely what they’re doing. Think about that. What would drive a person to bash in the windows of their neighbor’s bakery? Think about that. Why would 200 people lay down in the middle of Forbes avenue and stop traffic for hours? Think about that. Stop thinking about your own small world for the next 24 hours and enter into the pain of the people whose hurt has proved an inconvenience to you instead of a plea to your humanity.

People have voices.

And that’s gonna sound cliche and corny to anyone who has never been burdened with the lie that they don’t have one. I know that’s a lie now. Maybe I’ve always known it. And I will use as many words as I need to, in order to tell you: This is not the way it’s supposed to be. These are my thoughts on the past 3 weeks of American history.

I will start with this: I do not believe this to be a “cop vs. black” thing. It’s a “fear and hate vs. the unknown” thing. I stand by that.

We have boiled it down to the former and I think that does little to bring rational progress to a situation that has unimaginable depth. The problem is not cops. It is people. People who have prejudices ingrained in them and become cops. People who have prejudices ingrained in them and become jurors. People who have prejudices ingrained in them and become judges. This is the problem. While brave and noble in occupational choice, I need to be reminded that cops are just people. They are the same people that sat next to me in class. The same people who cut me off and don’t use turn signals. I want them to be superheroes… I’ve made them to be. But they are just humans; hateful and scared like the rest of us. The problem is this: prejudiced individuals who use their positions of trust and authority to invoke power over that which they fear.

What if, Darren Wilson shooting Michael Brown that day was not in fact a malicious hate crime of years of pent up aggression toward blacks? What if Daniel Pantaleo was not actually thinking die black guy die I hate you as he squished Eric Garner’s throat above the cries of his voice. What if, despite popular opinion, their dominant emotions were actually fear? I could never be sure, could I? But when I am thinking rationally, I believe that this might be more of the case than I ever choose to think about. I want to boil it down to hate so I can hate them back. I want it to be all about the hate so I can keep things clean and tidy in my head and hate them back. But the truth is, white people have been conditioned and trained to fear black people. And many of them are still virtually isolated from minorities in terms of any kind of relational intimacy. And then you give an ignorant and scared individual a gun and a badge and train them new, but they are still those people.

I have a handful of family members that are officers and I have come to believe, cops are and will always be a remarkable people. They protect, they serve, they rescue– all at the risk of their own futures. They sacrifice. And above all else, perhaps, is their loyalty. If you’ve noticed, this issue has a pretty palpable divide. For cops-Against cops. For blacks-Against blacks. Now here’s the thing, there is a form of kinship that comes with being an officer that you can’t expect to understand. They are not merely co-workers. They risk their lives together. They face the dark together. They are a tribe. You might be hard-pressed to find a cop or a close family member of a cop (even an African American) willing to stand up and say “we want an indictment…we want justice”. They are a tribe.

And then you have the blacks and guess what? They’ve risked their lives together. They’ve faced the dark together. They are a tribe too. You might be hard-pressed to find a black person (who is not a cop) willing to say, “trust the system…justice was served”. Because, that could’ve been my brother. They are my kin. And I want justice for them.   And so, at the end of the day, we have these two tribes–unwilling to engage in each others realities because of the profound loyalty written into their very identity. Or perceived identity.

And when I think of Darren Wilson, I can’t help but also think it does little to demonize one man for the sins of an entire system of inequity and an entire population of racists. He is a cop and so we should hold him to the highest of standards, but if that’s all we do– if our only goal is to see one man punished, to see the name of a few cops slandered, I fear that we will only end up changing laws not hearts, nor the future. Indictments, yes, of course they are worth fighting for. Tragedy is here and justice has failed and it’s not okay. But could we be pushing for more?

Here it is: white people are more afraid of black people than other whites, because the majority of what they read in magazines, see on TV, and hear secondhand is stereotyped, uneducated, oppressive propaganda and the soft undulations of systemic racism. Now, what are we going to do about the fact that it is 2014 and the black race (enslaved, noosed, burned alive, segregated, shot with our hands up) is still seen as the biggest threat in the United States of America? What are we going to do? Justice is a step. But so is reconciliation.

When we serve a God who calls us to reconciliation, what do we do? To not just change laws; but change hearts, what are we going to do? Since the fall, our entire world echos but two cries: fear and blame. We fear the other more than we fear ourselves and so we do unthinkable, hateful, cowardly things in the name of protection. We blame the other for our pain and our chains, and so we take it upon ourselves to punish them back. Make someone pay. Hate them back. I am here embarrassed to admit, that even as a Christian, all I want is to make someone pay. Death for death. Tear for tear. I feel like I don’t matter, and to combat that I need someone to suffer so that I can feel like I matter. Look closely, you might find there is a deep darkness that we wear underneath our impassioned robes of justice and freedom.

If you are a minority reading this and you want justice so that you can feel worth something again, you have been lied to. You have a voice,  whether they hear it or not. You matter and you are worth fighting for and the small whisper in between your eyes as you’re falling asleep, chanting no one really cares about you, you are powerless, you are helpless, it is not of God. I’ve heard it and I know it’s not. And what’s more, God is not sitting around biding his time until he can come back and set things right. He is moving. He is active and he is fighting for the oppressed like he always has and will. Right now in the present. And he is using His people to do that. Be one of them. We are with him; not just waiting for him. In Psalm 42 I have found both space to grieve and space to hope. Read it if you need either.

If you are a white person and you want justice because you feel the shame and guilt of another man’s actions, you have been lied to. The shame and guilt is not yours to bear. A friend cries into my shoulder and chokes out, I’m so sorry. We’re just so awful. I’m so sorry. And then softly, I hate myself. And you need to know, curing shame with hate is a fruitless pursuit. The best thing you can do is raise your voices with us to the people that don’t hear us. I have never felt more hated than in these past 3 weeks. But I have also, maybe, never felt more loved. A lot of hate on my news feed, but also a lot of white voices speaking the words that I wish I could. People lamenting, educating, even just asking questions. Racism on social media has a weird way of making you feel like you don’t exist. With each post of compassion, I feel seen. And loved. I’ll take that over guilt any day.

I don’t know it all but I know enough to know this is not the way it’s supposed to be. God is crying with us. He is moving with us. And maybe you don’t need to feel the hope of reconciliation before you start working towards it. Most days, I don’t feel it. I choose to believe it’s there. I think that’s okay. God is for justice, yes. And the entire gospel cries out reconciliation. Why have we compartmentalized two missions of equal gravity. There’s a lot of talk about justice, but I believe justice without reconciliation is a fool’s errand that will lead to more darkness than light. Let’s talk about fear. Let’s talk about tribes. We’ve talked about what we want; now, what are we going to do?

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18

No really, read Psalm 42:

Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?

42 As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?[b]
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”
These things I remember,
    as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
    and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
    a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation[c] and my God.

My soul is cast down within me;
    therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
    from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
    at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
    have gone over me.
By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
    and at night his song is with me,
    a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock:
    “Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,
    my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
    “Where is your God?”

11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.