I’ve been trying to not say anything about Ferguson. There are too many problems at work (obstruction, militarization of the police, racial profiling, riots & looting, racism, media manipulation, social activism …) and our culture has a tendency to be reductionistic. There is also a problem of a lack of knowledge (what are the facts?) as well as understanding.
Let’s start by saying that I am writing this as the white father of a black son (and daughter). I have concerns about when they are older and not with me or their mother. At this moment we don’t live in a community with many African-Americans. The racial issues seem to be more about the white vs. Hispanic or white vs. Native American populations. I grew up in a place where the most common minorities were Puerto Ricans (usually poor) and French Canadians (often middle class).
These realities color my perspective. I understand that. So while I don’t want unarmed teenagers gunned down by police or citizens, whether they are black or white, I have seen too many times when our country has been burned when more facts come out. I remember the Tawana Brawley hoax (thanks Al Sharpton), the fact that Zimmerman was a “white Hispanic” and not just Hispanic who was physically assaulted. I remember the false accusations against the Duke Lacrosse team who while not angels were not rapists either. In other words, there is a growing list of false accusations by one community (and the press) against the other. As a result, I withhold judgment precisely because we’ve been through this before.
As a white man, I see knee jerk reactions (fed by the media AND the police who routinely refuse to release information that could defuse situations). I do want accurate, timely information. I completely understand a community’s desire to get information. I see peaceful protest, like Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated, as the best option. Too often I see violent protests and looting (they make for good headlines, I know). Frustration is vented in the wrong directions, and it ends up looking like Do the Right Thing, Part 2. Misplaced rage is an ugly thing and the wrong people get hurt, financially or physically. I still remember the clips of the Rodney King riots when the man was pulled from the truck and beaten with a cement block.
In his book Bloodlines, John Piper talks about how for minorities everything is seen through the lens of race. For the majority community is rarely is. As the father of two Congolese-born children I’m reading Dancing in the Glory of Monsters about the Great African War. One of the insightful comments there, about violence and bigotry between different tribes, is that we minimize (usually ignore) the atrocities our community has committed and maximize and fixate on the injustices committed against our community. This is a powerful force that shapes our racial discourse.
Today was the last straw, so to speak. My frustration boiled over while reading a blog post by Justin Taylor who quoted Rev. Bob Bixby. Here is part of the quote:
Whites are confused by the outcry of blacks from all over the country when a black boy is killed. This is because whites do not value their white collective in the same way that blacks value their black collective. The black culture values the black community. They value the black collective. It was through community that the blacks prevailed through the Civil Rights Era. In fact, it is through community that African Americans survive still. They feel much more dependent on community than we whites do.
I will not deny that blacks express a greater degree of community and solidarity. My frustration, and the frustration of many white people, is that this solidarity only seems present when victimized (or perceived to be victimized) by another community. We don’t hear such outrage when a young black man kills another young black man. We don’t hear much outrage about the young boy in Chicago who was shot 4 times. (That’s his picture on the right.) I’m not sure why this is, and is the source of our confusion. Is this less of a tragedy because it was black on black violence? Many people like me are very confused and conflicted. We often feel we can’t say anything because we will be accused of racism and ignorance etc. Yes, in a sense we are ignorant. This is a request for understanding. For consistency.
Please, don’t take this as a denial of systematic issues of racism and injustice. I know they exist, but you get the sense this whole thing has become like the McCarthy hearings. Sometimes it is the sin of an individual, not a system. Personal sins and crimes need to be addressed (regardless of race). When systemic injustice is discovered, it should be revealed and addressed.
Communication, honest communication, needs to happen that helps us understand racial perspectives. Both sides also need to apologize for the real injustices perpetrated by either side. Yes, for Jim Crow laws, the KKK and systemic forms of racism. But also for the false accusations that have been very public as well. “We were wrong, and we are sorry” needs to be said and heard by both sides of this racial divide (and others). Forgiveness is the only way to move forward instead of remaining stuck in the divides that result in such injustices and conflict.
I confess that I am perpetually frustrated by our country’s inability to work this out (and I’m not alone). The frustration will remain as long as each side thinks only the other had done anything wrong. It will remain until we all face the fact that we are broken, and hopeless to fix this thing. We need help, and the only help I know of that can be of help is the gospel of Jesus Christ. But since our nation seems allergic to the gospel the healing will not happen but the pattern we’ve lived for the last 40 years will just continue.