When we adopted our son, who is African American, I began to quietly read blogs, books and news related to his culture. A lot of new ideas opened up to me, many of which I’m only beginning to grasp. It’s humbling to learn how little I may understand the perspective and experiences of my fellow Americans.
In light of this, I’ve been very troubled by some of the responses of white people to the events transpiring in Ferguson, MO.
Our Black fellow-Americans are finding a voice to let the nation know that, to an extent, this is their every day. Every day they are afraid of being guilty until proven innocent. Every day they are afraid of suspicion based on their skin color or hairstyle. Every day they are afraid that they are viewed as less than human. Every day they are afraid someone will shoot first and ask questions later.
They are telling our nation this and saying, “Now do you see?”
Unfortunately, I don’t think we are listening very well.
Instead, we’re talking. We’re making excuses and dismissing their feelings as either paranoia or that they are “doing” something to bring this on themselves. We’re trying to point out the problems in the Black community (which is not our job). We’re trying to explain away what law enforcement’s intentions might have been (again, not our job).
I think we are tempted to diminish their concerns because we’ve never personally felt what Black Americans are describing to us. So we invalidate their experiences in our minds.
I flew on an airplane a month or so after September 11th. It was a scary. There were military personnel with machine guns stationed in the airports and you could be searched at many different points, even as you boarded the plane. Though I knew I’d done nothing wrong, I was nervous every time I came to a security checkpoint, because if I forgot I had a nail clippers in my purse, I might find myself getting strip-searched in a holding cell (at least that’s how my 18-year-old mind played it out).
Friends, this is what Black people are telling us they feel EVERY DAY. We need to listen.
As I see the pictures of the extreme military-style police presence in Ferguson, I keep thinking back to the civil rights movement, and how the police in Birmingham turned fire hoses and dogs on the peaceful protestors. When the images from that day hit the newspapers, it shocked many in our nation into action.
But I wonder how many others read the newspapers and thought, “Well, that’s their problem. They shouldn’t have been marching anyway. If they had just complied with law enforcement, they wouldn’t have gotten hurt.”
And yet in the broad scope of history, we look back and think, “Why did people just stand by and let this happen? What was wrong with us?”
This is why we must listen more and speak less. We don’t understand the struggle, because we haven’t lived it. But we can humbly learn from those that are finding their voice, as the nations’ eye is on Missouri. Maybe we won’t know how to help solve the problem today or tomorrow. But if we listen and learn, our hope is that our country’s dark history doesn’t have to repeat itself.