It’s 11:30pm, July 13, 2013. I just finished painting three walls of the dining room of my new house “deep rose”, a dark red color that’s stained my clothes and my hands. My wife and son are sleeping in rooms down the hall. After I finished cleaning the paintbrushes, I sat down to relax a bit before bed, and I saw the news about George Zimmerman’s acquittal on Facebook.
The first thing I saw after the news of the acquittal was outrage, pain, and fear being expressed by my Black family and friends. And within minutes, I saw White people–many of them White Christians–jump in to declare how the jury did the right thing, stand your ground, fear of death, or whatever else.
I pray that one person would read this and reconsider being That White Person. The one who sees the anger, hurt, and pain of their Black friend or neighbor and chooses to respond with defensiveness, disagreement, dismissal. The one who posts status updates about how the law is the law and they can’t understand why people are getting upset. Or, the one who says, “Stop pulling the race card–this is a sin issue, not a race issue.”
Dear White People (and Asian people, and Latin People, and even many non-African-American Black people): There are many days to insist that your voice be heard, that your opinion be considered, that you get a punch in the fight. But today is not that day.
Today is the day to listen. Today is the day to read status updates and posts and even threats of rioting and to stop and ask: Why are my friends, family, neighbors, countrymen doing these things? What are they feeling that is leading them to such strongly emotional responses?
Today is the day for empathy. Perhaps the most important step that we can take towards loving, caring racial solidarity is to stop trying to be heard and start trying to hear, and this is more true today than any day.
Put yourself in the shoes of my friend Kareem, who wrote: “10 years ago, I was a 17 old black boy once. I had an outfit just like trayvon. I’ve been pulled over, questioned & shot at. I feel this 1.” Kareem is a Black man who works in the worst part of Chicago, day in and day out pouring out his life for the Black and non-Black youth in his neighborhood, longing to see them thrive and prosper. Kareem has been pulled over for Driving While Black. Kareem suffers daily from American’s tendencies to see Black men as more threatening than others. Kareem has sons who are going to grow up and one day be 17 and wear hoodies. How does Kareem feel in this setting? Does Kareem need to be lectured about the doctrine of sin, or corrected for “playing the race card”? Kareem needs to be heard, understood, and loved.
Often it’s hard for us to hear about race from people who aren’t from our race. I remember growing up hearing Black people talking about social disparity and racial injustice and never hearing White people talking about the same things, and it was easy for me to assume that the Black people just wanted to stand up for themselves.
So: as a White person who’s been graciously welcomed into an African-American Black family, whose wife is African American and whose son will, at age 17, trigger some of those same negative responses I mentioned Kareem triggering: Please listen to me. I’m not standing up for myself. Nothing in this plea is for my own benefit. Please understand that this, today, right now is an opportunity for us to be bridge builders, loving sisters and brothers, beacons of hope and love.. but it’s also an opportunity to strengthen division, fulfill stereotypes, and act foolishly and out of selfish motives.
Please, today of all days, choose grace and empathy. Choose to listen instead of speak. Choose to love.