How did we get here? Let me start by saying, I’m not trying to defend or rebut anyone’s opinion or beliefs. I was born into, grew up in, and thought I still lived in, a country that created space for opposing ideas to be offered and discussed. A country of laws and agencies designed to protect everyone’s right to freely express their thoughts and opinions. A country founded on civil debate.
One only needs a few minutes on social media or cable news to realize there is no shortage of voices. But all of those voices are worthless, all of the talk useless, when no one is listening. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a black man. I have no personal experience, nor first-hand knowledge of the oppression people of color experience trying to live in a country that claims they are free.
To my shame, I must consider myself part of the problem. Actually, the root of the problem. To the extent my memory affords me, in my judgment I have never consciously or intentionally discriminated against or sought to harm or demean anyone based on their ethnicity, heritage, or culture. And therein lies the problem, ‘in my judgment.’ I’ve never asked anyone of color how they receive me. I’ve never thought to ask a black man what he sees in my eyes, or in my countenance, when I speak to him. Do I come across to him as someone who considers himself superior to him? I don’t know! How would I know? I’ve NEVER asked! And I’ve never listened. I allow myself the comfort of ignorance. Actually, deception. Deception because it’s a lie to believe I can grow up as a white man living in a country with such a deep history of racism and bigotry, and think I am above being formed by that same culture and history.
Deception because I want to believe we’ve improved, after all, laws have been passed and implemented. “These things rarely happen anymore, for the most part, we’re better than that.” Deception because I never asked. Why don’t we ask? Fear, I guess. Fear of the knowledge we’re not really ‘better than that.’ I think that’s a source of much of the anger.
Anger is a natural response when something we love and value is being threatened. Black people are right to be angry at the violence directed at them and freedom they are deprived of. I am heartbroken and demoralized by the senseless violence and the injustice that continues to exist. I acknowledge and accept the anger of blacks as justified and even righteous. But the anger I feel is toward a different source.
I’m angry that we’re still facing these issues. I’m angry laws and systems enacted to prevent senseless behavior isn’t working. I’m angry the people hired or elected to oversee the system and take corrective action, don’t. I’m angry the country I love and want to honor and defend seems unwilling to do this hard thing and resolve this. And yes, I’m a little angry I have to ask myself the very hard question, how am I perpetuating this systemic problem?
I’d much rather point my finger at others as being the problem. I’d much rather continue believing it doesn’t exist. I want to believe we can all just get along. I’m angry at being forced to recognize the evil that exists within my own heart. And I believe most of us are. We don’t like to think we’re to blame. We want the problem to be outside of us, not within us. There can be protests everyday and in every city, and there should until something changes. But there will always be acts of violence, followed by riots, looting and mayhem, until we’re all willing to deal with the evil that resides within.
The answer to all of this is simple and basic, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” Until I can accomplish that, you won’t find me protesting or rioting. Because they have yet to prove effective at bringing about lasting change. Instead, I will seek out people who are different than me. People of color, of foreign origin, people who look differently, speak differently, and live differently than I do. And I will ask them to speak to me about anything they want me to know about them. And then I will listen. And I will keep listening until my heart toward them changes. Until I can be with them without causing them to fear me because of what I, a white man, represent. Until I can love them as I love myself.
This may not make a bit of difference to the world at large, but it will make a difference to me, and hopefully, a difference in the lives of people I encounter and engage moving forward. Only time, and others, will tell because I’m an imperfect judge of my own character.