I cannot keep silent anymore.
In the mid-sixties, I was walking on a sidewalk late at night in a suburb of Jackson, Mississippi. It was my very first experience of the deep south and I was enjoying the sights of a new town when I saw a Negro man walking towards me. (Today’s politically correct terms of African American or Black did not yet exist.) About 100 feet away from me he crossed the street to walk on the other side. Considering we were the only two people on the street, it seemed a little strange, and I assumed he may have been walking to someplace on the other side of the street. Curiously, I turned around to look, and he crossed back over to my side of the street about 100 feet behind me. I thought, how weird. Continuing my walk, I stopped at a gas station for a cool drink and to use the restroom when I noticed “colored” and “white” drinking fountains, and “colored” and “white” restrooms. On that visit, the kindest references I heard about people of color in Jackson, Mississippi were either Negro or colored, with equal references to the N word. Being a white man growing up in the Midwest in mostly white neighborhoods, that kind of blatant racism was something I had only heard of. Even though it seemed sad and not right, it really didn’t concern me enough to do something about it. I simply crossed it off as the ways of our deep south, steeped in its racist history. Blatant Ignorance!
The glaring truth after 400 years of slavery; centuries of lynching and torturing, the U.S. civil warm white supremacy, redlining, racist laws, police brutality, economic inequality and general violence towards all people of color has produced the disastrous results of merely giving lip service to real and meaningful racial reform. Although progress has been made, systematic and institutional racism prevails today far beyond what I was willing to acknowledge, and it really didn’t concern me enough to do something about it. Blatant Ignorance!
The Corona-19 virus, economic downturn, unemployment, the national lock down, along with four centuries of festering racism, created a perfect storm for heightened tensions, which made for a potential of racial explosions of gigantic proportions. The fuse that finally lit that bomb was the video of the senseless murder of George Floyd by police. It has literally rocked the world! Never in my lifetime have I experienced anything close to the dramatic consciousness that is happening right now with racial inequality in our world! I am embarrassed and ashamed by my selfish complacency, insensitivity, and ignorance. I am truly humbled. Right NOW, there IS something I can do about it, beginning with no longer being silent. I cringed at a protester’s sign that said, “White Silence Kills.” It reminded me of just how indifferent I have been.
What can ALL of us do about it?
1. Human nature has taught us all people can have a dark side, which is especially ubiquitous with our egos when we give way to our insatiable desire to be right or make something else wrong, regardless of the truth. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in our views on race, politics, and religion. Adding fuel to the fire is the old adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Nowhere is this more evident than with our politicians and police forces. Fortunately, the better angels of our nature have not corrupted all politicians and all police, but serious, real, and meaningful reforms are drastically needed, especially with regards to police brutality. Governments are essentially the controlling body of our laws and police departments. Abraham Lincoln once said, “The people are the rightful masters of both congresses, and courts – not to overthrow the constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert it.” Our votes for national, state, and local officials give us one very important responsibility to help make a difference.
2. Even though I had considerations about Covid-19, I recently participated in a local protest with white and African Americans. It was essentially a peaceful demonstration, and despite the obvious anger, the more palatable mood of the crowd was one of “we are all in this together for change.” Wow, what an inspiration to see so many people coming together supporting positive change! Despite the senseless violence and looting with some recent demonstrations, the thought that hundreds of protests happening that same day in many countries, gives us hope this new consciousness will have the legs to keep moving forward. Our strong voices through protests, and by what we directly communicate to our legislators is making a difference! We are being heard!
3. Many of us are painfully aware of the symptoms of racism which all rolled into one word could easily be called inhumanity. What is mostly at the core of our racism, what is the main cause of our racism, is dealt with far less than how we deal with the symptoms. The symptoms may be ever present in our consciousness while most of the causes are well hidden in our unconscious biases. Those instantaneous thoughts and feelings that pop into our heads without any conscious calculation, result in social prejudicial stereotyping. What do I instantly think, feel, or fear whenever I encounter anyone from a different race? Biases can be innate or learned. Regardless of their origins, the result of our biases is a systematic error or deviation from the truth!!! The best way to break a social bias is to interact with people outside of our group. Putting ourselves in the shoes of an African American can be very enlightening. I can only imagine how disheartening it must be to have the “talk” with African American children about the physical dangers of being black. I can only imagine how I might feel about being refused service in a restaurant because I am white. I can only imagine the difficult stigma of living in today’s basically white culture, being non-white. The only thing we have complete control over in our lives is our attitude. Keeping God in my heart and honestly asking Him to reveal my real motives about what I think, say, and do, can be a huge help in letting go of my biases. We are all it this life together. It’s not me OR an African American (or other race), it’s me AND an African American. When the importance of a black mother losing her black child is as important as a white mother losing her white child, we will have arrived. We need more wisdom like that taught by my good friend and 4th grade teacher. Every year he asks his students the same thing, “Is it more important to be right or to be kind, and why?”