Waking Up is Hard to Do

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you are white, like I am, and if you are someone who has become more aware that there is a problem with systemic racism in this country, then you have been going through some growing pains like I have been. People of color already know that our nation has been built on racism and has racist systems running through its veins. But, for some of us who are white, it’s ben a shocking time as we are confronted with the fact that, no: racism is not dead in the U.S. It is alive and well and now, has become downright acceptable. How did this happen, we wonder? We cry out with protest and surprise, because it feels as if we’ve been wakened from our cozy fantastic dreams where all is well — and it feels like the wake-up call has been accomplished with a bucket of ice water straight to the face.

Many of us have taken to social media, flooding it with shocked and frantic ideas of how we can change the terrible tidal wave that has hit the nation. We have just now discovered what black people and others who face injustice have known for a long time — racism is real and it sucks.

Personally, I admit that I lived in a fantasy for most of my life. Yes, I hated racism and was appalled by horrible jokes that I heard people tell, and nasty KKK attacks on people who didn’t deserve to be hurt or terrified. But, I am a lover of fantasy, and I actively seek to hide my head in the sand when confronted with realities that I don’t like. I am not proud of this, but, honestly, it is the truth.

I will never forget when I lived in South Carolina and the lessons I learned there about the realities of racism and how disconnected I was from the truth. Two incidents stand out to me that I now look back at and shake my head over.

In the first, I, as a civilian working with the Army I had once served as a soldier, wrote an editorial in the paper condemning what I saw as the glorification of hate groups on talk shows. I was a journalist, but I was incredibly naive at how my published work would be received in this place. My editorial was blistering and insulting to skinheads and the others who had been invited to appear on television to “raise awareness.” This was soon after Geraldo Rivera had his nose broken by a chair thrown after he had invited white supremacists AND civil rights leaders onto his show. It had been bedlam, and Geraldo seemed to eat it up. My point, in the editorial was that I didn’t believe these shows were beneficial in exposing these groups for what they were because none of their representatives ever really answered questions honestly. My view was that everything we needed to know about them was already known (that they were all idiots.) I was just plain stupid in writing this and having it published. I may have even been just as guilty as Geraldo now that I think about it. This editorial was me, venting in public. And, it was not smart. All the grief I got over it, however, was minor compared to what others suffered for broadcasting similar sentiments. A telephonic threat was it. It could have been much worse.

Another incident that shines like a beacon onto my white oblivion was when I helped take a soldier I worked with to the car repair shop to pick up his car. I loved this guy and his family so very much. And, he had his newborn infant daughter with him, so when he went inside to pay and get his keys, I was privileged to hold this darling tiny girl. Before he went inside, however, he startled me and warned, “don’t let anyone see you holding my baby.” I laughed and said, “Why?” He said, “Just trust me.” I did as he said, but, I wondered how anyone could object to me holding this lovely child? Maybe they shouldn’t object, but the fact is, there are plenty who would have objected, and who still do. I was naive, but he was not. He knew more than I ever could understand.

I am still fighting my own ignorance when it comes to race and society, and it is a never-ending journey. I know that in our white ideal world, many of us want to believe it has ended already because we have had a black president. But, it hasn’t ended. In fact, in many ways, it has gotten worse.

I know it’s disturbing to think that it is still alive and well. It’s even more disturbing to realize that we have done little to oppose it and in fact, have, by our ignorant bliss, helped it grow and gain power. White people who refuse to face the truth and do something about it have let people suffer great harm as they become victims of a system that we benefit from. I am one of those white people. I must admit it in order to move ahead.

Think about this.

When a police officer stops us, we don’t really worry if we’re going to make it through the encounter alive. We even think that the reason for this is that we’re polite and really, that’s all anyone has to do to get along well with law enforcement. But, I know white people who are anything but polite to police and they have never been attacked by them.

Yet, I also know of black folks who have been polite and compliant who have been attacked and even killed by police. But, when we are white and want to remain comfortable in our society, we cling to the idea that police are always heroic, and anyone stopped by an officer is probably guilty of something deserving full armed response.

If we were even half awake, we’d be able to see that this just isn’t true. It’s blatantly obvious that there is something wrong, and yet, so many of us just refuse to consider that the system is rigged against people of color. It is a messed up reality that makes us squirm if we face it (and our role in it), but it destroys lives, so to ignore it is to be complicit.

We don’t like to admit that our nation was built on the backs of slaves. I never owned a slave, but, like it or not, I and my kind benefit from their forced sacrifices even today. We love to applaud soldiers who were killed as having given their lives for their country, and rightly so. But, where is the acknowledgement that slaves gave all to this nation even if it was against their will? Many grandchildren of slaves have served this country in battle, by the way. They were noble enough to volunteer to serve a nation that oppressed them, and their ancestors so horribly. Why do we fail to recognize this? Why do we focus on every negative stereotype we can about people of color and completely ignore all that they have given to this nation?

Racism didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation, by the way. It is only the start of a very ugly, real racist path that people of color have been forced to walk all these many generations. For every stride that black folks have made (many of which we wrongly assume we benevolently gave to them), white systems push back and make them pay. Black civil rights leaders and workers (some white too) gave their lives to gain rights that we want to take credit for giving them. The indignities and persecution of the black race (and Native Americans, Latinos, etc.) have suffered are so many that I cannot thoroughly cover them all here. Anyone who really cares can find these things out themselves with minimal effort (think Google).

My point is that I am starting to wake up and I understand the urge to just go back to sleep. I understand that it’s easier, and more comfortable to just keep going on as if everything is fine. Sure, we suffer too (and that fact comes up so often as a defense against the idea of white privilege), but, how many of us fear the police? (And, before you argue that all anyone has to do is comply, I can give you so many examples from my own life that this isn’t true. Once again, think about any white people you know who aren’t polite to police. I can think of some. None of them has been attacked for it. Or Google it, if you really want to be honest and know the truth.) How many of us white citizens of the U.S. know someone who is doing time (and is white) for a minor offense? (Again, Google and you will find out all about unfair sentencing in regards to race, profiling, etc.) If the police want to arrest you for something, they can always justify it, by the way. (And if they want you convicted? It isn’t that hard.)

We have to admit, if we are honest and actually take time to find out – that we are beneficiaries of an elevated social status due to being white. I mean, ask yourself. Would you want to be black in this society? Would you be willing to change places with a person of color? Of course you wouldn’t.

I hope you realize that slavery was just the start of black injustice in this country. Because even after slavery was “ended” we had Jim Crow laws classifying black folks as lesser individuals who shouldn’t dare to taint the spaces white folks inhabited. We have had lynchings, where mobs of angry whites decided which people of color deserved to die horribly for perceived crimes (or more accurately, demanding civil rights or violating Jim Crow laws.) White people were allowed to beat or kill black people without any fear of prosecution. White mobs would often start an evening of hate with a lynching and then move on to swarm over black neighborhoods, destroying property and even lives. People were actually burned alive. But, hey, at least they weren’t slaves, right?

People classified as negro, or black, weren’t even allowed to vote until the 20th century and even then, white powers that be (supported by white citizens) did everything they could to prevent black voting. This is still happening today, but this fact can easily be dismissed if you are white and want to avoid facing it or claim ignorance to how political candidates and parties can, and have, manipulated black votes to nullify them. If you want to know truth, it isn’t hard to find it, but waking up is so hard, isn’t it? Think about how hard it is to be a person of color, in a group of folks that must fight hard for every right, only to have it pushed back again. People died so that those of their race could vote, but, that right is so easily denied when we pretend as if there is nothing wrong. All is a level playing field now, right? I mean, we have let them have their black president, haven’t we?

Waking up is hard because we don’t want to let go of power. We don’t want to admit that we should never feel we are “giving” black people anything, because we haven’t. On so many levels this thinking is wrong. But, we still think of ourselves as lords and masters, benevolently “giving” these lesser people rights out of the goodness of our hearts. But, these are people and citizens who DESERVE every right that anyone has here. And, for another, every right anyone of color has was won at great, great price by activists and people that our race has killed, imprisoned, criminalized, fought against, and hated and yet we STILL want to deny them equality. Wake up to that, because it is truth. And, it should hurt.

There are so many layers and layers of racism on which our society rests. It takes a lot of work to uncover them and it is painful to admit the truth and to face the facts that your failure to recognize the problem has led to the great harm that has been done to people of color in our nation. We are not innocent just because we have not burned a cross or intentionally discriminated against anyone.

Yet, the point of waking up to our roles in perpetuating the system of racism that hurts people is not so we will hang our heads and carry unbearable guilt. For too long, history in this nation has been all about US. But, we need to wake up to the fact that our guilt (or our lack of right action) should not be the focus here, because that only perpetuates our belief (and our society’s structure) that everything is about US white people.

How about laying aside our preoccupation with ourselves altogether? How about focusing, instead, on what is happening to the other? That is where change and good can come from. We need to wake up that the situation is dire for people of color in our country. People are dying from this poison of racism every day, whether in body, or in spirit. It has to stop and we can stop it. We have the power to make a change if we only open our eyes and close our mouths for awhile.

It is an uncomfortable journey because we are not used to humbling ourselves and letting someone else have the last word. We don’t want to give up control. And, really, ending racism doesn’t seem to have that much benefit for us, does it? We are just fine with things the way they are. There is nothing to be alarmed about if you are white, is there? Maybe we worry about terrorists or our pocket books and bank accounts. But, we don’t really worry that our kids will be killed by police when they go out to play, or take a train to work, or drive in the wrong neighborhood. Not really. So why should we wake up and why should we care?

I cannot answer that for you. But, for me, it is important for many reasons. First, there are people I dearly love who do worry about their kids, with plenty of reason (and the reason isn’t that their kids are thugs either). There are kids I love who I worry about. They are good kids. But, what if the wrong police officer sees them out and gets the wrong idea about them based on their skin color? What if they find it easy to target them because they don’t know them and they have made assumptions that they shouldn’t have made because they have been raised in this nation with implicit bias? I cannot imagine the pain of that, but sadly, I can imagine the reality of it. That chills my bones. Secondly, I don’t think I could live with myself knowing that I could be a party to willfully discriminating against people based on skin. (I was going to say as superficial as skin tone, but then, I thought – no, because in reality, different skin tones are so beautiful and are part of who a person is, so it is not superficial.) I don’t want to be looked back on as someone like the slave owners of old, or the German people who ignored the Holocaust. And, I feel as if that is what future generations will see when they look back at us and wonder why we sat back and let people be executed by police (no jury trial for them!) who are supposed to represent justice, or why we let a school to prison pipeline be set up for black lives (where we once again put them in slave labor situations). I cannot really live with myself, or contemplate one day facing eternal judgment, if I just turned away and say nothing when black boys and girls are taught that they aren’t beautiful, smart, articulate or capable because they aren’t white. I just cannot go back to sleep, though I would never say I am fully awake.

I still have a lot to learn, and I make mistakes. I have been raised privileged and biased, whether I want to be or not so that is bound to affect my vision. So, there will be missteps and there will be times when I fail to see. There may even be times when I look away. But, in the end, I pray, that I will keep going forward to stand with those who are oppressed. Jesus stood with the least. How can I refuse to do so, even if it is uncomfortable?

My comfort is not the most important thing in the world after all. Justice — that is important. That is worth waking up for. It is far less comfortable to put myself in the shoes of those who suffer racism every day. They are the ones who feel the real pain. My pain is nothing in comparison. Besides, I think the real joy is in working for truth and freedom for all. What about you? Can you see the light, can you hear the cries for help, and will you get up from your pillow and do something?

D.A.R.E. to Be Peaceful

document

When I was growing up, I watched shows like Dragnet, Adam 12, The Rookies and Mod Squad. I grew up believing that police officers are heroes. And, in many cases they have been. That’s one reason that being made more aware of police brutality against African Americans, Native Americans and others of a non-white skin hue has been so disturbing. Where are those heroes? Why are police so angry and over-the-top violent? Why are they so afraid?

When my daughter, Amber, was alive and in junior high, she had to take a D.A.R.E. class. She was excited. She, like me, believed police were heroes. That class taught her, and others, about the dangers of drug abuse, and how to avoid using violence in conflicts, among other things. She was so proud to graduate from the course and get her T-shirt.

If police departments and community leaders believe it is so important to teach children how to negotiate and use words instead of violence, why are there so many situations where police resort to violence over even minor disturbances? Why can’t they use the tactics that are taught in D.A.R.E. themselves, instead of violently slamming young girls to the ground for non-compliance? I have seen many people state unequivocally that the only thing people need to do is comply with police orders and there would be no problem. But, why should a police officer be allowed to demand unwavering obedience and then be sanctioned to meet resistance with brutality? That is not what trained adults should be doing with our children. Is it? That is what domestic abusers do. You say no to an abusive parent and you get attacked.

From D.A.R.E.’s own website it says: D.A.R.E. envisions a world in which students everywhere are empowered to respect others and choose to lead lives free from violence, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors.

So, how are police modeling respect for others, and steering clear of violence?

Another quote from the D.A.R.E. website states — The safety and health of children is the highest priority of the D.A.R.E. program. No one deserves to be the victim of bullying.

And, again I ask, how is the police system in our nation modeling this? Perhaps there are officers who need to take the D.A.R.E. courses themselves. I don’t know what the answer is to stop the rise of police violence against certain groups of people, mainly those who are not white.

Yes, there are wonderful, heroic police officers all over the country. There are police who do make a difference, who do care. When the church where I work was burglarized, the police were extremely helpful and have been wonderful to work with. I appreciate everything they do.

But, in order to uphold the status of heroism, police have got to begin respecting all people, and if they have issues with hating people of non-white skin, then they shouldn’t be allowed to have such sensitive jobs and access to firearms and the authority of the municipality. No cities should have racists representing them as police officers. Police are sworn to serve and protect, not just some people. Who is going to protect minorities from the police if the police cannot be trusted to properly interact with them? As I’ve said before, every person of color I know has stories of police harassment, and these friends of mine are not thugs or criminals. They are citizens who deserve respect.

I don’t know what all of the answers are, but things will only change if we demand that they do. So, we all have to hold our police departments accountable. When they commit crimes against citizens, they need to be prosecuted and properly punished, not given vacations. Police work is stressful, but, that is no excuse for unbridled violence. I was in the Army, and when I was put on guard duty, against terrorists who had done many acts of violence, I was given magazine rounds wrapped in plastic. The reason they were so wrapped, I was told, is to keep us from panicking, slamming in magazines and firing on people without thought. It seemed silly at the time. After the guard shift was over, you had to account for every single bullet. If one was missing, that was cause for a full investigation. The last thing the Army wanted was for a guard to get scared and accidentally shoot a citizen.

If the Army was that careful with what it allowed its guards to do, knowing that they could have been targets of hostile violence, why can’t police departments be that vigilant?

I only pray that things improve in the future, but I don’t think they will until people in our country feel as if even the lives of black and brown people matter as much as the lives of white folks, and those dressed in blue. Police officers get paid to take risks and are trained to deal with threats. Perhaps the training needs to be better about when to respond with violence, and when other tactics can be used. But, nevertheless, it’s the job of police to protect the populace and they can’t do that if they are the threat instead of the protection. I D.A.R.E. police to learn peaceful ways of de-escalating situations without immediately turning to violence.

To read about what D.A.R.E. stands for, click here: D.A.R.E.

The Hardest Blog Post Ever

Selfie!

Selfie!

This has been the hardest blog post I have ever tried to write. I have written it over and over and over again. Most recently, I’ve been struggling with how do I communicate with people I love who don’t understand where I’m coming from? How do I put into words the turmoil within my heart, mind and conscience? How do I express that I might disagree with them about politics and religion but that I still love them very much? How do I help them understand why this is so important to me?

I could go on with the questions forever. But, here goes. This is my 1,819,816,116th time of trying to put into words where I’m coming from.

It’s been a complex process, so that is what makes it so tough to boil down into a few paragraphs. Where do I even start? How about here?

Change is painful, but it is always necessary. Change is growth. Comfort is the enemy. Lies are comfortable. Truth is not.

Time to unpack these statements. I hate change with a passion. I love comfort even if I have to live in a fantasy world to achieve it. Sometimes, I don’t want to know the truth. Change is a constant part of life. Not only have I changed, but my world has changed over and over again. Everyone I know has changed in one way or another. We have no control over the advance of time, but, we do have control over whether or not (and how) we let our minds grow and change. Knowledge is change, and knowledge is good. Ignorance kills. Just think of how we’ve advanced in medicine, for instance. Before we knew about germs (when we were ignorant), people died of infections and had all sorts of strange procedures done to them in hopes of curing them. Think leeches here people.

In my own life, I once thought one way, but since experiencing more life, and more pain, I have changed and grown. It’s because I have been forced from my comfort zone that I’ve seen and heard things that have changed me. I think I’m changed for the better. Some might argue, but, that’s not my problem. I want to please everyone. That’s a bad habit I deal with. But, I can’t – so I won’t bother.

The thing is, I have seen, and continue to see, that this election – the election of Donald Trump – threatens the safety and happiness of people I love and care about.

So, what does the election of Donald Trump say to me? It says this — a lot of people are comfortable with racism being a part of the fabric of the United States’ government. This candidate, soon to be president, was the most openly racist candidate I’ve seen in my lifetime (besides George Wallace), and still Christians voted for him. That tells me that they don’t care about racism very much. But, I think Jesus cares.

My Jesus was dark skinned, from the Middle East for starters. I wonder if Jesus were around today, what he might say about Donald Trump? I don’t think that I could look Jesus in the face and explain to him why I voted for Trump, if I had. And, I certainly don’t think I could look him in the face after I’ve elected this man and then gloated about it all over social media and called other people names who are understandably worried.

But, since I’m not Jesus, I have some explaining to do now anyway. You see, up until this election, I had always voted Republican too. I thought just the same way as many of my friends and family do. If things hadn’t changed in my heart and life, I too might very well have voted for DJT. So, I shouldn’t be too hard on anyone else.

I used to think Fox News was a prophetic voice, in line with godliness and right thinking. I used to think that gay people chose to be gay and that they were dishonoring God. I used to think that’s what the Bible said, so there was no arguing with that. I used to think one could love the sinner and hate the sin. I really did. I bought it all, hook, line and sinker. I couldn’t even imagine a Christian voting Democrat. What about all of those unborn babies?

I get it. I do. I still care about unborn babies – in spite of the fact my stance on abortion has changed. I still don’t want to see abortions happen, but I don’t want to outlaw it either. I want to create a society where the need for it would be rare. That is a discussion for a later day, however.

The reason I brought it up is because I want to explain that I do understand where people are coming from, to an extent. But, I have changed. Dramatically.

When you’ve lost your only child, the one you cared for 24-7, day in and day out, and you know what it feels like to have your sunshine go dark, then you will understand the kind of authentic reality you need from God. I can’t follow the same God I once did. I am barely clinging to life as it is – at least that is how it feels. At any moment, I could be swept away into darkness and despair. It’s ever looming over me. That’s why I need a God who is light. I need a God who brings me love, who is real. The God of hate is not real.

I refuse to believe in a God who would teach us to turn the other cheek, love our enemies and care for the least of these, and then turn around and support Donald Trump. Some have even suggested that God chose Trump! I can never believe that. That is not the God I serve.

Jesus is my lord – and I will follow him even if it means I go a different path than every single person I know and love. He is my life raft on this stormy sea. And, I will not close myself off from other people based on who they love, what color their skin is, what religion (if any) they follow. My God loves everyone, and has grace for them all. He is not petty in the least. My God is the one who holds me when I cry myself to sleep and feel that I have nothing to live for. My God is the one who tells me I do still have things to give. My God is also the one who is there in the darkness as a young gay teen cries himself to sleep and wonders if he has anything to live for. We have to be the ones who reach out in Jesus’ name and tell him that he still has things to give, and he is beautiful just the way God made him. My Jesus is also there when a young black man wastes away in prison for the same crime a white man did no time for, and he’s weeping over that situation because it is so unjust. And, we have to be the ones who stand against mass incarceration and throwing people away.

I have overcome a lot of pain in my life by following the Jesus that loves me enough to push me out of my comfort zone into new horizons. I devote my life to following that Jesus, wherever he leads me – to eating with (and loving) gay and atheist friends. I also follow the Jesus who shows up at protests against the systemic racism that threatens the lives of innocent people. My Jesus doesn’t think that black folks are less than white folks and he doesn’t ignore the pain of his children of color when they are threatened. My Jesus will come to their defense, and I will be there with him every step of the way.

(None of these sentiments make me noble. My gay friends and atheist friends honor ME by accepting me the way that I am. I am doing nobody any favors by standing against racism either. That is only common decency. I am still stumbling through life like a lot of people. But, I have to start somewhere.)