Monday, August 10, 2015

Out of the Deep: Reflecting on Racism

I started out this afternoon's gathering of our Education for Ministry group by quoting the opening line of our assigned psalm from this morning:

Out of the deep have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.--Ps.130 v1

I asked them to consider that line, and then pick from three words (thank you, Anne Lamott) to describe the cry they've put up to God the most recently: Wow! Help! Thanks!  There were several "Help!" a couple "Thanks!" and "Wow!" I chose "Wow!" but noted my "Wow!" was both that feeling of witnessing something really extraordinary and wonderful, but also the "Wow!" of being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. "It," in this case, was the heaviness in my heart as I considered that today was the one year anniversary since the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. His death has become symbolic of so many of the ills in our American society. And he is just one of the names. 

There is Trayvon Martin.

There is Eric Garner.

There is Tamir Rice.

There is John Crawford III.

There is Freddie Gray.

There is Sandra Bland.

There are nine people in Charleston, SC, at a church bible study. 

There are, frankly, too many who have died. And while the Charleston nine did not die at the hands of law enforcement (or, in the case of Trayvon Martin, a police officer-wannabe), the fact is that whether we want to believe it or not, race is a factor in all of these deaths. It may not be a conscious thought, but certainly in Charleston, it was. And in the case of many of these others, it would seem foolish not to see how our insistence on racial profiling in this illusive hunt for "safety" has led to any person of color being deemed suspicious until proven to be trustworthy. We can't ignore what our history has been in this nation that we have been OK with systems where people are bought and sold and beaten and raped and underpaid. While not officially called "slavery" any more, we still have the vestiges of those broken times present in our economy today. 

When all things on television were blowing up this past year with protestors and police clashing in the streets and firing tear gas at people marching in the streets of Ferguson, many of my African-American friends on Facebook expressed their rage at the situation, and their outrage at the silence of their white friends about what was happening to black people in this country. I would comment sometimes. But strictly speaking for me, I felt it was much more important for me to witness to their rage, and not speak, but listen. Listen deeply to what they were expressing. Pay attention to my internal responses to their words. Recognize and connect to their stories not by attempting to substitute my own experience in place of theirs, but recognizing when I could say, "I know that feeling," or "I've never had that experience, but I can imagine what that must have been like for you." I took part in a couple of actions, one organized by the Dream Defenders, and the other by a local artist. Again, my contribution in these cases was to be a body, albeit a white body, in support. But my primary goal was to listen. 

I don't want to sound like a simpleton about this, but I think the key to white America being able to do the task of working on the racism problem in this country is that we have to  be awake to our own prejudices, and then we have to take the time to listen and get to know those who we see as "other" and learn that, by golly, they're not as different from us as we might have thought. Most people of color want the same things for their kids that we whites want for ours: good schools, healthy bodies, and to live longer than their parents. Those are achievable goals if we make that commitment to each other to turn our faces toward each other instead of going into our respective corners and remaining prisoners of suspicion. 

Out of the deep I am calling to you, O Lord; Lord, hear the voice of my supplication.

No comments: