“The only reason racism still exists is because no one will shut up about it.” This is something I’ve said – and believed. See no evil, speak no evil.
But that doesn’t do anything about the evil. If anything, it perpetuates the evil.
“Just as many white people are getting killed and bullied by the police as black people. The media just do not show it.” Yes, I’ve ridden this train of thought in the safety of my second-floor white community loft.
And then Ahmaud Arbery was shot because he was black.
And then Breonna Taylor was shot in her bed just a few miles away from where my family and I slept undisturbed and without fear.
The slow and agonizing and pointless murder of George Floyd went too far. That video ought be enough to knock the wind out of all of us.
My wife Sarabeth and I had an in-depth discussion about it all, where I (a by-product of a safe and white upbringing) felt like a student seeking the point of view of wise sage who’d spent a lot of time in South Florida. And at times during this discussion, I was put in my place.
She told me that the African American community has a point and a reason for all this outrage. (We did the same thing two-hundred and forty-three years ago, she said. Do the words Boston Tea Party ring a bell? The Boston Massacre?) She asked me how many black people I knew who get pulled over just for being black (all of them, it turns out). She noted that black people who have found success primarily have done so because they acted a little whiter, and usually dressed so that they would blend in with our white society.
The more we talked, the more I realized that I was a closet racist. I didn’t even know it myself. But sill I pressed on with my white agenda.
“But what about the rioting and looting? They’re not making it any better,” I tried.
Maybe not, Sarabeth said. But how else are they going to get our attention? And then she pulled A Time to Kill on me. She said, “What would you do if cops were killing 5 and 6 year old white kids? Kids that Katherine and Felix played with?”
I instantly felt my blood-pressure rise. If I had a brick, I’d smash it into the window of the district court myself. I’d march and scream and probably set fires to policeman’s homes, not until justice was served, but until the brutality absolutely stopped.
And then it hit me. Never mind the looters dashing out of Target with their new flat screen TVs, but what about those people shouting and holding up signs and spray painting the names of victims on buildings? I realized that they weren’t only angry, but many protestors are scared. Scared for themselves, their children, their parents, their friends.
And what is a country of freedom if you’re spending your life in fear?
How dare I point a judgmental finger at the rioters when they’re forced to pretend they live in a free country? Wouldn’t we rather there be 10,000 protestors break 100 windows than see one more unarmed person be killed by an angry cop?
We all do this thing that my daughter does now when watching a movie. She defines characters as being either “good” or “bad.” People are not simply this or that. Not all black people are protesting. Not all protestors are rioting.
Not all cops are racist, but not all racist people know they’re racist.
Racism comes in many forms, does it not? A month ago, I would have laughed at the notion that black people are not safe in America.
But one was taking a jog. BAM! A couple of idiot red-necks.
One was sleeping off long hours from the E.R. in her own bed. BAM! BAM! A misinformed and cowardly cop.
And one begged for his life without lifting a finger in defense, as his face pressed hard against the sharp pebbly street as many gathered and watched and took pictures and videos.
“I can’t breathe…”
Ahmaud, Breonna, George – I’m so sorry it took your lives for me to start seeing clearly. I’m sorry I judged anyone for throwing a brick in the name of a needlessly lost life. I’m so sorry for thinking that it was good enough not to hate black people or not say the “N” word.
And I’m sorry for thinking that our melting pot was ever mixed enough.
What can I do to help?