I don’t like to write posts like this. I know that there are so many people in the world (and on the internet) who are more educated, experienced, and eloquent in these matters. But Minneapolis is on fire. My Facebook feed is on fire. And I am learning that while speaking up can be costly, silence costs you something else, too. So in terms of choices, I will choose scrutiny over complicity. I’ll settle for being an imperfect but teachable advocate.
While this post is about race and hopefully offering a broader context to the protests in Minneapolis, I’d like to tell you a bit of my story.
Several years ago I read my daughter, Tessa, a story about the life of Ruby Bridges. (I wrote about that more here.)Tessa loved this story, was captivated by it really. I was surprised at the time that she wanted to hear it so often because Ruby’s story, while inspiring, is also hard to read. Ruby was one of the first African-American students to attend a white school during the de-segregation in New Orleans in 1960, and her treatment by the white people in the community was abhorrent.
“How can grownups yell and throw things at a little kid?” Tessa asked.
“It’s evil,” I said. “There is no excuse for it. They valued their way of life more than the sanctity and safety of another human being.”
“But how?” Tessa asked again. I didn’t have any other way to explain it.
Fast forward a few years. This past spring we studied the life of Harriet Tubman. Tessa was again enthralled and almost obsessed with this historic hero, wanting to read different accounts and understand more and more.
And then this conversation happened.
Tessa: Did Ruby Bridges get to meet Harriet Tubman?
Me: No. They lived around a hundred years apart.
Tessa: But wait. If slavery was outlawed during Harriet Tubman’s life, how could schools still be segregated one hundred years later?
I didn’t have any way to explain that either.
You see, the narrative that I was taught in regards to US history is one of vague generalities and minimized atrocities. I was taught that there were slaves (how many?) but don’t worry, they were freed. Then after that, there were a lot of years we don’t talk about but it must not have been great (KKK in there somewhere?) because the Civil Rights Movement came in the second half of the 20th century. Then there was integration and equality, and then the 21st Century.
As I began to read more history and pay close attention to the voices and stories that were neglected in my earlier understanding, several themes repeatedly popped up. First, there was the theme of Black lives being taken without consequence or action toward the oppressor. Second, there was a strange obsession with preserving the image of our nation over the truth of our past.
Beginning in 1619 (before the Pilgrims’ arrival, please note) African slaves were brought to the colonies that would eventually become the United States. Twelve million slaves were captured and transported; only half survived the journey. Six million human beings died, and no one was held accountable for it.
The story goes on. The rape and murder of slaves without any legal ramifications. The lynching of Blacks after the Civil War, the “vigilante justice” of the South, that rarely resulted in any arrests. The hard truth of our history conveys a message that Black lives are not as valuable, and that white people have historically gotten away with treating Blacks as less than human.
This is not my opinion. This is not what is stated in our founding documents. This is the subtle message that is weaved into history. I’m skipping over so many examples, and I beg you to read more scholarly works on this if you are skeptical or interested.
And now 2020. Ahmaud Arbery is on a jog in a neighborhood and three men get guns to follow him because they find him suspicious. Mr. Arbery dies. Brionna Taylor is shot and killed in her own house in the night. No one arrested. And now the latest video of George Floyd, pleading for his life because a police officer is cutting off his airway while other policemen watch him die.
Is it any wonder that Black people are angry? Is it wrong that they want to live in a world where their skin color does not make them suspect and also make their attackers less likely to be tried and found guilty? What we’re seeing is not random or new, it is the centuries long pattern of oppression and injustice. And it has to stop.
It may surprise you to know that I consider myself a patriot. I’m grateful to live in a country with religious freedom. But I don’t love my country with all the heart eyes emojis and the “We’ve done nothing wrong!” rally cries. I love my country not for its perfection, but for the potential to one day be a people who value “liberty and justice for all”.
I don’t need my nation to be perfect; my Savior is perfect and my hope is in Him. What I want is for people to be educated and informed about the dark past, to recognize that racism is alive and well, and to meet that evil with truth, humility, and a willingness to change.
Racism is a topic that is hard to talk about for many reasons. It makes us uncomfortable. It creates defensiveness. The very notion that we or our nation could be racist is horrifying. But it is a grave situation that we must be willing to push through, search our own hearts, and reconcile our true history with our American stories.
What can you do? Educate yourself. Read, learn, listen, grow. Look for facts. Look for primary sources. Look for texts that don’t dismiss or sweep away the vile parts of the story. Cultivate true curiosity, ask questions, and pray for a humble and teachable heart.
Now is not the time to clutch our pearls, to criticize the reactions of the hurting, to tsk-tsk that people are responding to trauma in ways we don’t approve of. It’s time to learn. To grow. To do better.
I also wrote a post called Why Colorblind is not the Answer in regards to talking about race.
If you’re looking for additional resources, there are many ways to learn more.
Books: White Fragility (DiAngelo/Dyson), The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness ( Michelle Alexander), Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson) , I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness (Austin Channing Brown), The Color of Compromise (Jemar Tisby). Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation (Latasha Morrison).