There is no telling what it felt like to be in his skin in that moment. Was he afraid? Indignant? Was this one of those times his mama had warned him about?
And while we don’t know all the details of this particular shooting, this death, we would be remiss not to look at the individual life and to the larger reality to which this speaks.
#Ferguson is a flashing arrow for all that splays out again and again as unarmed men of color are killed on the streets they call home, as our nation’s jails fill disproportionately with young black men.
How many stories have I heard of “driving while black” in Portland? Or “shopping while black” or “riding an elevator while black?” and the pain that fell afresh as sirens blared and people crossed and clutched and store clerks followed through aisles.
I will not forget the expression on the black woman we knew as Sister when she told us how deeply afraid she was to have black sons, of her prayers and her hopes and fight to keep them alive in this world that made clear how much it hated them.
Years ago, Michael commented with sadness that he knew he could blast down MLK Boulevard at 70 mph and that his skin would grant him immunity, while a young black man doing 42 would be pulled over in a heartbeat. Because the flashing police lights always illumined the faces of black men.
Our black pastor told of the gun held to his head during a routine traffic stop, his fight everyday not to hate and to seek reconciliation, to look to God in both his pain and search for justice.
White folks cannot know what it feels like to be black (or brown) in America, or what this means for each individual person in his or her own skin. But not knowing does not mean we do not try.
I cannot assume because this is not my reality that it does not exist — how arrogant — or that the stories of people of color are overblown and exaggerated. How would I feel if I were continually told that about my own?
I cannot remain unhearing while others cry out to be heard.
The stories of our fellow human beings matter, and yet when we talk race and color, words can quickly become barbs and walls.
Perhaps we are afraid of being stuck holding our own guilt or being misunderstood in our positive intentions. Or maybe we worry that if we allow these stories a place, we negate what’s been done or say these are the only stories of pain that matter or we overlook the good work that many are doing, in law enforcement and elsewhere.
Or perhaps we are afraid that we will not know what to do. That we will be powerless or will see our own ignorance for the first time, and then what?
Perhaps it is fitting to allow the discomfort to settle in. Our comfort should be rocked. And when we feel powerless to affect change, we would do well to remember all those who feel powerless daily — their own power taken, threatened or called into question because of their skin’s color.
It means setting aside the “privilege” (or choice not to care) that our skin affords as we shop, walk and drive while white.
It means slowing to listen without knee-jerk responses, hurting with and suffering alongside.
It’s been said that it’s apathy, and not hate, that is the opposite of love. And if we do not love, what are we here for?
So am I loving? When do I choose more comfortable silence in the face of injustice? When do I minimize human beings with judgments? When do I harbor hate, be it ever so subtle?
Look at this photo above — students of Howard University, arms up, open palms crying in solidarity, don’t shoot.
Theirs is a cry over generations, hear me. And an individual plea, let me tell you my story.
Five Minute Friday with the prompt TELL. I’m also joining with Deidra Riggs who is bravely #going there, leading gracious and honest conversations about race in America and the church. There is so much more to say here, and I wrote for much longer than five minutes, but I felt the press to say something. May this tragedy mean something. Dear God, may it not all be for nothing.