300 Howard University students stand for Michael Brown, 8/13/14
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?
We must tell of ones who die unarmed in the middle of the street and in the toy aisle of Walmart and not allow it to be swallowed up in celebrity gossip.
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.
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I love you so! I can not wait for next week… xoxo
Powerful and thoughtfully written. Thank you for putting these words to pen and paper. So much to take in and to reflect upon.
Thank you for shedding love, sharing your perspective, inspiring reflection and opening your heart. I love you sis.
Yes… Yes. Sister, thank you for digging so deep, for being brave enough to put words to these things. Love you so.
Stunning, Ashley. Thank you for sharing. I also wrote a brief reflection on Ferguson. I’ve had trouble thinking about much else the last few days.
I’m moved along with the power and gentle force of these words, Ashley, to the end of them, where what is left is silence and a question hanging in the heart that we cannot – dare not – dismiss. I’m so appreciative of how you bring your heart to the table and provoke us to question comfort and how we love in these realities. This photo – and really, what is captured by it – of the students at Howard is heart wrenching. I want to be one who listens to this cry over generations. I love you.
When.. really, when will we overcome this ill feeling that sits in some corner of our hearts!!
Visiting from FMF,
A very thoughtful post. Thank you for being willing to ‘go there.’ May the Lord use these words to His glory, and may we all be changed from the inside out.
I reiterate the words of your other commentators…”Thank you for being willing to ‘go there’!” Not holding back from such a controversial, yet important topic. I love you!
Way to tell it, Ashley.
Love your understanding listening heart that wants to listen. The thing I have learned over the years through my own suffering is that people have rushed to judgment and hijacked this tragedy for a place to vent their anger and to raise their voice to silence the voice of truth, to turn lives upside down, to turn a town into a war zone. My town. And we need to listen and lead to a place where people learn NOT to rush to judgment. I can count on my hands hundreds of innocent unarmed black and white boys who were shot and died at the hands of those who look just like them. I believe a race issue exists, but I don’t believe the pain and suffering is limited by color. And we must test everything against the word of God to make any headway at all. ALL truth. I finally went there today with Deidra. I want to listen, I want to hear, but I have a really hard time listening to people when they have already made their decision regardless of truth. Real listening does not judge. After all, Jesus told us not to do this. Here’s a part of my story Ashley. Thank you for listening.
Oh, Ashley! I know I am late to reading this, but wow! Great, challenging post. Perhaps we need to let the discomfort set in- will be pondering that. Thank you for being willing to share this and for encouraging me to love well! Thankful for you!
Thanks dear for these poignant words!
So good….so good
Wow. Thank you.