Before you read this post, please watch this 11 minute video:

Mathew Cooke on Race

Now, sit very quietly for a few minutes and identify all of the feelings the video evokes. Are you upset? Defensive? Fearful? Do you feel justified? Are you angry? 

Why do you feel that way? What drives those feelings?

We have a problem in America. A serious one. Racial tension, poverty, and our inability to address either issue with compassion and effective resolution is far more likely to end America as we know it than any other threat from outside forces.  

People are angry, and it doesn’t matter whether you agree or not with why people are angry. Our opinion of someone else’s emotions has zero impact on those emotions. There are a lot of very angry people. I happen to believe people of color are very justifiably angry which scares me even more, because justified anger must be rectified in some way. I guess what scares me is this fear I have that we (white community) aren’t ever going to ‘get it.  Justified anger that goes unheard  leads to desperation.  Desperation drives people to do things that are unexpected and cause harm.

A few weeks ago I was thinking about all of the discussions around white privilege, race, and the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. I was trying to figure out what the alternative would be to systemic privilege. Given the absolute facts we have – if not systemic, then what? 

First some facts:

  • Minorities make up 30% of America.
  • And yet, minorities make up 60% of the prison population. 30% – 60%.
  • Prison population grew by 700% between 1970 and 2005  – Jim Crow ‘ends’, prison rates explode.
  • One in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. 1 in 3.
  • 70% of school related arrests involve people of color. It starts early – for 70% of children.
  • Black offenders receive sentences that are 10% longer than a white offender for the same crime

700% since 1970 – That started just after the civil rights movement ended….
Even in school the punishments for the same infraction are not equal.

So, here is my question – and it may infuriate you – at least it should:

Given these measurable and undeniable facts it seems like there are only two options at the root this factual tree: Either you can believe that our systems are set up to target and harm people of color, or you must believe that people of color are ‘doing this to themselves’.  But isn’t that just a polite way of saying that they are inferior. Is there really any other alternative?

I know (hope) that most people will bristle at the idea that a race of people could be called inferior. We are all made equal. Everyone is the same at birth… I know that’s what everyone says. I even believe that it is what many believe they believe. But at some point we have to dig a little deeper than ‘everyone is equal’  and explain why things are how they are.

If 30% of the people make up 60% of the prison population, but the system works the exact same for both minorities and whites….then why the discrepancy? If you are ready to say that it is not systemic, then mustn’t you then say it is their choices? And if you believe a community of people consistently make such horrific ‘choices’ then aren’t you really saying they are in some way inferior? And don’t just say no – think about this and please, explain an alternative.  

Let me be 100% percent clear on where I stand – I believe that we are all equal, and the statistics above are a clear and direct result of systemic racism in America. I believe that to be born a minority, or in poverty, is to be born with a host of obstacles and challenges that I can’t even begin to understand. I believe that our justice system, economy, schools, and social structures are set up to perpetuate the caste system that Mr. Cooke outlines so eloquently in his video linked above

I believe that people of color are justified in their anger -and I’ve no idea how to resolve it. But I do know that the first step is to at least get people to acknowledge that it exists. We can’t even get there, yet. And if we don’t do so soon, the terrorism will come from within our borders. History is very clear that oppression results in revolution. Every time. The anger is justified. It is.

If you believe as I do that we are all born equal and with the same inherent worth and ability – than you cannot deny that the system is broke. There is no alternative that I can see.

So, if the first step is acknowledgement then we must begin looking for information – not soundbites, the evening news,  or political pundits – but the real stories of our neighbors and their day to day reality.
Here is another link – this one is to a NPR ‘This American Life” about a situation where schools were recently forced into integration and how people reacted. This isn’t about 1950’s integration. It happened in the last couple years. Pay particular attention to the parents at the open meeting that happened just last year – but when you do so, please be the twelve year old girl that was also listening that day. The young, black girl that was excited to go to this nice new school… Just be her and only her when you listen to their concerns..

This American Life: Episode 562 – The Problem We All Live With

If you leave that recording empathizing with the parents – will you listen one more time and be that young, hopeful, 12 year old girl. The key is to empathize with the people who are the most unlike you.

Jesus said in Luke 6:32-36 (portion) “If you love those who love you, why should you be commended? Even sinners love those who love them?…Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward…Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.”

Perhaps you would say that doesn’t apply since ‘they’ aren’t your enemy – but I think it applies. Battle lines have certainly been drawn. This situation, I believe, is exactly what He was referring to…and that is our only hope, compassion.

Compassion is defined as: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.   Or, to put it more plainly: to be aware of someones pain and want to help lessen that pain.

Compassion is what Jesus expects of this Christian nation. He expects us to love those who are different than we are, have sympathy to their distress, and be compelled to alleviate it.

If you want another fantastic resource, I highly recommend: The New Jim Crow. It is a fascinating look at what happened after the Civil Rights Movement. These are the types of resources that we have to be digging into if we are ever to fully understand what people of color are feeling and experiencing
I grew up in an all white community surrounded by subtle, and overt, racism. I struggle to this day with almost instinctive thoughts and actions in certain circumstances – thoughts I would be horrified to admit. I sometimes get sucked into the rhetoric and judge actions I don’t understand, because it takes effort to remember the history that is the undercurrent to every angry action. It is not easy – it is nearly impossible – to see through someone else’s lense when it is so incredibly different than your own. But there are amazing men and women out there that are trying to educate and illuminate all of us to the other reality. Just because you don’t understand it, see it, or even acknowledge it – doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Research, read, educate.

A word about anger – because there seems to be so much of it around discussions of race and privilege. According to a wealth of research anger is almost always motivated by a desire to not experience fear, hurt, or guilt. Anger is very rarely a primary emotion. There is a lot of anger on both sides of this topic – but I would ask, plead, for you to take some time to get past that anger and label what you are really feeling. I think fear and guilt would be fairly common for those of us in the majority…hurt would undoubtedly be added in for those in the minority. But it will vary for each person. What is important is if your reaction falls within the range of – “I’m so sick of hearing about this”, or “I am so mad that ‘they’ say ‘this’ about ‘all of us'”, or any other angry response – dig. Dig until you can feel something besides anger

If your opinion on race and privilege is based on your personal (white) observations, social media meme’s, and the news coverage of #BlackLivesMatter – I would like to suggest that you don’t have a fully formed opinion. In order to understand what is going on you need to take the time to read and listen to the people who are hurting. There are plenty of resources that will allow you to educate yourself and have better empathy for a situation that you cannot possibly appreciate if you were raised in America and are white. 
I’m in two facebook groups: The Conversation Starts Today-Racism and White Privelege & The Conversation Starts today – Talking to White people about privilege. These are great resources to better understand where people of color are coming from. You will feel defensive in these groups – definitely start with the second one and not the first if you are still trying to learn. It is hard. Hard to hear, and hard to understand at times. But it is what it is, and we must work to understand and empathize. We must find our compassion.

One last thing – It seems a go-to argument, especially in light of the recent tragic shooting in Ferguson of the nine year old girl, has been, “Where is the outrage on black on black crime?” If you think that, or say that, let me ask you this – Where were the community protests held with black leaders speaking out against  violence within the black community? I can tell you: Chicago; New York; Newark NJ, Pittsburgh, Saginaw MI, and  Gary IN to name a few. Where are the leaders crying out for change? They are in the primarily black churches that many white people have never attended. These crimes are a very big issue within the black community, and from community programs, to churches, to President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” program – much work is being done. It is best to assume that, if it doesn’t look like people are reacting they way you think they should, it may be because you are not part of the community where the reaction is taking place. 

Regardless, don’t let your concerns about what black people are, or are not doing, absolve you of your responsibility to understand the reality that is America today. In the beginning – and still when I start to feel a defensive reaction to something I read – I have to remind myself: It isn’t about ‘them’, it’s about me. Have I tried to understand what is going on? Have I looked past the anger and the fear and listened to what is being said? Is my heart busy defending or is it busy finding ways to show and feel compassion.

There are a million more things to say about race – hours of conversation to be had. But I will stop here for now. I want a better world for my children. I do not know how we get there, but I do know that the next step is compassion, empathy, education and acknowledgement. 

We must educate ourselves and find the compassion and gentleness that should be the hallmark of a true Christian nation, because if we don’t…

Oppression results in revolution. Every time.

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