Given the powerful, pervasive, and persistent challenge and reflection facing our nation (and the world) in the wake of George Floyd’s death, I feel derelict if I simply ignore it on this blog. It is not a story about homeless ministry, but no doubt matters of racial injustice and homelessness intersect frequently and persistently too. Yet unlike the next holiday or news item, I don’t feel that I have some authoritative opinion the blogging world should read about with regard to Floyd’s story. On the contrary, I am sensing more than ever before that I have more to learn, more to listen to, more to change than I ever realized before.
I do not consider myself a racist, and I never have. I will defend myself against such a label if I need to, but of course that requires qualifying numerous statements. I am quite sure that over the course of my life, I have said and done things that were hurtful. I have laughed at ugly jokes, told ugly jokes, and encouraged this in others – to say the least. I have been, and am sometimes even now may be, insensitive. I will own those things for sure. I will even venture to say that my insensitivity can, on some occasions, go unnoticed by me. which obviously raises questions about just exactly how far the limits go on my self-awareness.
But I also know that I am NOT a hater.
Like so many white people, I am quick to note that I have black, brown, red, and yellow friends and family. People from these racial/ethnic backgrounds have my sincerest love and affection. Likewise, I have experienced undue suspicion from law enforcement, come under unnecessary scrutiny – some of which was illegal even. Not only that, but I have suffered criminal injury at the hands of black, brown, and red people on a few occasions in my life. Thus, like so many other white people, I have treated all these things as opportunities for deeper insight into racial injustice, and I have felt that they both taught me AND demonstrated my non-racist ways.
But I am sensing now more than ever these are not enough to act automatically as a get-out-of-a racist label card (like a get-out-of-jail-free card (which, and this is ironic, maybe “playing the [white] card” so to speak)).
Still, my wife who is white, can attest (and gladly will too) that I can be insensitive to her despite my profession of love and care, despite my best efforts to learn better, and despite my record where on occasion I did exceptionally well by her. But that merely parallels such sins regarding race (and questions my culpability with sexism while I am at it). And I am more clear now than ever that even though I have a few experiences which deepen my empathy and which give me a taste of the experience my black friends and family face, they are not enough to tell the whole story or to give me complete understanding.
The fact is, I have practically no chance whatsoever of experiencing the injustice George Floyd faced, and I therefore go about my daily life not fearing it, not dreading it, not teaching my kids* about the dangers of it, and all that. I do, on the other hand, go about my life not giving it much thought.
Now it is with me everyday. George Floyd has overwhelmed the headlines on my news feed. Not to the total exclusion of coronavirus or all the stupid things Donald Trump did yesterday, but to the point where those other things have become after thoughts and footnotes.
This post is the first in, what I hope will be, a series of posts where I lay bare slices of my life which I believe impinge upon racial injustice and inequality. I will tell stories – vignettes – from my personal experience where I believe I got things right or where I got things wrong (or some of both) and the lessons I learned from them. Stories where I was victimized or where I hurt someone else. Stories where I tried to learn, and what I think I learned while trying.
I will ask you, my readers (and I hope I get some black readers particularly, but maybe some brown, red, and other colors too), to help me see things from YOUR perspective. Let’s talk. I hope you don’t find me too easy to cave to your challenges, but I also hope you don’t find me closed minded or arrogant. I want to make MEANINGFUL changes in my personal life and in my personal relationships which I hope will play their parts in the bigger scheme of things as society in general makes some changes.
And I hope there are changes. I watched the video of Rodney King being beaten when I was a young man. I was grieved by that waaaay back then. To see George Floyd die the way he did roughly 30 years later lets me know we have not made the changes we needed to make, the changes I thought would be almost automatic just by the showing of that old video which sparked so much controversy so long ago. Now people today are saying that change is eminent finally, and I hope it is. But I believe it requires changes within me too. It’s not enough to just be shocked and think, “Well, at least I’m not a racist.” It’s not going to change automatically. I want to play my part, and perhaps with your help that will even be a prophetic thing.
I pray God show us how to love one another truly, to show it, give it, receive it, and change the world with it.
Your feedback is welcome here. All of it. And if my white brothers need to judge me, that is welcome too. Hit me with all you got. Let’s get those demons out here in the open, name them, pray them out, work them out, and subdue them finally.
* My adopted children are not white. Though they are too young at this stage, I do expect that in the future, I will have to explain, among the facts of life, that their color may be an avenue for injustice, and that they may well experience injustices their dear old Pops never faces.