Our nation’s heart is exposed. And it hurts. Deeply.
Perhaps this is where the healing starts.
COVID-19 isolated us. In mid-Michigan, many of my friends are cleaning up from the worst flooding in their lifetimes. Last week, a police officer’s brazen killing – on camera – of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis ignited firestorms of protest that continue across the country.
Underneath it all, politicians far too often continue to divide us, even in these times of crisis.
Our pastor in his sermon this morning said what I’ve been feeling for the past few days: We need to listen. It’s not about judging the injustice, the anger, even the protests.
Racism still pervasive
I read a couple of stories last week unrelated to the protests that sickened me. In one, a white woman called the cops on a black man who was doing nothing more than pumping gas in his wife’s car. In another, a black man wrote that he takes his daughters and his dog with him on walks through his neighborhood – to protect himself, because as a black man walking alone, he is stereotyped and worse.
In his own neighborhood.
I thought we were past those days. We’re not.
I’m sorry. For all of it. As a middle-aged white man who so often is the cause of such racism and injustice, I’m sorry.
Look beyond yourself. Get to know your neighbor.
My next-door neighbor is African-American. We chat when we’re both outside doing yard work or when she’s walking her dogs. We get along just fine. This is not rocket science.
Why does it take a man’s death to understand this?
Do not lose the message
What changes? Anything?
The Minneapolis officer wasn’t charged with murder until violent protests forced the issue.
Who is listening?
But let’s not lose the message.
America is divided. Our heart is breaking.
Or, should be breaking. I’m not sure we white people get it, still.
As white Americans, we will not get involved in anything – education, politics and government, church, business, or anything else – unless we lead it. We will not submit ourselves to leadership of any minority group.
This was the main message of a conference I attended 18 months ago in Chicago on forming inner-city churches. Several African-American speakers made that point, politely, to us.
We will hire an African-American on staff and call it a diverse church. But that African-American has to “do church” the “white” way.
That’s not diversity.
White preachers use a three-point outline that congregates can take notes on. Black pastors don’t preach like that. White choirs use the hymnal and sing the notes as written. Black choirs sing with passion – and their directors dance while leading the congregation as well as the choir. I saw this during the conference when a gospel choir from a nearby church led worship one evening. It was very different from what I’m used to, and very powerful.
The church I attend has several campuses, and this spring opened up its latest in Lorain, Ohio – an economically struggling city (steel mills were the main employer once upon a time) with plenty of minorities, blacks and Puerto Ricans, as well as many residents living below the poverty line. Are we ready to serve a community that many of the leaders of the church can’t relate to?
Would we allow dancing during Sunday morning worship? What about Puerto Rican music?
Perhaps. We shall see.
‘Looted every single day’
We try to tell minorities how to protest. Do it peacefully, but don’t kneel. Don’t cause trouble, or don’t damage anything.
“There is no right way to protest because that’s what protest is,” said Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show. “What a lot of people don’t realize is the same way that you might have experienced more anger and more visceral disdain watching those people loot that Target—think about that unease you felt watching that Target being looted. Try to imagine how it must feel for black Americans when they watch themselves being looted every single day.”
I can’t imagine what that’s like.
White people destroying stores and looting are taking away your message. Making the violence worse drowns out your cries for justice, for respect.
The effects of white power
And I have to say this: Our president is supposed to be a voice of calm and reason during a crisis. President Trump is not. In fact, he’s making the problem worse.
“When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted – borrowing a racist phrase from 1967.
He’s given no leadership on the worldwide coronavirus crisis – indeed, making that situation worse by dropping out of the World Health Organization, instead of uniting with the rest of the world to seek a vaccine and other answers to solving this pandemic.
He even rejected the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s advice on reopening the economy. And contrary to all reasonable medical data, he wants to hold the Republican National Convention as normal – even though mass gatherings will likely be the last bastion of social distancing.
President Trump is not a listener. Never has been.
Instead, the rest of us must listen. That’s how we can lead.
If a man can’t even walk in his neighborhood because of his skin color, that’s on you and me. If a man can’t even pump gas, jog or ask that a dog be put on a leash in a public park because of his skin color, that’s racism. Pure and simple.
I’m stunned all these things are happening. Still.
Let’s not let the violence happening in our cities overshadow this message. We must listen.
We must defend our neighbors, all of them.
We must let other people lead us. White people haven’t done a good job, especially recently, of leading our country. Too many Jeffrey Epsteins in this world, using his power to prey on other people.
Epstein isn’t around anymore to face punishment for his crimes. His Maker will have to take care of that, and He will.
But Epstein has left a trail of broken lives in his wake, more even than we know about.
This is what we have become as a nation. Divided, broken, dominant and repressive, man to woman, white to black.
Let’s not explain this away by saying there are good white people and oppressive black people. Of course there are, but that’s not the norm.
We must listen, and learn
As white people, let’s acknowledge what we’ve become.
As the country starts opening up again, I’ll keep trying to reach out to those of you less fortunate than I am, racially and economically. That includes most of you, actually. Through my inner-city church. Through a food pantry that has been closed for two months, but which is reopening this week, in a limited form. Through my neighborhood.
Not just today, but going forward.
When the next crisis hits and this former police officer is relegated to the inside pages, we will have to keep listening. Or this will happen again.
It’s time we started learning some lessons from what’s going on around us. No more defending ourselves. No more trying to explain things away.
Listen, people. Just open your hearts and listen.