Saturday, July 23, 2016

My struggle with the shock and awe over recent racial tension...

This is a post I've wanted to pen for quite a long time now - years in fact. Yes, years. Here recently, the desire to do so has been so strong that tonight, or should I say very early this morning, I got up to tend to my dog and I started thinking about it again at a little after 2:00 am. This time I stopped to put my thoughts down - a risky business for sure, but I can't help but think that taking risks is what might begin to change this mess we're in. So let's start there.

As I was saying, this is a post I've wanted to write for a very long time. Just like with most things in my life, I've wanted to do so under very specific terms.

I've been waiting for the dust to settle. You know, waiting for the shock and awe of recent events to die down and for everyone to go back to living life as they were before. I've been waiting for the lull in the news cycle that would give a reprieve from spotlighting and emphasizing racially charged events. That hasn't happened. There's been no lull.

It's been rather important for me to wait for that lull because that's when the dullness sets in. Danders aren't so raised and opinions not so outspoken when it's not being pushed down our throats through the incessant news stream that seems to surround such events. It's as though everyone forgets there's a problem - a BIG problem, and so we go back to living our naive and secluded lives, or at least those of us who are not people of color. We have no idea that even though it may not be the current media storm, black America is still living the nightmare. And so our outrage gets tucked back in until the "problem" surfaces again in the next news cycle. This is my existence.

This is why I preferred to wait, because it's in the lull that we forget that racism is an ongoing issue. For most of you this is news. You had no idea there was a problem until it started bombarding you at every turn, thanks to the ever increasing reach of social media. 

I personally don't watch the news. I don't even own a working TV. Don't feel sorry for me. I like life this way. I catch what I really need to know online, and everyone is talking about it anyway.

I've not watched any of the controversial videos which have been slathered all over social media. Why should I? What need do I have to witness such heart wrenching events? Sometimes it's just best to protect your heart from things that could harden, and possibly taint it. So no, I'm not a news watcher or obsessive, top rated video viewer. 

The truth is, with every new episode I become just a bit more jaded. We rage against injustice when it's staring us in the face, and then we go back to life as usual, making no change that would justify our indignancy. I confess I am guilty of this myself in some areas, and that it's easier to see in others when it's your injustice being put on display.

We speak our minds so openly and stagger over the most unoffensive use of words, but then things settle down. The problem gets swept under the carpet and we feel justified in having "done our part" to make the world a better place because we said what we needed to say.

I must confess, and I'm trying so hard to be gentle, but I find this utterly insulting.

To speak your mind on an issue you really didn't know existed to such a degree as is being presented, to apologize in such a public forum to just whomever might happen upon your post, to say your heart is wrecked by such obvious injustice and then to move on and make no personal change, gets me more than just a little riled up. 

Living in today has been difficult for me. Managing a right spirit and loving well in the midst of what I have deemed as such a personal offense has not been easy, and I've not done it all right.

Through all of this I've only had two connection points - just two people who've  reached out to me with regards to what I'm feeling, thinking, and processing. Only two.

One of those was on a very public forum with people who only know my public self. A small handful have been able to see me on a slightly more personal level, but for the most part, the one asking the question was not in that group. I was able to share openly and honestly some of what I'm sharing here.

The other was a more personal acquaintance - a friend and coworker who's known me for over 20 years. I was able to share more deeply my personal struggle and the fact that eventually, I would put all those thoughts down. He encouraged me in that.

That was it. Among my many friends of privilege (and by privilege I mean those not born of color) that posted about the racial tensions, only those two reached out to me personally. Take just a moment to think about that, but don't you dare run to me out of guilt and try to start that conversation. Remember, I'm still a little jaded by all of this and working diligently to guard my heart against offense. Some days are better than others, but this season has been difficult.

You see I knew there was a problem. In fact, I've known for almost 48 years that, America, we have a problem. I just had my 48th birthday, if that tells you anything. I knew it when I was seven. A car sped up next to me as I was walking home from school and a white man leaned out the window, yelled something at me and then threw his not quite empty beer can at me. I didn't understand his words then, but I knew something was wrong.

Just out of college, I knew there was a problem when at the church where I was working and also where I grew up, a parishioner made the comment TO ME that we must be paying our (black) cleaning lady too much if she could afford a car like the one she drove.

For years, when I've walked into certain stores I've known there was a problem. Just a few short years ago, I went into a little gift shop close to where I work. It wasn't my first visit, and certainly not the first time I felt as though I was being treated slightly different from the way other customers were treated because their skin color was much lighter. This was just the first time it was outwardly expressed. I have never been back and have re-gifted every item I've received from there since that day.

Sadly, on more than one occasion I've been shown that there's a deep seeded problem as friends I've dearly loved and trusted suddenly forgot I was their "black friend." In those moments, their choice of words exposed what was really in their hearts. I no longer hang out with those people or share as much of my life with them as I once did. Racism goes deeper than we think.

This is why I cannot "like" your posts filled with outrage at the state our country is in with regards to racial tension. This is why your apology and most sincere and distraught social media pleas have no affect on me. This is why I scroll right past almost every single one of them, at times rolling my eyes and guarding my heart against believing that most people of lighter skin really are that clueless.

The truth is, for most of black America, we don't want your apology unless you have intentionally wronged us. Words are meaningless. Actions on the other hand, speak volumes! Look at your social circles. How many of your closest friends are people of color? Don't proudly declare that you have a black friend. We are not your "get out of jail free" card! 

Where I'm coming from right now is not from the stance of black lives matter. I don't care what word you use to express a life that matters. They all matter! In my opinion, Jesus died for all. So they ALL matter. However, right now my heart and the hearts of so many who walk this road, they matter. And my heart is feeling pretty sick.

I hear your words of exasperation but my question is, what are you doing about what you're feeling? How are you helping to bridge the gap of unity between the races? If you're not making new friends, or striking up more conversations, or graciously tipping your black server, or getting to know people of color on a more personal level, then please, for my sake and all of us dealing with racism almost every day, say nothing at all. Keep your fear and your outrage solely to yourself. It's not helping. It may make you feel better about being privileged but, it's not soothing the tension in our world.

If you're white, it is your privilege every day to walk into a more upscale store and not be judged or followed from the moment you enter until the time you leave. (This happened to me just this week.) 

It is your privilege to hold a higher position in your company without the stigma of the underlying sense that perhaps you were chosen simply to meet a quota, no matter how hard you worked for it or how many degrees you've acquired

It is your privilege to interview for a job and not get passed over or second guessed because of the color of your skin. 

It is your privilege to drive a nicer vehicle and live in an affluent neighborhood without getting pulled over, or having suspicions surround you as to what you could possibly do for a living to be able to afford those luxuries. 

It is your child's privilege to attend a private school and to easily make friends because the majority of the students look like them. 

It is your child's privilege to walk down the street with a group of same color friends and not automatically be deemed up to no good.

So what's the answer? I can sense your exasperation even now, at least those of you who really do care. The answer is you. You can make a difference. You really, really can!

There is probably a cashier you see almost every time you frequent a certain store. Make it your aim to make her your favorite. I have three - one at my regular drug store and two at a couple of different grocery stores I frequent. Talk to them. Let them tell you about their day.
Bless them with an encouraging word. Laugh with them.

One of my girls is a much younger woman. Her life is so broken and filled with choices that will most certainly serve to harm her future. Yet, I seek her out and try to share a bit of joy whenever I'm shopping. 

Look for those serving at your job, your gym, or your salon. You have no idea the life they lead day in and day out. A little bit of heartfelt attention directed their way could go a long way to healing old wounds.

Sit down with your friends of color and let them tell you their story. Listen. I mean really listen and don't judge their frustration, their anger, or their distrust. 

If you really care, I mean REALLY care, make new friends with people of color. Invite them to lunch. Have them over for dinner or coffee. Arrange a play date with your kids. Expand your social borders and help break down the barrier that exists, because it's real. I'm here to tell you, it's very real.

Or you can wait for the next story to break and then do what you've always done - allow your feelings of outrage to surface through your social media presence, and then go back living life as usual once the dust settles. 

God help us should we make that choice, and God help me not to live so jaded.