Stray thoughts about racism

Justice and righteousnessI usually avoid controversy here. But several things have been on my heart the last few days.

I appreciate what one pastor said about feeling the need to make a statement, yet needing time to process and be with his people first. I’m not in any kind of leadership. No one is waiting on me to make a statement. But I have felt the need to say something while also needing to listen and take in and process before responding to horrible events that have happened in our country the last several days.

Some have decried white silence. Personally, my social media accounts have been filled with posts denouncing Floyd’s death. But, please understand, some are fearful of saying something wrong and making things worse.

Others accuse whites who speak out of virtue signalling. Some have said they don’t need whites standing up for them.

What to do? I don’t have all the answers. I don’t even know all the questions. But here are some things on my heart:

No question, what happened to George Floyd was atrocious and criminal. I was sickened, saddened, and angry by his unjust death. I’ve read opposite views about what kind of person he was. But that doesn’t matter. No one deserves to be kneed in the back, pinned to the ground and unable to breathe, until their breath is gone. I’m thankful the officers involved have been arrested.

No question there are bad policemen on the force. But I know they are not all bad. I know many are just as grieved as everyone else over Floyd’s death.

I have friends and relatives on the police force. I appreciate their service. Many take their lives in their hands every day. They never know when a seemingly everyday traffic stop or call will escalate into violence. I would guess that the great majority of law enforcement personnel are just trying to do the best job they can.

However. I don’t think anyone can deny that there have been too many instances of black men unjustly stopped, arrested, and killed. One instance would be too many.

I think racism is only part of the problem, though it’s a big part. The other is power. We’ve personally experienced and observed instances where a policeman has been unnecessarily aggressive and unwilling to listen. Authority is one thing, and I appreciate a policeman’s authority to step in when needed. But stepping in on the basis of snap judgments and a desire to exercise one’s own power is another.

These issues need to be addressed before they end up in abuse and murder. I’ve seen a meme going around listing several previous issues with the policeman who killed George Floyd. If these are true, action on them would have prevented Floyd’s death. If this policeman had been reprimanded or removed from his position earlier, the events on that fateful day would have turned out differently.

Racist and power-hungry people will show themselves. They need to be called on the carpet and either educated or removed. Other law enforcement people need to feel free to report questionable actions of their brother officers. The public good needs to be more important than protecting the brotherhood. Really, the brotherhood is not protected by covering for abusive officers, because reactions to the abuse will come back to haunt everyone, as we’ve seen in the recent riots.

I believe in peaceful protests. I can understand the anger and frustration spilling over. But rioting and looting only hurt the cause, harming innocents. It’s not even revenge, because it’s not aimed at the people who have done wrong. People have died in these riots, and those who killed them are no better than the policeman who killed George Floyd. There have to be more productive ways to demand justice.

But from comments on social media, it seems that outrage over the riots is superseding the outrage over George Floyd’s death.

Some of the rioters are not after justice. Some are opportunists. I’ve seen accusations of political involvement from both parties. It will take time to sort all that out. But don’t let the riots drown out the voices that need to be heard.

As I’ve read and listened to several responses, the one that resonates most with me is, “I’m listening.” James 1:19 tells us to ” be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”

I admit that for most of my adult life, I didn’t think racism was much of a problem. Sure, in some places and among some people. But I thought that, by and large, we were mostly past that. I grew up in the 60s. With all the strides that have been made in the decades since, surely people had equal opportunities now. But I was wrong.

I bristled at the mention of white privilege. “Privilege” brought up images of mansions and butlers and high society, which most of us have not experienced.

Buy my friend Laurie put it this way: ” White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been without struggles; it means those struggles weren’t brought about by the color of your skin.”

As I have listened, I’ve learned that racism is still prevalent despite progress since the 60s.

A friend shared on Facebook My White Friend Asked Me to Explain White Privilege. I Decided to Be Honest (warning: a couple of bad words). Just one instance: her boyfriend had been repeatedly stopped by police while driving. He started keeping a teddy bear in the back windshield and baby wipes in the car so he’d look like a family man and would be stopped less frequently.

Some of you might know Paul Whitt. He was with the Northland camps for many years and is now an assistant pastor. He was a friend of our former pastor and spoke at our church. He interviewed four African-American friends here, all Christians, about their experiences, feelings, and fears. I don’t know Paul or any of these men personally, but I share several friends in common with a couple of them. This is a long recording, but well worth listening to.

My daughter-in-law is Indian. She has sometimes been mistaken for black. I’ve been astounded by ignorant and racists remarks and actions she has experienced. I’m sorry to say that sometimes I tried to explain away what she told me. For instance, once a lady almost mowed her and Timothy down with her cart in the grocery store. Mittu felt it was because they were brown. But, I said, not all offenses are racially motivated; some people are just rude. In fact, the very next week, the same thing happened to me.

But I should not have responded that way. I wasn’t there; I didn’t see the woman’s expression. Just like when someone has been abused, our first response should be to listen and protect.

A few of my daughter-in-law’s other experiences, shared with her permission:

She recently told us of working in an office as the only female. The men would constantly attribute something she said to did to her “just being Indian.” If she tried to say that those comments bothered her, they said they were just teasing, the same as if they teased someone about having red hair. One of them, while leaning over her desk to look at or answer a question about what she was working on, said, “You’re making me hungry for brownies,” referring to the color of her skin. That is a horrible thing to say on many levels.

She worked at a Christian camp one summer. After the counselors met with a particular speaker, he handed her a tract. He knew she was a counselor. She explained that she was saved, and suggested he keep the tract to give to someone who needed it. He insisted that she take it—as if, since she was brown and he was white, he needed to be a missionary to her.

My daughter-in-law told me of being in a store with her mother and aunties, who all spoke in Hindi. Someone passing by muttered “Stupid foreigners.”

I admit, I used to be of the mindset that people who move here should learn English. I still think that’s a good idea for a number of reasons. But then I realized that if I moved to another country, even if I learned the language there fluently, I would still speak English when with other English-speakers. So why should it bother me when other people speak in their native tongue?

I didn’t know until recently that on the day my grandson was born, one of my daughter-in-law’s reactions was fear and dismay that she had brought a brown boy into the world because of what he would have to face growing up. A lot of things that she just put up with before, she’s speaking out about now so that we understand the kinds of things Timothy might have to deal with.

It breaks my heart that my sweet, adorable, witty, kind grandson may someday be stopped and harassed, or worse,  just because of his beautiful skin tone. Recently his school assigned a book on Martin Luther King, Jr. My grandson was horrified as my daughter-in-law explained what civil rights meant and what happened to Dr. King. I was sad not only that his innocence was stripped away, but that he’ll have to hear more on these topics in the future.

As I said, I don’t know all the answers. The problem is so big and pervasive, it’s hard to know where to start. But I think these are good steps:

  • We need to invite friends from other races to share with us, safely and openly. Ignorance is not the same thing as malice, and some of us are just ignorant and need to be helped to understand. I saw one post that said education is not the answer; reconciliation is the answer. But education is a step towards reconciliation.
  • We need to listen to and take seriously these kinds of experiences without trying to explain them away.
  • When someone says we’re making them uncomfortable or they’re offended by what we say and do, we need to stop.
  • We need to avoid sweeping generalities. All white people are not racist; all cops are not abusive; all black people are not threats. All Indians are not doctors and lawyers. All middle Eastern men are not terrorists.
  • We need to get over our idea that anything “other” is bad. God made a big, wide, wonderful world with people in all shades and cultures of every kind.
  • We need to be careful what we post on social media. We need to take the time to fact-check anything we post so that we’re not spreading misinformation.
  • We need to teach our children from their earliest years that “different” is okay. We need to get over the idea that “kids are going to be kids” and it’s okay to tease. Along with racial slurs and digs, we need to eliminate words like “four-eyes” and “retard” and anything else that’s demeaning and hateful. We need to model kind and thoughtful speech for our children.
  • We need to be genuine and consistent. I saw on someone’s Facebook post one meme with a white and black hand intertwined and a promise of standing with the other, and a meme just below it with the “n” word. Posting “I’m with you” memes doesn’t mean anything if our other words and actions contradict it.
  • We need to understand that every person is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). We all come from the same ancestors: God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26). Heaven will be filled with “people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
  • We need to ask God to search our hearts and show us whatever is wrong there. We need to confess and repent of our wrong heart attitudes.
  • We need to weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15).
  • We need to “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10).
  • We need to “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31, NIV).

I heard the story of the Good Samaritan for years before I realized the racial implications. The Jews and Samaritans were enemies in New Testament times. When a man was beaten, robbed, and left for dead, two of his own countrymen, religious leaders, passed him by. But a Samaritan, a person of a mixed race, the Jews’ enemy, stopped, helped the man, took him to an inn, and paid for his care. Jesus told this story as an example of what it meant to love your neighbor. Jesus ministered specifically to a woman of Samaria, who then led her whole village out to hear Him (John 34). How have Christians missed the implications of this for so many years?

I’ve seen many good people say that there is no such thing as race, that we’re all one race, that race was not a thing until Darwin. It’s true that, as I said above, we’re all from the same ancestors. But there are different people groups or ethnicities or whatever you want to call them. The Bible speaks of different people groups, especially Jews and Gentiles, and their conflicts through the years. I think people who emphasize this point that we’re all one race are trying to emphasize the unity we should have as people made by God in His image. However, think how that makes a person of color feel when they express sorrow and dismay at mistreatment because of their color, and we say, “We’re all one race. There are no distinct races.” It’s like we’re deflecting and not taking seriously their very real pains and problems.

Forgive me, this has become twice as long as my usual Monday posts. There’s even more swirling in my head, but this is enough for now.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14).

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God

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45 thoughts on “Stray thoughts about racism

  1. So much to try and put into words, thank you! Although in the rural areas here we are still very much in lockdown this weekend in our cities peaceful protests have erupted into riots. It is a start to be more aware, so much to reflect on!

  2. Some good links shared there. I’ve stayed quiet more because I don’t have an answer (we have our own problems here – we allow the protest during the anthemn because most of us think it’s a fair call, but then we don’t do anything about it, and that protest has been going on for a good 20 years. So we are hardly better. I do think learning has to be a start. But I guess there also has to be more. Good post.

  3. Matt Kaplan quote states that.
    “People have always looked to the horizon and feared that which they did not understand. Initially, this horizon was the edge of the forest. Then, when forests became better explored and their dangers were realized as not actually being that serious, human attention turned toward the darkness of the sea. Then the sea became better explored, and the new horizon became the vastness of space. And now, with space getting ever better explored, a new horizon appears. . . in the form of the horrors humanity is about to unleash on itself.”

    But we have always known that the problem of racism exists.
    We know the solution, but have been living in fear for over 200 years since the first attempt to deal with it by President Ulysses Grant in the late 1800s.
    Now is the time to purge it out our systems forever.
    We are the stewards entrusted to put an end to this burden in society.

    H Emma | https://thextraordinarionly.com

    • Yes, racism has probably existed ever since different people groups began. We’re too prone to fear and be suspicious of anything outside our own experience, when we should be challenged to learn and grow and welcome. We have to take a stand as a society that hate and harming others is not acceptable.

  4. This is good, Barbara. And your thoughts on avoiding sweeping generalities is wisdom everyone can apply. (Is that a sweeping generality?) It’s so easy to lose person-hood in a heated controversy. Micah 6:8 is such a great place to begin.

  5. I appreciate you articulating your thoughts on this, Barbara! My social media has had far more outrage over Mr. Floyd’s death and relatively little said negatively about the rioting; I guess everyone’s social media feeds are obviously different. I pray for more people through this, somehow, to come to know Jesus. Over and over it strikes me that aside from that, there’s really no improvement that is going to happen.

  6. Beautifully written, Barbara. Thank you for having the courage to speak out on this controversial topic. When you state your views, you speak for me too. I think that, in general, police officers are heroes but that doesn’t mean EVERY cop is a hero. They are people, each one unique. Obviously, some abuse their power. The demonstrators have a point, but to excuse the rioting and looting is committing another injustice. The looters are not advancing the cause of seeking racial justice and reconciliation. Your steps toward ending systemic racism are good ones. The leaders in charge should listen.

  7. You speak so wisely here, Barbara, covering so many angles of this complex issue. I appreciate your words and your heart very much.

    Oh, my heart hurts for all the mean comments that Mittu has experienced and for things that your sweet Timothy might hear in years to come. Racism becomes more real to us when we see how it affects those we love. For years I didn’t see it either, even though I lived in the very middle of it.

    It is definitely hard to know what to say or do, not wanting to make things worse. I was conflicted about mentioning on social media that I’d been to the Black Lives Matter protest in Huntsville because I didn’t want it to look like I was seeking a pat on the back for doing something so very, very small. But one of the leaders at the rally said to please post about it. She wanted us to share so that others would see that it’s okay to show up too.

    These are challenging times. But the awakening that is going on around our nation and the world is so important and so necessary for true and lasting change to happen. May the Lord continue to open our blind eyes and hard hearts to help us see what he sees and to love like he does.

  8. Dear Barbara … I love those 2 verses which you’ve displayed front and center. God’s Word has the answers and direction we’re looking for. And only He can lead us through this time to hear and love and forgive and learn to trust again.

    You have gathered a number of thought-provoking observations … much food for thought.

    Bless you.

  9. I am so saddened by so much that is going on in this world, and has gone on for decades, centuries. This country, around the world. I want humankind to walk the way God wants us to walk…in Him, being obedient to His Truths. Loving people for who God created them to be. But it’s tough. I am sorry and am lifting Mittu in my prayers. I place the whole world in His hands.

  10. Barbara, thank you so much for writing this post. I wholeheartedly stand with you. May God search our hearts and open our eyes and give us strength to step out and do our part however God leads us. Blessings to you!

  11. We are called to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. Thank you for sharing your thoughts here. It’s so important to open up conversations. That’s the way we teach ourselves and also the way that we reach out to one another.

  12. Thank you. I was married to a police officer for 20 years. I know how hard the job is. And, I know there are bad apples in the basket, too. As the grandmother of two black boys, I’m learning to see the other side and it is frightening. Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. There is so much information out there. I am sorry that your daughter-in-law has experienced so many bouts of injustice. We live in a messed up world and my prayer is that we continue to seek God’s truth.

  14. I appreciate these thoughts. May we continue to keep the conversation going, and may we be quick to listen. All of this certainly makes me long for the day when God rights all of the wrongs…

  15. Barbara,
    What a poignant and powerful post. I’ve had many of the same thoughts but after people having been “let go” from my husband’s company due to what they, or their spouses posted on their social media pages, I’m afraid to say anything for fear of it being misinterpreted. So many points resonated with me, but perhaps this line grabbed me the most because I felt as if I couldn’t identify with “white privilege.” : ” White privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been without struggles; it means those struggles weren’t brought about by the color of your skin.” I pray that we can keep the dialogue open and I know God can use all of this mess for a revival within our country. May we all be awakened and turn our hearts and ears back to God.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

  16. Bravo, Barbara! We need to hear more of this from more of our white blogging community. Acknowleding our sins and promising to do better is the perfect way to start the journey of reconciliation.

  17. Thank you for this nuanced piece. I live in New York City. I know it is hard for people who are far away to appreciate that the protests are not riots. The vast majority of protesters are peaceful and concerned for the welfare of others, including wearing masks to try to prevent coronavirus spread. Looting has been done on an organized basis by a small criminal element taking advantage, as our Police Chief has indeed said publicly. That small group of people– who have no interest in social justice– are dwarfed by the many, many thousands of all ages and races marching here to challenge the abuse of power that structural racism has perpetrated for too long. A person can be without racial bias but a beneficiary or servant of an institutional structure that is inherently racist. There is a difference between being racist and being complicit, which many of us are unintentionally through the benefits we receive just for being the color we are. I agree with you that listening is the path forward. Thank you for beginning a dialogue in your community.

  18. Barbara – Your words were fantastic. Thank you for starting a real conversation. I agree we need to be listening more. I want to be a part of the solution, not the problem. I have so much to learn. Maree

    Thank you for sharing with Grace & Truth Link-Up.

  19. I worry about saying the wrong thing, appearing insensitive or patronising. Yet silence is also dangerous and suggests complicit. Tough times. Thanks for linking up with #globalblogging

  20. Pingback: #LMMLinkup: Let's Be Community of Social Justice, Hope, Healing | Mary-andering Creatively

  21. Pingback: #GlobalBlogging 167 - loopyloulaura

  22. Barbara, thank Mittu for allowing you to share her experiences. My heart broke and I cried for her. It is such a tough time, not knowing what to say sometimes, fearing I am saying the wrong thing or saying it in a way that would be misunderstood. I do know that putting aside my natural inclination to make excuses for people just as you described and really listen has led to some really good eye opening conversations. And I’ve learned that in order to really listen and learn I have to get way less defensive. Thanks for your thoughts!

  23. Pingback: End-of-June Reflections | Stray Thoughts

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