Friday, July 8, 2016

Privilege and Silence

Privilege is choosing to "take a break" from the heart-wrenching realities of this week's events to go to a park with my children and sit under the shade of a beautiful tree while I watch them play.

Privilege is doing this knowing that even if my children devolve into the most abhorrent of childhood behavior, break something, throw a rock, hurt another child, etc. my greatest fear is my own momentary embarrassment and disappointment.

Privilege is simplifying a complex social issue that is coming to a head in a country with a deeply divided racial history to a statement that we should all just "stop" seeing race, while dismissing the deep pain of the lived experience of those crying out for justice.

To not “see” race is to disregard the person in front of you telling you that their experience of life in this world is vastly different than yours in ways that have formed their identity, their sense of worth as they see it through the eyes of those around them, and the safety they feel as they go about their lives each day.

Just because someone else's lived experiences is not our own does not make it invalid. I have never witnessed police brutality of any degree first-hand. 

I just haven't. 

That doesn't mean it doesn't happen.

I haven’t witnessed rape either, but I believe the victims who tell of their experiences.

However, I have been privy to derogatory comments, jokes, and bias that lead to disparagement and unwarranted fear toward people of color. Even those of us who would seek to live in a way in which every individual we encounter is treated with loving-kindness have been witness to this behavior on the part of someone we know. 

I've been at gatherings where someone related to the host makes a derogatory comment about a person of color. I've been in a car with someone who when driving in a major metro area in the dark looked out the window to see the man in the car beside her looking at her and expressed she was scared for her life because the black man was staring at her. 

And these moments cut me to my core. I am angry. Incensed, even. But for the sake of relationship, not stirring the pot, I've been quiet. In my Midwestern politeness, I have not stood up for my fellow children of God because I don't want to hurt the feelings of someone saying something unwarranted and hateful. 

I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of someone saying something unwarranted and hateful.


Would I choose not to call out someone who proliferated degrading comments about women, stoking a culture of rape?

And this, dear friends, is what we call being complicit in racism. I don't have to say the words to be racist. It is often what is not said that allows this underlying, insidious beast to continue to feed off the covert racism that remains in our country and rears its ugly head.

So, today, when it would be very easy for the energy of our nation to make the pendulum swing back toward blaming the victims of racism in the wake of the shootings and tragic deaths of the public servants in Dallas, Texas, I just can't stay silent.

We cannot simplify the reality of the officer lives lost in Dallas into an argument that the Black Lives Matter movement is somehow responsible simply because BLM has given voice to deep racial divisions that continue to exist and organized those calling for recognition and change.

We can't tell people that speaking up caused these people to die -- so they must stay silent.

We cannot silence an important conversation because a handful of individuals  one individual took it upon them himselfves (edited with current information) to take a peaceful protest and respectful relationship between BLM activists and the Dallas Police Force and turn it into a slaughter.

It is most certainly true: The answer to violence is not more violence, a la MLK, as I've seen posted and liked by many today. However, to assume the violence was perpetrated by those assembled in peaceful protest and targeting those assembled in peaceful protest is dubious at best and not supported by the facts as they are released.

The response to this tragedy is also not silence and sweeping things under the rug in the name of keeping some false sense of "peace" that only really applies to those not affected.

That would not honor the lives lost protecting these protesters.

To ask those in the trenches working for change to stop talking about the issue and pushing it to the forefront because it may cause some with ulterior motives to act out in violence is no more logical than those who chose to respond to violence with violence.

It's also not Biblical. Jesus consistently called out those in power who would use their power to exploit and repress. One need only look to the Sermon on the Mount, or Matthew 25 to be reminded that the core of Jesus’ ministry was to those the world would write off as “deserving” of their situation. 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

The Jesus movement was seen as threatening to the powers of Jesus’ day, ultimately to the point of Jesus’ crucifixion on the cross. Jesus stood in the line of fire and defended those who, by the law were “deserving” of punishment. And yes, in Jesus’ death and resurrection we are born anew, children of God, "28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galations 3:28.

Yes, this is our calling and our inheritance as children of God. This is that for which Jesus died and rose -- this is newness of life. God is at work in all of creation reconciling all of creation to Godself.

Yet, we cannot simply state this amazing promise of the Gospel and throw up our hands, say “we’re all equal” and walk away when our fellow children of God are crying out in anguish.

You see the thing is we live in the "now but not yet" -- the Kingdom of heaven is breaking into our world with the hope of the promised salvation ... a world in which we all experience this blessed unity.

Yet, we still live in a sinful human world wrought with division and pain. And our calling as children of God is to join in God's reconciling work in all of creation, wherever division continues to reside, so that we might bear witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus as we learn about the experience of our neighbor, stand beside them, and work for a world in which all have dignity and worth to be treated first as valuable human beings and not suspect or targeted simply because of race.

We cannot simply say to our neighbor that to tell their story causes division so they should stay silent. We are not called to IGNORE division but partner in God's work in the world to END it.

And ending division and hate means we cannot be silent...

I believe that the vast majority of police officers are bound by a sense of duty to protect and serve their communities and do not perpetuate racism and violence against black bodies.

But if any do, how can I remain silent?

I believe that not all police departments operate under policies that escalate violence.

But if any do, should I remain silent?

Just the same as saying these truths does not mean that all officers target black bodies, we need policies in place that ensure that police officers are trained and equipped with the same assumption of those they are called to protect and serve.

Is service in uniform dangerous?


Do those who protect and serve enter the job willingly understanding the risks?


Does this mean they should ever be targeted purely for their choice of occupation?


Do those who are often assumed to have criminal intent by virtue of the color their skin choose to have these assumptions thrust upon them?


Does this mean they should deserve less of the assumption of innocence than any other citizen of the United States?


Being a police officer in this country is dangerous.


Being black in this country is dangerous.

This is not an either/or statement. It is both/and.

I can be speak up against racism and injustice.


I can respect and be thankful for the sacrifices of law enforcement officers.

Can we hold these truths in loving tension … acknowledging that both can exist without being mutually exclusive?

Can we acknowledge that one is true without demonizing and dismissing the experience of the other?

"We are all equal in God's eyes" does not remove from us the onus of seeking out and eradicating injustice and racism.

And support for the equality and just treatment of all does not mean lack of support for our women and men in uniform. 

They are not mutually exclusive.

Just as when we continue to raise discussion and awareness of rape we are not saying that all men are rapists, by saying that instances of police brutality must be investigated is not saying that all police are brutal. 

We are saying This. Instance. Happened.

It's. Not. Okay.

Just as the slaughter of the civil servants in Dallas, Texas was not okay.

But it is not enough to just know these things are not okay.

We cannot be silent.

We must begin to speak.

For until we are able to name the division and strife we will  not be able to join in God’s reconciling work to cast it out in the name of the God who grieves every division …

every loss of human life …

every child of God.

All of us. 

Without exception.