A White Guy’s Feelings on Ferguson and Race

posted in: Thought | 1

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In light of Ferguson, Michael Brown and all the media mess, I am grateful for the multitude of educated and articulate people who have used Social Media and blogging to both, clarify the specifics of this case, and shine light on the bigger issue of race in America.

I’m white. I grew up in northern California. I went to a good public school with all kinds of people. I played sports and sang in choir and even danced. I didn’t think of racism much. It seemed to have little to do with my life and my community. Then I moved to central Florida.

Before I share some of my experiences there, I want to say that I was missionary and was out every day talking with people about faith. I met all kinds of people from all walks of life and most were good, but not all.

At 19 years old I saw, for the first time, deep seeded and blatant racism. I saw white people saying things that blew me away. Things that I had only really seen in the movies or read about in history books. Connecting totally unrelated events or characteristics to race. I had white people ask me why I spend time in the black neighborhoods. I noticed that some areas had more black people and some where mostly white, but I had never lived somewhere that was so clearly self segregated. I had a police officer stop me one time in the “black neighborhood” to ask if I was lost, but I was standing outside of my apartment and had never had a problem there. I knew the neighborhood was rough because the black guy in the apartment next door let me know, but would that cop have stopped me if I was black? In my youth I didn’t know how to respond and so I often sat silent. We all have regrets right?

On the other hand, I had never really thought about me being on the receiving end of racist statements before, but that changed too. I know that these statements/events are only a mild dose of what others have gone through but they made an impact. I remember sitting on a porch with a woman reading the bible and praying with her when a group of men approached me and told me I couldn’t stay because I “only know how to preach white Jesus” and that “white preaching” was not welcome there. I never knew you could teach “white” or “black” or “brown” Jesus. I just thought people taught about Jesus’s life and that he was a Jew through the house of David. I never looked into what he looked like, just at what kind of life he lived. I had more than one person call me “cracker,” “redneck,” or “whittie”. This was new to me and it didn’t take long before I knew I wanted to help make lasting change.

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So here is my question, as a white person, what is the best way I can fight racism in my community? I often feel like because I’m white I have no right to an opinion on race. That when I talk about race, my skin color exempts me from the conversation. I want my friends of all races to feel as welcome as I want to feel. I want to help create a welcoming society based on liberty. This is why I helped start threeheadedeagle.com.

A flier that was given to white/non-black protesters in Toronto reads:

While we appreciate the solidarity shown by White and Non-Black POC, want to remind folks of some things:

-Please refrain from taking up space in all ways possible. Remember that you are there in support of black folks, so you should never be at the centre of anything.

-Refrain from speaking to the media. Black voices are crucial to this.

-Stand behind black folks or between us and the police.

-If you see a cop harassing a black person, come in and engage. (chances are they are least likely to arrest you)

This doesn’t seem right to me. Isn’t racism a human problem not just a black or white problem? Isn’t the goal for people to find mutual respect for others and break down the barriers between people to liberate the growth of merging American subcultures? This seems to be asking non-black people to be almost welcome. To be there but…separate. The same idea came from Aaron Goggans on his blog, wellexaminedlife.com.

“When white allies clump together at protests and fight for inclusiveness, that community healing can’t happen. Imagine going to funeral services of a good friend’s brother. You might be very close with your friend, you might even be closer to them than distant relatives. Yet you have to remember that as close as you might be with them, as sad as you might feel for them, as much as you might have loved their brother you are not family. You have to take a step back and let the space be what the family needs it to be. By asserting that “all lives matter” you are denying us a chance for internal solidarity, not standing in solidarity with us. This is to not say that white people are not welcome, or needed, in this movement.”

Aren’t white people part of the community that is trying to heal? Isn’t the community intended to be all of us? This “you are not family” idea doesn’t help and the overall analogy doesn’t apply. We are all Americans. We should be all part of the “family.” Once again, the ideas of self segregation and exclusion is prevalent in these statements. Too many times, in The United States, we have left the minority communities to “heal” alone. I believe this only continues the cycle of separation. How can we as a society truly heal if we keep separating ourself in the moments when we should be coming together. In the last few years I have seen many christian denominations embracing the LBGT community in their fight for rights. There might be disagreement still, but this willingness to come together has created amazing progress in bringing people together to promote liberty. Can’t this work for the race issues too? When are we going to stop with the idea of this community or that community? When are we going to look inward for self examination, while opening outside of our “communities” to express how we can make positive and lasting change?

Benjamin Watson wrote on his facebook wall about how we can overcome the evils of racism. I am grateful for his words and what they taught me.  He listed how he felt about the events of the past few weeks. This included the feelings of anger, frustration, fear, confusion, embarrassment and at the end of his article he wrote:

“I’M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. BUT I’M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that’s capable of looking past the outward and seeing what’s truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It’s the Gospel. So, finally, I’M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.”

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I believe repentance is a personal choice for change. From these experiences I learned the sad reality that racism is alive and well in America and personal responsibility is the only way to heal the divide created through the history of race in this country. Personal relationships of understanding and inclusion have worked best in my life.  I have had the privilege in my life to have truly loved people of all races. They have taught me things that I never would have learned on my own through personal experience. Had these people not embraced me, and I them, we would have never been able to grow to better understand each other.

One Response

  1. aarongoggans

    Hey there. I am the author of one of the pieces you link to. I see where you are coming from but I think you misunderstand my piece. The key to my argument, is in the family argument. Perhaps another way to explain this is in idea of circles of pain.

    When somebody dies there are people who are closer to the deceased than others. The pain of losing a mother is different than losing a daughter and how much trauma it causes depends on a lot of factors.

    Yet, generally (for the sake of argument) if you are closer with someone it will hurt more. So family and really good friends are in the first circle. These are the people for whom it is devastating. Not just because they are hurting but also because the person who died is so integral to their daily lives that they can’t escape the pain of the loss.

    The second circle are people who knew the deceased but weren’t close, or are very close with some good friend or family member of the departed. For them, the lose might also be deep and hard to escape because someone they love is going through it or they will think of person when they don’t see them at bingo.

    Outside of the second circle is another one of people who don’t know the deceased but know someone who does or at least knew of the deceased. They might be hurting because it reminds them of a loved one dying. They might just be an empathetic person. They should talk it out and process their grief.

    What someone in the third circle shouldn’t do is go to someone in the first circle and say “man, you know, this is really hard for me. Your dad dying really makes me sad because he smiled at me in the store, this is really rough for me, plus it took me forty minutes to get the fruit cake for the wake this morning.”

    That is obviously not appropriate even if you miss that person’s loved one, even if waiting in line is frustrating you should probably talk to someone in your circle or further away about it. This doesn’t mean that if get fired on the same day that you don’t also have a right to be upset. It doesn’t mean that you never hang out with that person’s whose loved one died. You just don’t go to their loved one’s funeral and talk about it.

    I never suggested that White people move out of cities or stop going hanging out with their Black friends. I said, give Black people the space to heal. We are grieving, we are emotional, we shouldn’t have to worry about our pain and making you feel welcomed. We shouldn’t have to worry about our issues and your issues in this moment. When we leave the rally and go back to work, then we work talk human to human as one community if that’s what you want.

    You bring up LBGTQ issues but the problem is that many Gay people are also religious. What many churches did was say “you can be with us” which was powerful for religious Gay people but not always important, meaningful or welcomed by atheists who were Gay. Black people don’t want to be accepted into whiteness. Most of us want to be Black. We want to have our own cultural spaces. We just don’t want to be killed for not being white.

    Also, you talk of personal responsibility is admirable but neglects the fact that most of the racism we face is structural or deeply ingrained biases that have to be worked out. It is not a matter of getting rid of hate. It’s not a matter of Black people siting down to get to know white people. It’s not a matter of anger, greed or pride. I’m sure Darrin Wilson would say that he doesn’t have a problem with Black people. I’m sure Darrin Wilson is a nice guy. He still could only see Mike Brown as a demon and shot a child dead. It’s more complex than just saying: “is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem.”

    Render unto Caesar’s what it is Caesar’s. Systemic racism is structural, it is legal, it is cultural, it is endemic to our national identity, it is not all (or even mostly) spiritual.

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