This morning I came across this image:
This was a moving and fascinating read for me.
First, because it’s not about America. As an American, I appreciate other nationalities recognizing the fact that racism and fear are much bigger than our country and always have been.
Second, because she so eloquently describes the fear experienced by those who live with racism on a daily basis.
It’s too easy to sit in our comfortable existence and refuse to see the reality of another person’s existence, simply because it isn’t ours. To believe that our life is just like any other and to minimize another’s pain.
I have loved ones and friends who put on a badge every day and risk their lives to protect others. Every day their families live with the fearful thought “could this be the day they don’t come home?” I’ve seen too much commentary about how police officers just need to “chill-out”, but do we understand that for most of them, every shift is life or death? How does a person “chill” when their life is threatened? Could you? Training helps them in the milliseconds between heartbeats when a decision must be made, but at the heart of it, they are men and women, not machines. They have fear, hope, love, and worries just like anyone else.
I have black friends who have endured the small and the monumental indignities and threats that come from nothing more than the perception of their character based upon the color of their skin. The assumption of guilt until proven innocent, the relegating of their children to the back row so as not to “disturb” a photo, the attempt to oust a little girl from a dance class because “the black just didn’t look good with that pink tutu.” I have read the experiences of black, Hispanic, and Native American individuals whose lives have been irreparably damaged and their freedoms taken away simply for being born a different shade.
I’ve never experienced that kind of prejudice in my own life.
I’ve been judged wrongly before. I belong to a religion that has often found itself at the end of biased judgements, quick condemnations, and misrepresentation by the media; but I have no hesitancy in acknowledging that my experience is chump change in comparison to the judgements, biases, and harassment that is felt by any other race than “white” on a daily basis in the Western world.
I witnessed grown, retired adults THROWING ROCKS, like some immature toddlers, at a group of Mexican immigrants under the hot Arizona sun. I was 13 at the time and I couldn’t understand it, I still don’t understand it. It was such a bigoted, racist behavior. I’d studied the Civil Rights Movement in school and had felt so grateful that we’d moved past the stupidity of judging someone by the color of their skin. It was heartbreaking to hit that wall of realization: we haven’t moved past it at all.
I’ve mourned with the friends and neighbors of a fallen police officer who was killed by an immigrant when he was stopped for a broken taillight. The officer had no idea who the man in that truck was, no idea that he had a prior record and a warrant out for his arrest. He wasn’t targeting the man because of his race. He just saw his taillight out and it was his job to let him know. He was shot in the head and killed before he ever left his vehicle. Four children lost a father, his wife became a widow.
Racism is real. The demonization and marginalization of individuals because of the level of melatonin in their skin still exists today.
Resentment for law enforcement is real. The threat to life for police officers is constant and brutal.
We’ve got to stop choosing the easy path of only listening to the narrative we most associate with. I could look around at my neighbors, ignore the fact that my community is 90% white, and say “there are no race problems in America.”
But it would be a lie.
A few years ago I was driving to New York for continuing education for my profession. We decided to take a detour near Lake Michigan through Chicago along a designated scenic route. It just so happened that Bon Jovi was playing there that weekend and the normal route was blocked off. Before we knew what was happening, my husband and I were lost in the maze of detours and driving through the streets of South Chicago.
I was scared.
The windows and doors had bars on them. Every street corner I passed had groups of young black men standing on them and I immediately assumed they were gangs or drug dealers. I saw no women or children on the streets; walking, visiting, or playing. Many of the residents looked at our car suspiciously and it struck me: they were as afraid of me as I was of them. Why was I there? Who were we? What did we want?
I was, simultaneously, the threat and the threatened.
That is the heart of racism. To see the “other” as the enemy.
I’m not so naive as to believe that there was no danger possible there, but my knowledge wasn’t firsthand, or even secondhand. My expectation of danger, potential harm, and violence was cultural. It was a knee-jerk reaction to social conditioning.
How do we combat that? How does the black community just reach across the divide and miraculously trust law enforcement, while the perception of violence against blacks, whether true or not, is so pervasive? How do police officers reach back across that divide, when they are being targeted for assassination simply because of their profession? And how does the rest of the country, no matter what their race or career, help de-escalate the anger, fear, and distrust?
For me, it begins with listening to all sides of the story. It begins with moving outside the comfort zone I understand and willingly open my heart to the discomfort of another person’s experience. How can we empathize if we’re too busy telling one another what we “should” feel instead of listening to how we “really” feel?
So please, join the conversation. What has your experience been? What have you seen and how do you feel? What do you fear and what are you willing to risk in order to promote peace? As I’ve pondered what I’m willing to work on in my own life to make life better for all I keep coming back to the words of the ancient prophet, Alma, in the Book of Mosiah, Chapter 18, verses 8-10.
“And it came to pass that he said unto them:
Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called)
and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people,
and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn;
yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort,
and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things,
and in all places that ye may be in,
even until death,
that ye may be redeemed of God,
and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—
Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts,
what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord,
as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him,
that ye will serve him and keep his commandments,
that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?”
I’ve made that covenant. I’ve declared that promise. I’ve dedicated my life to live by God’s commandments. And those commandments are to love my neighbor as myself. To recognize the face of God in the eyes of a stranger. To extend a hand of forgiveness to those who would hurt me, and to offer kindness in recompense of pain.
It’s a tall order. But I believe our country needs the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Love and Compassion to be poured out more abundantly upon us all.
I hope and pray I can keep my promise well.