Saturday, August 23, 2014

Ferguson: I Get It.

I am filled with emotion and suspense at what is happening in Ferguson. Not the killing of yet another Black male…. Sadly, that does not surprise me. But the sustained anger, the focused rage that has built into a national outcry, gathering strength and credence, poetically claiming forever now the image of upraised hands, a beautifully symbolic gesture that once meant submission and now signals defiance.

Unlike our President and so many others, I do not pray for an end to the protests in Ferguson and for peace at all costs. Not if peace means people have gone back to sleep. Let them stand up, even with anger if that is what it takes, and let this rage spread as far as it must, for ignoring this situation has not made it better, only worse.

There is a silent genocide in this country. Perhaps you disagree with me and that is fine. But I have studied and contemplated for almost 20 years the effects of institutionalized and systemic racism upon our society, and I cannot but conclude that the prison industrial complex, many aspects of our criminal justice system, much of our educational system, as well as corporate America….. practically every organized aspect of our collective life with the notable exception of the military… is arranged to sustain and to keep in power those already in power: white, mostly male Euro-Americans.

I think most people of color know this. They also know that white people must realize it and do nothing to change it.

If you were a Black American today, would you really like white people? Would you trust them? Believe them?

I wouldn’t .

I am a white American. Fifteen years ago a young black woman was shot to death in her car In Riverside, CA when police thought she was reaching for a gun. I marched with Jesse Jackson and invited him to speak in my congregation to seek justice for Tyisha Miller’s death. I made a decision that day that this cause was important enough to me to risk my life for. Anyone who has stood and marched next to Rev. Jackson knows they do just that.

Along the way a very elderly black woman got out of a car to see us pass. Her eyes met mine. I will treasure that moment always. I know I cannot possibly imagine the indignities she may have suffered, but I rejoice that she saw a colleague of Dr. King, as well as many clergy, both black and white, marching through the city to support a young black girl.

It’s been fifteen long years and the death of Michael Brown feels identical. The difference is that the marchers are angrier, the media is staying with the story, the outrage has grown because there has been Trayvon Martin and so many others. And we now have Twitter and Facebook and Instagram.

I was welcomed to the marches and rallies for Tyisha as a white clergywoman. Rev. Jackson reminded us that Dr. King encouraged whites and blacks to work together for justice.

I’ll just be frank here.

In the fifteen years since that event, I have been told outright that I am no longer needed. White liberals aren’t trusted, and white people in general are just not welcome at table. This may not be true everywhere, but it's true enough that those of us who care deeply, fervently, and who believe with Dr. King that we will achieve justice by working together, are befuddled and impotent. And, I get it. I really do.

We can pray, send money, post things online. But can we show up, link arms with you, get arrested, come back to the table? Soon? I hope so.