I haven’t written about race or racial reconciliation here in months. For months I’ve let it simmer, let even my RT’s on Twitter sift down to a trickle. I had said everything I knew to say, and my hands had come up empty. I gave my prayers to God.
We have a long road ahead of us, America. There is no argument, no genius social policy — no, not even a heartfelt prayer for grace — that can magic away the work of centuries.
Our condition of racial stratification is the work of centuries.
Oh, I know, I know, how we like to say that it’s all past tense. Martin Luther King, Jr was the saint who martyred himself, who took the sin of white supremacy on his black body, albeit in the form of gunshots in the end. We celebrate his nobility. We honor his peacefulness, his Christian triumph in death. We say, in school, it’s a good thing he ended racism so we don’t have to worry about it anymore.
If you watched only the mainstream news, you might think no Black person alive today was as reasonable and kind and intelligent as Martin Luther King, Jr. You might think perhaps he took Black nobility right with him, to the grave, when he died…killed as he was by a white person with a gun.
If you watched only the mainstream news, you might think no Black people today had the moral fiber for nonviolent protest, or the righteousness to strive for racial justice compatible with Christian values. You might get the idea instead that each and every state-sanctioned act of violence is justified. And every cry of “foul” is motivated by bitterness, or some deeply seated wicked jealousy.
But this is not the whole story, America. How will we open our ears to hear the rest?
There is a calibration. Not too tight, and not too loose. Hear and allow the grief to enter in. Hear and allow the cry for justice to tighten on your own neck like the noose you’ve never felt. Hear and allow the feelings and the fear to work on you. Don’t be a stone.
But when you feel yourself reacting…? When you feel the urge to retaliate because something inside you is screaming YOU CAN’T SAY THAT. YOU CAN’T DO THAT. THAT STORY IS NOT OKAY. … MY REALITY IS NOT LIKE THAT….? Then pull back.
These are the cops on inside streets. These are the mental control structures, meeting the most dangerous articles of narrative with internal tear gas: personal defensiveness and claims of reverse racism; news stories that are framed to implicate an entire movement in sin and violence. Shields and gas masks come even in the form of energetic, apparent allyship.
The most important thing we can do – white Christians, allies, sisters and brothers – is make room. Make room for the excavation of the silenced dead. Make room for them to breathe. Stop meeting them in the riot gear of defensiveness. Say, “Tell me more.”
And will they hurt us? Yes. I think they will. More than burning cars in neighborhoods we don’t live in anyway. It hurts to be told the story of Freddie Gray. Spine severed, three vertebrae broken. Why? And how? It hurts to know this kind of darkness.
Rekia Boyd, shot in an alley, her killer cleared of any charge. Tamir Rice, killed for holding a toy gun, at twelve years old. His sister shackled, watching her little brother die. Eric Garner dying to the sound of the words, “Fuck your breath.”
Do these stories have the power to hurt us? Oh, I think they do. But we Christians talk a great talk of dying to the self, accepting suffering. It is the Christian way. What is it all for if not to raise the compassionate heart? Why do we think we should accept suffering always at the hands of abusers and never in the powerful, transformational voices of the dead?
I don’t want to argue about what’s happening in Baltimore today. The end game is ugly. Pain is guaranteed. And the road is long ahead. I don’t want to waste my breath, or yours, in webs of justification and defensiveness and blame.
I just want to send our forces home. Lay down arms. Lay down our weapons. Lay down this defensive, preemptive attack and show our hope and faith in listening instead.
It is a a work of calibration. Not too loose and not too tight. Not absent, but neither wielding the symbols of violent control which so effectively draw out the rage of devastated souls. Not too loose and not too tight. Lest we deny the resurrected Christ with deaf ears or with fear and loathing.
Grieve, America. Grieve. The fires in Baltimore were set by the violence of centuries. I pray that we may repent. And be transformed.
Although I don’t write about racial justice frequently, I do read about it frequently. My thoughts continue to be shaped and instructed by the Christian leadership of Austin Channing Brown, who recently wrote “American Mythology.” Also, more recently, Broderick Greer, who just wrote “No Reconciliation Without Reparations.” If you want to know why I think the things I think, go read these preacher/writers. Not too loose and not too tight.