It is very possible that you will read the words I am about to write and decide that you cannot stomach them. That they are not palatable. That you do not understand my position and are unwilling to understand because you believe it is foolishness. If this is you, I understand. I don’t think a long-term friendship between us will work, though. It is without an ounce of malice that I say this: we can just not be friends or talk or keep up with each other on this or any other platform.
If you have made it to this sentence, read to the end, then come back here and reread.
MY THOUGHTS ON CHARLESTON
If you have not read the article or watched the trial, then this note is going to seem odd to you. Essentially, a young man walked into a church building and shot 9 people dead. The shooter was white, the people he shot were black. He came to a bible study and was welcomed by these people. After being there for an hour, he made some statements about why he was being there and then proceeded to kill everyone in sight excepting two people, one of which was a 5-year-old that played dead to avoid being killed.
This is where I came to social media. Here there are three places that are just as much danger as comfort:
- My News Feed
- My Inbox
- My Twitter Timeline
In my news feed were a bunch of people that were groaning about the news reporting this as a racial thing. A hate crime. Another set of race baiting headlines. Another group of people that were too focused on skin color and not the fact that the people who died were humans and the shooter was human and that the color of either shouldn’t matter.
In addition, a close friend of mine messages me. The conversation starts like this:
I’m now genuinely concerned for your safety in this country
And ends with this:
I really am afraid for you. I want to know how to fix this
In between these two phrases were all manner of civil discussion on this topic, but I have to be honest: it is hard to be civil about this. I wonder why I’m even trying to be civil about this; this is clearly deserving of anger. Of rage. Of some fiery form of what I would consider justice. I find myself confronted with that rage on one hand and on my other, utter exhaustion. Day after day, article after article, and the places these things occur continue to get closer to where I am physically and my friend asks me:
What is your answer?
I tell them no one wants to hear the answer. It is too much of a burden to hear. I read my wall to check and it confirms that, among the populace of my friends, many of which are white, I am correct. I am instead asked to forget about it. To let bygones be bygones. To be anything but mad or upset or even questioning about this. To see this as a tragedy. It happened and it is terrible.
But then I remember September 11, 2001 where a nation of people shed bitter tears, then wiped their eyes dry and bombed a country until their government crumbled. I remember Pearl Harbor where we did a similar thing. I go back to the article I read where this is being described as a tragedy and I wonder who will get angry enough for these lives lost and the long trail of lives behind them. The answer is “don’t talk about it”. No one.
I find myself morally conflicted because, as I think through these things in the shower, I know that no matter how we felt about Mike Brown, the cosplaying kid, or the appropriateness of Jordan Davis’s music volume, the cold truth is that these people will never be able to tell their side of the story to a jury. Eric Garner is choked to death in broad daylight and there are no consequences because I guess he shouldn’t have been illegally selling cigarettes. Meanwhile, the guy who shoots 9 people gets arrested and has a bulletproof vest placed on him to protect him as he is taken to jail. To a judge. To a jury. I’m not even thinking of the verdict right now. Just the fact that he gets to live where so many don’t. I ponder what makes him different and I stop myself because then I have to be concerned with becoming one of “those” black people that makes everything about race.
SOME THOUGHTS ON RACISM
I have to then talk to people that say that we need to be colorblind. I ponder what that actually means. I wonder why the only thing resembling a solution to racism is to simply ignore skin color, culture, a rather large part of my identity and genetics. I think about it over and over and over. I wonder about every time I’ve been mistaken for a white person – and no, not non-black, but specifically white – because of my speech patterns (“You’re a very articulate young man”), clothing choices, and mannerisms (“You’re the whitest black man I’ve ever met’) and I have to ask how this defines my race at all. Then I realize that I am simply being told through humor that I have expectations to meet and I’m not doing so. They aren’t even aware it is happening. It’s so insidious, but it isn’t entirely their fault. It takes so much effort to even be aware of this cage for them and I applaud them for trying and continuing to try.
All of these things are processed in seconds. My friend asks for my answer again. I don’t know what to tell them.I wonder about why many of the black people I have on these social media platforms are angry. I wonder why many of the white people are asking me to just chill out. I wish they were angry, too. It would help me feel a bit more understood. I try not to make this about race, then I remember this man was there to kill people because they were black.
I’m concerned that when the media reads this story, they will see a man that had emotional issues, mental issues, or was just very disturbed. They will not see a man that was clearly racist. They will not see the larger societal tree that spawned this particular fruit. They will behave as if he is just one of a few bad apples because they don’t want to pull up the roots.
In all of this, the people affected found it in their heart to express how they felt and then forgive this man with strength I am not sure I could ever even fathom. I pray for them. My eyes become teary and go out of focus.
I come back to myself. What will I do now? I don’t know if this is safe or not. I can already hear people protesting and telling me that if I don’t like it, I can try living in some other place that is objectively horrible because it is not America and I am entirely ungrateful and unaware of how blessed I am. I opt to speak anyway. Mostly through this note, but also with others aloud in hopes that someone understands.
Because that is racism. It is invisible to the people that are not affected by it, but it has so many layers. Trying to describe it takes an hour at least to someone that is willing to be made aware. Then I look at the count on my friend’s list. There are 242 of you. That’s a big number. I wonder how much smaller it would be if being my friend meant you had to understand my blackness and embrace it as a part of me instead of being colorblind. It’s not that I think I should be treated specially because of it. It’s just that I don’t think you should have to ignore my blackness – to not see it – in order for you to consider me an equal, a friend, a brother-in-arms, a lover, or anything else. I am all of those things and I am black and all of that together is perfectly wonderful.
The alternative is having other black people unwittingly bolstering the structure that is racism when telling me I’m not being black because I don’t do what the media says I should.
If you have reached this sentence and you are tired, I want you to imagine that I have considered this sort of thing more frequently than I want at 5AM or just before bed or every time a news article is published or every time I talk to someone that asks me if I voted for Obama because he’s black or every time I can remember being called an oreo or every time someone doesn’t expect me to be intelligent or every time I walk into a business office and I see people do a full double-take because they just weren’t expecting me to be in a place of business as a leader and not the help.
Then I think about all of my friends on here. If I were brutally murdered one day, even if were clearly racist, my non-black friends wouldn’t even be able to defend me because they would just be considered more people making things about race when they aren’t. It shouldn’t take that for them to realize, but it might. In the meantime, while the ignoring of this issue continues, how many other sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, community pillars, and children will be lost?
The sad thing is that there are more people trying to figure out how to explain I’m wrong because of the subject matter than understanding how much of a plea for help and understanding and connection and community this actually is and I don’t know how to fix that because it is a issue of heart and mind, neither of which I can control.
Funny how reactions to things like this can be telling.I think back to the face of my friends as I try to make them understand. They get a piece of it. They are sad, but they don’t know what to say. Neither do I. The prayer, “Come soon, Lord Jesus” is a small comfort, but I am thankful for it.
However, my friends asks for my answer again.
Does anyone know?