I’m not racist.
Neither are most of the white people I know. But finally, at long last, I’m starting to have an inkling that, given our nation’s history and track record (ugh. No pun intended), being “not racist” needs to be a little more proactive and intentional than being passive and “nice,” having brown friends, and telling them they’re welcome to come to church with us.
How was Ahmaud Arbery (whose birthday is today, by the way) murdered in February and I only found out about it three days ago? (Only after I started writing this post did I learn it happened in February.) Don’t even answer that question. None of the possible answers are acceptable.
At the beginning of this week I was still sobbing about my dog–and the grief has not subsided, but you guys, my little black dog had a better death than this black man (and so many others), and today my tears are about Ahmaud and others like him and how silently culpable I and my “non-racist” white brothers and sisters are, for this kind of thing still to be happening. On April 13th (over a month after Ahmaud’s murder, little did I know) I posted a tribute to Oscar on Facebook. Within the first 24 hours, there were at least 150 “reactions” and as many comments. By the end of the week, there were over 100 more.
Last night I shared a poignant repost from Bernard Smith, black friend/brother/colleague of mine:
Realest repost ever…Black people are so tired. 😓
Tired of making hashtags.
Tired of trying to convince you that our #BlackLivesMatter too.
Tired of dying.
So very tired.
Seventeen hours later (at time of this post going live)? Twenty-eight reactions. I think Oscar’s post had that many in five minutes. Or less.
Look, I get that in Oscar’s case, people who know me (and many of whom knew Oscar) personally, and care about me personally, were responding. I was and am grateful for the empathy and am not sorry it was elicited. But what’s (metaphorically-only) kicking me in the gut right now is the truth Bernard (who was also empathetic about Oscar) expressed when I shared with him:
If your dog was treated like [Arbery was] by these same 2 individuals, it would get more headline, and they may have been convicted by PETA or MSPCA. There would be outrage. But for this jogger, nothing.
He’s not wrong.
Let’s be clear: if my dog were treated like Arbery was by those same two individuals, they should be convicted. (Also, I’m probably not done talking here about the environment, the biblical importance of animals, death of animals, etc.) The point is: if it’s wrong to treat a dog like that, how much worse is it to treat a human that way? And if a dog can get justice, how much more deeply unjust is it for a human not to get it?
And so…I’m not totally sure how this is going to play out, but I’m done being appropriate and quiet about racism. Because my “non-racist” silence and “friendship with black people” is not making this situation better. And frankly, I’m not sure how deep my friendships with black people can ever truly be if I’m not willing to engage this real and ever-present part of their lives–with them, and at least sometimes publicly. The conversations are hard, but as one friend says,
I hate to say this out loud or in text form but until more non-blacks get involved and see this as what it is, there will be more innocent, jogging-while-black bloodshed…You have the power and possibility to reach 1000s who would never listen to me regardless of my education or charisma and Holy Ghost due to my skin color.
I think that friend is overestimating my reach, and it’s a stupid, disgusting reality that the last part of that last sentence is true, but…it’s true. (It’s also ridiculous, because I’ve sat under this man’s teaching in informal phone conversations and he’s literally one of the wisest people I’ve had the good fortune to encounter.)
I’d rather camp out quietly in the comfort of my own outrage, but somehow amid the influx of hashtags about his murder, interspersed with paranoid pandemic conspiracy theories which seem extra galling in light of ongoing real rights violations against people of color, that door slammed shut behind me yesterday. You’re welcome to join me in speaking out. In the meantime, walking, but #IrunwithMaud.