"Within two days, we saw a white woman make an emergency call to the police, because a black man, who is a bird watcher, asked her to leash her dog, which was unleashed in a part of Central Park where dogs are required to be leashed. She kept repeating to the police that an "African American man" was threatening her. The implication was clear: because of his race, he was the guilty party, for simply being a black man in America.
A day later, police responded to a call regarding forgery. George Floyd was flung to the ground and a knee pressed against his neck. Even while he was crying out that he couldn’t breathe and bystanders were pleading for the man’s life, the knee remained until the man, shortly after crying for his mother, had his life snuffed out.
Lynchings continue in the United States of America.
As a white woman, I am aware that every time I walk out the door, my skin tone gives me a status and protection that my black and brown siblings are not afforded. I did nothing to earn that status and protection. Nor did they do anything to warrant not having the same status and protection. Racism was woven into the very foundation of this nation, when black men were considered 3/5ths of a white man, and indigenous people were labeled “savages”.
This racism continues through the maintenance of white supremacy. What does white supremacy look like? Recent news reports showed white men with military rifles marching through state capitols unimpeded by law enforcement, while unarmed black people were tear gassed for protesting George Floyd’s death. White communities are given medical supplies to combat COVID-19 while the Navajo Nation and other tribal nations suffer countless deaths from lack of supplies.
I do not have the privilege of saying, “But I am not a racist.” I am a part of a racist culture. I must do all in my power to speak out, to seek justice, to create a world where every child of God is precious. We follow a brown-skinned Messiah. May we do all in our power to protect the image of God everyone possesses and love our neighbor enough to seek justice for all. Jesus demands no less of us."
-Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Conference of the United Methodist Church
I asked Aden to read our bishop's letter aloud last night after dinner. After scanning horrific accounts of George Floyd's death throughout the day, I had probed the boys about their knowledge of the incident. Daniel had actually watched the video taken by a bystander, which shocked me, and saw George plead for air, then cry out for his mother before he died. William said his social media had lit up with reactions against the protests, particularly the looting of the Target store and the burning of police vehicles and construction. It was time to come together as a family and discuss the fact that the United States of America is a profoundly racist country and injustice is being done - in our name and by our public officials - every day. I could see no better way to enter the discussion than through the words of Bishop Oliveto, though I didn't trust myself to read.
What would be life be like if my two boys were growing up black? How much would I fear any trip to the gas station or convenience store, any close encounter with police? It is wrong that families who simply have more melanin in their skin face a different and more awful reality. I can't fathom my son pleading for me as a policeman kneels on his neck. I can't imagine it, but I must try, in order to understand the situation of many families in America. Christy Oglesby writes how all mothers must join the outcry against the unfathomable wrongness of these too-early deaths in a stirring piece on CNN online"I need white Mamas to come running".
The incidents of injustice seem to have piled on fast and furious during the pandemic, even more than usual, though as Will Smith said recently, "racism is not getting worse, it's getting filmed." Even at our church we find injustice; a relatively new pastor, who is black, decided to return to her previous home in Manhattan because she and her children had faced such racism in Colorado. I am embarrassed and sad that my state appears to be a worse place to live than the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
My impotence to change the world frustrates me to the point of tears. I live in a racist country, what can I do to change that? We started with the conversation with our children and need to have many follow-up discussions. To my son and his friends who see only the looting and vandalism, I would offer up my friend Tim's words:
"Looting" is a distraction from murder. Do not be distracted. Rage, too, is the language of the unheard and oppressed, precisely because systemic silencing and oppression are the lived experience of those...who are forced to live on the downside of false promises and deferred dreams, national fictions and state-sanctioned violence. If this rage makes you uncomfortable, that's the damn point. More importantly, what are you doing and going to change?"
Our country is broken; we are broken-hearted. What can we do to fix this? It's only by repairing the brokenness for all that we can find wholeness for ourselves.