Thursday, April 30, 2015

Baltimore, Ferguson, NYC: My View From the Fence

You know how I am a fence rider? Well, here we go.

One side of the fence:

My brother-in-law is a police officer. The po po. A donut eater. All the ugly words for police officer.

He is one of the most honorable people I know. A Jesus lover. In his profession because he is called to it; it is noble. He has worked so hard and advanced through the ranks. 

Every single day, he puts on a badge that says, "I would trade my life for yours. Even if you don't deserve it, I would. I am going to go out, catch some bad guys, protect you and yours even though you don't know me and I don't know you. Even though I get paid roughly nothing to take on these risks. I have a family, a wife and a little boy and girl, and together we are accepting these risks so I can protect you, whom I do not know. I will hunt down drug dealers, do my homework, testify in court, and put them in jail. For you. And your children. Even though it means my children and wife may one day get a phone call bringing devastation into their lives. We accept that risk. For you and your family."

On the other side:

Four years ago we got ourselves all tangled up in this amazing school that basically exists for racial reconciliation. Here in the South, that's still a big thing. And apparently in other places, too. After a pretty colorless life we now have friends, not just acquaintances, who have different skin colors, are married to people of a different race, have three or four different races in the same family unit, are going to great lengths to have a diverse family, adopting children from far away continents and inner-city Memphis. There was a time we seriously thought we would be a multiracial family, but now I know that unless there is a baby in a basket on my doorstep or the angel Gabriel appears in my kitchen, no more babies are coming into this house. I just can't even.  

These new friends of ours have a different culture, a different normal. These are people we love, who are dear to us. Who love Jesus. Who have had vastly different experiences from ours even though we grew up in the same region in the same generation. Our friends have watched brothers go off to prison; they have all, every one of them, experienced racism; the children I drive on field trips identify the jail we pass as the one their uncle lives in; one of the people I love most told me she greatly distrusts police. I have heard a story told of the arrest of a young man, the brother of a man we hold in the highest regard, who was merely with a drug dealer, got arrested and sentenced to a halfway house, missed curfew by a few minutes, and was subsequently sentenced to eight years in prison. 

In the South, if you are mid-30s or older, you probably heard your grandparents and possibly even your parents use horrible, racist terms when referring to people with different amounts of melanin. Some of your grandparents remember a time when people with less melanin made them move to the back of the bus, or drink from a different water fountain or sit in a different section of a restaurant. That is a hard, hard thing. Hard to forgive; impossible to forget. 

Some of your grandparents used words I refuse to type to refer to people with a little more melanin in their skin. Said horrible things stereotyping everyone with more melanin. Rejoiced the day Dr. King was shot. These things are hard to erase from the mind. 

Once spoken, these words and stereotypes can become the subconscious voice that is played on repeat in the brains of all skin colors.  

What to do? How can I fix this? Should I post something to Facebook? Social media is powerful. Maybe a graph showing lots of statistics about how our brothers with more melanin are being given far different jail sentences than our bothers with less melanin? Maybe a picture of some people standing atop a police car, hitting it with bats, childhood kings of the mountain? Maybe an article pointing out the failings of the leaders of Baltimore? Maybe something pro-gun? Maybe something pro-civil rights? Maybe a picture of Dr. MLK, Jr himself with a quote typed across it in a nice font? Maybe a police badge? Maybe a picture of my girls and their sweet friends with their beautifully different arms thrown around each other? 


Maybe it could start a conversation instead of a hate-fest where anyone can post a comment from the anonymity of their laptop. 

But not likely.

And there are undoubtedly dirty cops, just as there are dirty teachers, preachers, plumbers, gas station attendants, mothers, bankers, nurses, carpenters, doctors, fathers of all colors. So those hate-filled, raging comments are probably based on something. Some experience. Some time when love was withheld, when there was an actual injustice. We don't just spew hate with no reason. If you take the time to dig deep enough into each other's story, there is always a hurt somewhere. 

So what I am going to do is keep talking. Tell me about your experience. What is it like to go into a setting where you are protecting yourself from an angry mob covered head to toe with Kevlar? What is it like to sit on a restaurant stool and be spat on? What is it like to know you must put on a bulletproof vest when you go to work? Why do I need to talk to my children about slavery? What is life like for you today? Help me understand. 

And here's another thing.

When you hear a joke using racist and stereotypical words, do not laugh. My brother-in-law is a Police Sergeant. He is not the po po. He does not spend his nights eating donuts. He and his profession are worthy of respect. 

My friends are not the too-ugly-to-type words. Do. Not. Laugh. Do not repeat them. Do not teach them to your children. Do not allow them to be said in the presence of your children. Speak up when they are said. 

Change can happen.

When one of our daughters was told the story of Rosa Parks she came home and sobbed, wrecked by the injustice done.

One of our daughters draws herself with much darker skin than she actually has. She wants me to braid her hair in a million tiny braids. And I do. And she is beautiful. 

I am so thankful we have somehow found ourselves in this school where these conversations can happen. Where my family can be a part of breaking generational chains. 

But even with conversations, and seeking to understand, and going to an amazing school, and refusing to laugh or participate in inappropriate conversations, stuff can still get so screwed up. And somehow, the sides of the fence must coexist. 

So here's the real key from whatever side of the fence you are on:


Ooze Him out. All the time. Be His hands and feet at every single opportunity. Don't miss one. That is how we can change things. For believers, nonbelievers, criminals, policemen, homeless people, billionaires, preachers, babies, the elderly and infirm, Jesus is the answer. (I sang that in my head - you probably did, too.) You know how actions speak louder than words? That is a saying because it is truth. Act like Jesus, and the world will notice.

Not that it's easy. I miss opportunities all day long. Or I choose to ignore them. I get on my high horse and parent poorly and justify my sinful actions with words like "deserve" and "injustice" and ridiculous, childish things like "she hurt me first." 

I'm so glad He is coming back. Maybe even today. And I bet He will take people with Him of all colors and all professions. In fact, I know it. It says so in the Love Letter He left for me. 

"And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation...'" Revelation 5:9


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