One of my prayers and hopes for Harbor Community Church folks, as we pursue diversity in our relationships, is that we would be a people quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. I ripped that off from the book of James, chapter 1, FYI. As a white person (although technically I am 1/32 Cherokee and my kids are 1/8 Pamunkey Indian) I really believe that we have the moral responsibility to listen more carefully to the African-American, or any other minority’s experience. But as Christians, we ought to be the first people who consider the cries of the minority instead of blowing them off as though there just couldn’t be a problem. I mean, we’ve had integrated schools in our county since 1969 for crying out loud! We’ve moved past that, now that Obama has served two terms as president of the United States.
Martin Fennelly, Tampa area sports reporter, recently shared former Buccaneer Coach Tony Dungy’s experience of targeted racism, simply for driving in the “wrong” neighborhood (even though he actually was in the “right” neighborhood). Unfortunately the link doesn’t work at this moment.
And unfortunately his experience was far from unique. I read of more and more Black folks having to tell their children, the need to take all kinds of safety precautions, even when innocent, should they find themselves pulled over. My Dad never told me such things. He never needed to.
So I want to share my quite different experience of being pulled over while a senior in high school. My blue Volvo 240 DL (the ultimate box on wheels) puttered along with a full compliment of passengers one Friday morning. We were normally pretty close to being late each day and I had made up my mind that I was going to beat that upcoming red light or go down swinging. I sorely underestimated the speed of my car and ran through quite a “stale” red light.
The red from the light soon blended into the flashing white and red on top of a police car. So I decided to make one the dumber decisions of my life. Let’s lose him! I tried to evade the cop, taking an immediate right turn, then left, then right, and so forth. Again I had misjudged either my driving skills or the speed of my car-probably a little of both-and those lights appeared right behind me in no time.
At this point, I was freaked out. Big time. I pulled over, and when I stopped the car, I proceeded to open the door. The officer yelled, “Stay in your car!” So I stayed, and up he walked towards an aghast and most likely unrecognizable version of myself.
“You wanted for anything?”
Honestly I can’t remember what he said after that. I didn’t know if I was going to jail; I’m not sure what protocol is on that. I was definitely not in route to my high school, so there went that excuse of missing a turn or other semi acceptable justification.
And then he wrote me a ticket for running a red light. That was it.
It was one of those “that, just, happened” Ricky Bobby type moments. I continue to read and hear stories of ordinary traffic stops gone bad. And I wonder why I didn’t get into more trouble. I can’t prove that I didn’t have a worse experience because I was a white, upper-middle class private school senior. And it was a black cop. But, in light of what I read, listen to, and conversations I’ve had, would this “car chase” have ended differently if I were black? I do wonder.
Nothing can be proved by proposing a hypothetical. That’s not my point. But it’s not abnormal for a black person who has done no wrong, or simply “matches the description” to have an experience far different from mine, whereas I was guilty, and he or she, innocent.
I fear a nation more divided than ever, not just politically, but by race. Not simply those racist and those not, but even by those who would deny any form of racism (because they haven’t personally experienced it) and those who have legitimately been hurt by it. I fear that by refusal to acknowledge that systemic racism can coexist even with a black president, we might just be widening the gap instead of bridging the gap. And Christians have the privilege to act as agents of reconciliation.
Does listening really make a difference? Don’t you enjoy being heard when you experience something unfair? I know I do. I know I don’t like, “Well yeah but, statistically,” or “This person didn’t experience that, so it must not really be a problem.” That response does more damage than we realize.
May we listen, learn, and love. It eventually will make a difference.