I have been reading, looking, crying, praying all week. I have seen the stories of Mike Brown gunned down and his body left in the street. I have read about John Crawford shot for holding a toy gun. A photo of Howard University students in an auditorium with their hands raise has appeared in my dreams, and the photos of militarized police marching through the streets of a small town have called my mind and heart back to Tiananmen Square – the first place where I understood violence crushes innocence most of the time.
And I honestly don’t know what to say. I mostly just want us all to scream and cry together. Because this should not be happening. And yet, well, yet, it is, and it has been for a long time – since the first boats brought black people to this land.
I can still remember standing in a quiet hallway at Stanford University on a regular autumn afternoon. I was just standing there, waiting for my supervisor to get off a call or something, and I was looking at the pictures that hang in the hallway of that place – The King Institute. Ihad walked past those images hundreds of time, passing to and from my office for lunch or the bathroom. I had stood beside them while I talked with colleagues. I had stared at them when we gave tours. But I hadn’t really seen them before. Not until that moment.
But there, with horror, I saw teenagers pressed against the wall by a firehose, and a young man attacked by a German Shepherd. How had I not seen this before?
So now, as I see it again, but this time with more guns and less water, I don’t know how WE – white people, the American populace, the mainstream media – haven’t seen this before. How have we not known this could happen? How have we not stopped it? How have we allowed our brothers and sisters to be so oppressed, to alienated, so victimized that their lives can be taken for no reason, that their streets can be patrolled, that they have to fear for their lives simply because of their skin color?
And don’t you dare try to make this about something other than that. These people are dying and being abused because they are black. It IS that simple. And we haven’t seen it because we didn’t want to. It’s shameful.
My prayer – the one I have screamed out into the quiet of this farm, and the one I have cried into the wood of this desk over this week – is simply this: we have to see what is happening, we have to own it, we have to accept it, and we have to CHANGE IT.
If you are looking for a way to act, for a way to do something, here are my suggestions, informed by people much wiser and educated than I am, suggestions I am still learning how to put in place in my own life:
1. Listen. Listen to people of color first. Listen to their stories of the way they are mistreated, ignored, or alienated. Listen to their fears. Listen without defense, without guilt, without deflection. Just listen.
2. Get informed. Learn about the day to day lives of people in slavery. Learn about realities of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Learn about racism and white supremacy and the way each of us operates in a white supremacist system.
3. Act. Attend a protest. Speak up when someone uses stereotypes to describe and entire group of people. Study your own privilege and USE IT to change things. Support the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act. Write a blog post, share a tweet, update your status to show your support of Ferguson. DO SOMETHING.
Because if we don’t act, all of us, NOW, innocent people will die again and again, and each time this happens and there is not public outcry, it becomes easier to ignore. We have ignored racism, white supremacy, and the abuse, oppression, and murder of black people for far too long. It’s time to end it.
4. Remember. Things are more peaceful in Ferguson now, and I give thanks for that. But this is not over. It will happen again if we do not change things. So don’t let this weekend take Ferguson from your hearts and your prayers, because if we let this be a moment, black people will keep being killed, and THAT is not acceptable. Ever.
What are you going to do to change yourself, the people you know, and the world around you? Today, what are you going to do to learn, hear, and remember?
If you’d like to do further reading on Ferguson and the issues that allowed these young men and their community to be so abused, here are my suggestions:
Which Picture Would They Use, If They Gunned Me Down. Read this and ask yourself how influenced you are by images. Read this and think of the pictures of Trayvon Martin that your media outlet of choice selected to tell his story.
This To Stop Getting Distracted By When A Black Person Gets Murdered By Police. Read this and think about the ways you deflect the story – for your own comfort or out of your own ignorance. Read this and think about how often you hear “riot” come up when black people are actually victimized. Read this and think about the Los Angeles “riots.”
Ten Things White People Can Do About Ferguson Besides Tweet. Read this and find a way to take action. Have a vigil for the young men who have died. Organize a gathering for people in YOUR community to talk about Ferguson and what it shows us about the state of things for people of color in America. Vote. Vote. Vote.
In Which I Have a Few Things To Tell You About #Ferguson. Read this to learn more about Ferguson, about what has happened there, about the violence but also about the strength.
And please recommend other things I should read about Ferguson in particular but about race-related violence in general, too. I am listening.