As I drove home last night with my four year old son in the backseat I couldn’t help but think of Philando Castile. Also 32 years old and also with a four year old in the backseat when he was fatally shot in his car two nights ago. And suddenly it became real to me. I could put myself in his shoes.
Except that I couldn’t, really. Because I have zero fear of being shot when pulled over for a taillight being out. It would not even be a thought in my mind. Until last night, when I imagined the scene of horror with that poor 4 year old girl in the backseat witnessing the death* of someone her mother loved and cared about. And then watching her mother’s shock and disbelief at what had just happened. What if that were me tonight? But it wouldn’t be. Because, while we are the same in so many ways–the ways that matter the most—we are different in one small way, the color of our skin. This small factor means that I will likely never have to live in fear of having that scenario play out in my life.
Our American air is thick right now with mounting racial tension and for the first time in my life I feel I’ve experienced a taste of what it must have been like during the Civil Rights movement of the sixties. An era so many of us thought was over and done with. Yet here we are. Here we are grieving over the loss of more innocent lives, black and white. Here we are feeling the need to take sides. Here I am feeling the pressure to keep my mouth shut for fear of being misunderstood. I am not anti-law enforcement because I believe that black lives matter. And I am not anti-black lives because I mourn the loss of police life in Dallas.
Law enforcement is not the enemy. White people are not the enemy. Black people are not the enemy. Humanity is not the enemy. Generational hatred and systemic racism is the enemy. Hatred has no life outside of the human souls we give it residence in. Racism and prejudice only exist if we continue to pass them on. Hatred breeds hatred.
In these increasingly volatile times we have a voice and we have a choice. Will we choose to speak up and stop the legacy of hatred and discrimination with our generation or will our grand-children and great grand-children live in a world unchanged? Will they suffer the same losses and grieve the same heartaches as ours?
We hold onto a mindset that separates “us” from “them.” We find any reason possible to justify these murders because if “justice is served” it absolves us of any responsibility to examine and change our own hearts. This is what allows prejudice to continue in large and sometimes small, sneaky ways.
We have to choose to stand with the oppressed, breaking down the walls that divide us. To link arms and stand with those different from us long enough to see the world through their eyes. To unite long enough to acknowledge that MLK’s dream has yet to be fully realized in our land. To have our eyes opened to the fact that it’s possible we indeed experience some privileges that others do not solely on the basis of our skin color. These privileges may not be clearly marked with painted signs segregating us as they were in the past but if you look long enough, the signs are there.
The current uprising of anger and frustration has not come from out of nowhere. The signs have been there. We just happen to have the technology now to remove all doubt of the injustice and this has brought things to a boiling point. Yet so many of us still choose to turn a blind eye, to justify these losses, or to turn the attention back to ourselves because we know the reality would force us into action. Acknowledging that racism still exists would mean we are responsible to do something about it. It’s easier to brush it under the rug and pretended it doesn’t exist. Yet in the words of Elie Wiesel:
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
In our day we are not taking sides against a country or a government or even a group of people. We take the side of justice and freedom for ALL. We take the side of love over hatred. We choose to lay down our weapons and come to a common table of understanding and respect where we can hear each others’ stories. Stories and statistics become flesh and blood, heart and soul when we take the time to listen. We are not each others’ enemies; fear and hate are our common enemies.
“Through our scientific and technological genius we’ve made of this world a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers—or we will all perish together as fools. This is the great issue facing us today. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone. We are tied together.”
-Martin Luther King Jr
*I had originally used the word “murder” here which, after a recent conversation, I recognized that given the circumstances and what we don’t yet know about the event it was an unfair use of the word. I chose to replace it with a more accurate and less incendiary word so as to not take away from my ultimate intent of writing this post, which is to encourage conversations, compassion and unity.