Tuesday, December 09, 2014

a movement, not a moment

I've never been particularly good at estimating -- age, weight, number of people in a group -- but I'd say that the crowd that gathered at the First Baptist Church on West Main Street would easily have filled the sanctuary I am privileged to preach in each Sunday.  That means it topped 200, maybe 250, people.  (And if my extremely rough calculations are anywhere near correct, somewhere around 5% or more of that crowd were other Unitarian Universalists.  Shout out to my peeps.)

We walked in a line from First Baptist over to the Federal Courthouse, where we heard some inspiring words.  Words to inspire us.  Inspire us to not let this one night's march be the end of things.  Inspire us to feel the anger, and the grief, and to come together to make a difference.  A real difference in a system that so desperately needs to be different than it is.

From there we marched to Charlottesville's famed Free Speech Wall.  More speeches.  One speaker said -- look out at you all.  Black, white, hispanic, aisan, gay, straight, young, old -- this is what unity looks like!  We were reminded, encouraged, called on not to let our disagreements over little things get in the way of our desire to move in the same direction.  One person said that this should be a movement, not a moment.

As we marched we chanted -- "No peace -- no justice!"  "Hands up -- don't shoot!"  "I can't breathe."

As we marched we were protected by Charlottesville police officers who wanted to keep us safe and free to voice our outrage and our sorrow.  I was not the only one to step out of the line and walk over to one of their motorcycles to thank them.  I said to one, "I'd imagine that this is kind of a weird thing for you."  "Yeah, but I get it," he said.

I get it.

I'm often tempted to think I "get it" too.  I don't.  At least, not fully.  I understand the concepts.  As much as I'd like to be able to ignore or refute the facts, I see them.  But I don't know what it feels like to live with them every day.  I don't know what it is like.

I can walk down the street with my hands in my pockets or my hoodie up without any concern that I might get stopped by the police and interrogated because someone had called them having seen me and being afraid.  I don't know what it's like to get violently thrown to the ground -- or shot -- because I have the audacity to question an unnecessary and inappropriate request to "prove" myself innocent.  I don't have to have in the back of my head the idea that even when I'm doing nothing at all in a place I belong I can be "in the wrong place at the wrong time."  I don't have to live with the assumptions -- other's assumptions of me and mine of them.  I don't have to live and breathe every day the reality that I am nearly always cast as "the Other."

I can understand all this, but I can't fully "get it."  I don't have to live it.

I have two transracially adopted sons.  One looks like his Irish birth mother rather than his African American birth father.  (He used to say "my brown skin's on the inside.)  The other is a beautiful cross between his East Indian birth mother and his African American and Cherokee birth father.  I know that the world will treat them differently.  I know that someday, and someday soon, my older son will transform from a "cute little brown-skinned boy" into a "threatening black-skinned man."  He's going to "get it."  I have to stop it.

"You are not my enemy," one of the speakers said last night.  "I am not your enemy."  Looking out at the crowd he said, "I don't want to be afraid of you; you don't need to be afraid of me."  "We have to work together to change things."  This is what unity looks like.

This has to be a movement, not a moment.  I can't become complacent, shift my attention to the next thing to come along, return to "life as normal."  Because "life as normal" for me is protected, shielded, from "life as normal" for the vast majority of people of color.  And when I return to my safe "life as normal," I abandon others to a "life as normal" that is unlike any "normal" I'd ever want to experience.  And not just me -- I don't want anyone to have to experience it.  And since my "normal" is, in a very real sense, paid for by this other "normal," then I have to be actively involved in changing things.

Pax tecum,


P.S. -- yes, it's true, "all live matter."  But there are two reasons I think it's important that we keep the focus on black lives.  First, it's taken for granted in our culture that white lives matter.  That's assumed; that's expected.  When something challenges that it's thought to be an aberration.  Not so for people of color.  It needs to be asserted -- again and again and again -- that not only white lives but black lives too, matter.

Secondly, one of the ways that white liberals have learned to avoid seeing the real devastation in body, mind, and spirit that racism causes is to affirm that -- we're all in this together.  Yes, we say, black lives matter, but really -- don't all lives matter?  Of course.  But this impulse toward "we're all one" is a way denying the really differences that exist between white and black experiences.  It's a way of saying, "see?  you're just like me," but that'd be asserting that people of color have all the same privileges that I do as a white man.  And that's really a way of blinding myself to the reality that we're not all the same.  Or, rather, perhaps more accurately, that we're not all treated the same.  We need -- I need -- to keep reminding myself and being reminded of those differences so that I can keep being motivated to dismantle them.

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