I had been hoping that my raw feelings would calm down a bit before I wrote my first blog after celebrating one year of the Girl with Black Pearls. But I remember someone once saying that a good writer uses everything – the good, the bad, the ugly. So in my attempt to stay true to what I said I would do in my celebratory video, I am here.
I have been closely following the events in Ferguson, MO over the past almost two weeks. I, like many people that I know, have been appalled, shocked, disappointed, and angered by the various elements of this situation. The two concrete facts that I think everyone can agree with is that 1) an unarmed 18 year old Michael Brown, Jr. is dead and 2) his assailant, Officer Darren Wilson, has not been charged or arrested. People have interpreted various snippets of information that have come out in different ways and it has sparked a plethora of debate on a number of different issues. Twitter, a social media platform, has become a greater source of real-time information from the ground in Ferguson than most reputable news sources. And the allegiances have been made clear.
I’ve restrained myself from speaking much about it for a number of reasons, the biggest being how emotional I tend to get surrounding certain issues. I am naturally an observer so I tend to sit back and take a lot in before I put out, if I decide to put out. But there have been a few things that, in addition to primarily what’s happening in Ferguson, I’ve found personally troubling or disturbing. Again, these are what are disturbing to ME.
1) The silence of many of my conservative Christian friends/circles. – Week before last, I saw a bunch of people turning their profile pictures to some symbol but from what I understand, it was to represent solidarity with Iraqi Christians who are currently suffering persecution. I understand about standing in solidarity with folks who are being persecuted for personal beliefs and I respect their rights to do so. What I’m a little less clear on is the silence of many of these same people on issues that affect the persecuted in the United States. No, not religious persecution – but persecution that comes in the form of all types of injustice. Their silence is major to me. Their silence opens a wound for me. The Church should be on the front line of fighting against injustice but for many years, the Church has aided and abetted such injustice. And when I can see you post about injustices across the globe, rally people to keep laws that protect your ability to enjoy identifying as a Christian, and posting about how an airline blocked a Christian website and that is persecution (*inserts loooooong side eye*), surely you can say something about an unarmed young man being gunned down. No? Too much? Not unjust enough?
I attended one of the best evangelical seminaries in this country, one with a documented spotted history regarding race relations. One which was in existence almost 50 years before its first African American student was admitted (and almost 60 years before its first woman student). I remember having discussions with people down there where I felt like I had to explain to them that though I am a Christian, my Christianity is my choice. My blackness and my womanhood are two things I had no parts in choosing and are two things I cannot change about myself. You cannot ask me to forsake my blackness and my womanhood to stand up solely for my quite Americanized Christianity, which has at times actively been apart of the injustice to my blackness and my womanhood. I felt like I had to make that clear often and many times I was misunderstood because I was trying to explain a plight to people whose plight was almost the opposite of mine. By the time I left there in May 2012, I was tired of that. And the silence among such circles over the past few weeks have stirred up those feelings again. But you know, maybe they’re just waiting until all the facts come out to speak. Got it.
I have a similar gripe for the big evangelistic push I always see to go all over the world to spread the Gospel. I am NOT against the idea at all – I mean, I’m a Christian…what Christian would be against it? What I do find myself at odds with is the idea of raising money to go spread the love and message of Jesus in all these other nations and you won’t even step foot in the “less than desirable” neighborhoods across town. They need the love of Jesus too, no? Acts 1:8 does say that we should be witnesses in Jerusalem and Samaria too (home and areas surrounding home) and then to the uttermost parts of the world, right? Is your Jesus big enough? Is He big enough to care about injustices that have nothing to do with you personally? That’s all I want to ask.
2) People pitting one issue over another. – I have seen a whole lot of tweets, IG posts, and Facebook posts over the past week. Many of them, predictably, have been from other African Americans. They have ranged from complete and utter outrage and “let’s get down to Ferguson!” to “Y’all are just going to forget about this in another week just like with Trayvon Martin”. On some level I think I have been able to, at least a little bit, understand the vantage point from which people were coming. What all these opinions flying has done, however, has reduced us to arguing over nuances to a freedom fight that encompasses all the concerns expressed. There have been people who believe that this case in Ferguson has a bent toward exposing some still very prevalent racist views and mindsets. I am not afraid to say that I agree with this. There have also been people who have denounced people for being so hardcore about receiving justice in Ferguson when “black-on-black crime happens everyday.” I get it. And I know some of these people who I saw posting this feel passionately because they have family members and friends who have been the victims of intraracial violence. Then there are the “y’all are just social media activists” whose sole purpose has been to remind us of how quickly we’ll all go back to normal after this blows over and nothing will have been achieved.
Situations like this bring out the passion in all of us so I have tried to give passes to people in the tones which they have delivered their viewpoints. Some have been passionate but some have just been downright rude and condescending. I’m not sure what that accomplishes. Also, I believe that the African American community is big enough and varied enough that we can focus on different issues – simultaneously. Now to be honest, I hear little from most people about racism or black-on-black crime on social media on a consistent basis – and that’s from both sides – except for when something happens. This isn’t to say that people aren’t working towards the alleviation of either of these issues. However, I feel like there are a few things to consider. Research shows that most violence is intraracial, meaning that it happens among people of the same racial group. Think about that. Also, when the Civil Rights Movement was happening, I am almost positive that there was still “black-on-black crime” occurring. So to state that people cannot be upset about racial injustice because of “black-on-black crime” seems a bit…off to me. Also, I believe that people can be passionate about more than one issue at a time, meaning people can be upset about what’s going on in Ferguson and also be upset about what’s happening with the violence amongst ourselves in our own community…and even participate in the ALS Ice Water Bucket Challenge to raise awareness…at the same time. I am of that mindset and many are, I believe. I am mad about Ferguson and also mad about the crime in our own communities at our own hands. I live and my place of worship is among my people so I am well acquainted with the ills of our own community. I don’t think my concern on both of these issues has to be mutually exclusive and it doesn’t make me some sort of hypocrite for demanding justice and understanding for both types of situations. If you want people to rally around a cause, you be the fire-starter instead of just being on a social media soapbox. That seems like an effective solution to me. But again…this is what has been interesting to me.
People have spent a lot of time deciding if people are fake mad or rightfully mad or mad at the right thing or…whatever. The fact that people felt like it’s important to do that is beyond me. Everyone has a moment of reckoning – an event or situation that shocks them into action or allows them a moment of righteous indignation. Even Jesus turned over a few tables in the temple over something He was passionate about – desecrating His Father’s house. I’m sure some people thought He was overreacting or “He didn’t do that over [some other issue]” but that was none of His concern. The Civil Rights Movement largely became the movement that it was because it widely exposed issues to the nation through television. It wasn’t that people were not aware that these problems existed but it showed the ugliness of racism and prejudice and the bravery of those on the front line. The events in Ferguson have been exposed to the world via social media. It has made some people wake up from their comfortable existence, it has made some people mad enough to try to get change going, it has even exposed people for who they really are. If all you can add to the conversation is a passive-aggressive remark about what people are or aren’t doing, I think that you’re missing the point. And that’s life because people are people and everyone doesn’t experience everything the same way. That’s what so beautifully frustrating about humanity. But just remember that when you find something about which you’re passionate. I’m sure you’ll be clear when the shoe is on the other foot.
There are very few things in this life that are cut and dry. This situation has been no different. There have been elements of this story that have surfaced that have made me cringe and have made me frankly want to run and hide behind the respectability politics I’ve been taught as a young woman of color. But what is clear to me is that there is a lot going on and we must be willing to both pray and act. And everyone’s actions may not look like the next person’s…nor should they. Just like we teach in the Church, everyone has a role to play and everyone is not designed to play every role. If fighting racism is your thing, do it. If combatting intraracial crime is your thing, do it. If helping intercity youth achieve and excel is your thing, do it. If grabbing the ear of politicians and lawmakers in order to keep laws that protect us is your thing, do it. If using your resources to spread information about what’s going on in the world to create awareness is your thing, do it. Whatever your niche is, find it. It’s all grist to the mill. But sitting back and just talking and discussing has never been acceptable. Never in our history.