Originally posted on The Simple Path tumblr blog, this piece is a brilliant response to the tragedy in Ferguson.
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Three years ago I believed whites and blacks were equal in the United States. I believed that slavery was abolished and racism went both ways. I disagreed with affirmative action and I thought black people who didn’t make it out didn’t want to make it out.
I was so very wrong.
Today my heart is breaking over what is happening in St. Louis. As I write this, tears flow down my cheeks in waves of grief and anger.
Living in North County for two years and becoming a social worker completely changed my life. It changed my beliefs, my ideals, my goals, and my future. It opened my eyes to the things I never knew existed as a middle class white girl.
Our first month in Normandy, we were talking to a 9-year-old girl in our apartment complex one night. She was smart, sweet, and beautiful. While we were chatting, a police officer drove through the complex, which we soon learned was a very regular occurrence. The sweet countenance of this little girl changed and she said, “I hate the police.” At the time, Doug and I were flabbergasted. Hate the police?? Why would anyone hate the police…especially a child? We tried to explain that the police are good and are here to keep her safe. But she stood her ground. “I hate them.”
Talking afterward, Doug and I figured maybe her father got put in jail for dealing drugs or her mother got caught in prostitution…so her idea of the police is just that they stole her parent away.
I am now ashamed of our small-minded and completely judgmental assumptions about her situation.
After just a few months in an all black neighborhood, an all black town…we started to see it. Really see it. White cop. White cop. Another white cop. In a community with a vast majority of black residents…where are the black cops? Then we started to notice how many black people we saw sitting on curbs while white cops pilfered through their possessions. Doug was pulled over because the only reason a white person could ever possibly want to come into our neighborhood would be to buy drugs, right? Running at night, cops would pull up beside us to fill us in on what neighborhood we were in…as if we had happened upon North County on accident and needed a police escort out of our all-black apartment complex. Doug got a speeding ticket in one of the many speed traps near our home and went to court. There was a black line down the block. Doug asked the woman behind him what she was there for. She had gotten a $200 fine because her garbage can was not in the correct spot on the curb. She was an older woman and said her landlord put out the garbage…but the cop who cited her didn’t care. Doug got pulled over going to UPS one night at 3a.m. It was cold and he was wearing a hoodie. The police officer stopped him on some bogus charge, but when he saw him he said he could go. Would he have been so lucky if his skin had more pigment? Another time a cop stopped Doug outside our house and said, “What are you doing here?” Doug told him that this is where we live. The cop said, “Why??”
This is only a sampling of what we’ve witnessed. If you were black, you could probably recount stories like this for hours.
I have seen this #YesAllWomen campaign going around. It speaks to the fact that no, all men aren’t rapists, but yes, all women have to deal with sexism and fear. I want to say #YesAllBlacks. Because no, all white people aren’t racist, but yes, all black people have to deal with racism and fear. I don’t think the guillotine should come down on white people. I don’t think there should be guilt and shame thrust upon them. But I do think that white people need to take a stand to acknowledge their white privilege and do something to stop this continued negligence for the black community.
I was really emotionally moved and broken hearted this morning when I read an article about the new trending #IfTheyGunnedMeDown. It is addressing the media’s use of photographs when young black people are killed. It compares a photo of different teens looking gangster or sexy or badass to photos of them at graduation or with babies or at their jobs.
When a white person shoots up a school or bombs a building, you see pictures of them with their families or eating ice cream cones or playing sports…with captions about how no one would have suspected it, he was quiet but such a good kid, and he had so much potential! But when an unarmed black kid gets shot in the back repeatedly by a police officer, they show a picture of him looking like a thug.
I can just hear people saying, “Well they shouldn’t take pictures like that!” But is that really a valid excuse? If you look at a sampling of white college kids’ Facebooks, you will see skanky girls doing vodka shots, you will see guys grabbing their balls and flipping off the camera, you will see half naked girls showing off their latest weight loss selfies. But those won’t make it on the news.
Michael Brown was supposed to start college yesterday. But instead his body lay on the asphalt for four hours, uncovered, while bystanders took photos and video of his corpse. It’s a complete disgrace to the St. Louis community and to human kind. I don’t care what the kid did or said…there is no excuse for what happened.
I am seeing pictures of my neighborhood, the street that I called home for two years. The place that made me want to be a better person. The place that taught me who I really am and what God put me on this earth to do. And it’s full of tear gas and rubber bullets. Glass is shattered and tears are spilled. It’s a tragedy to the greatest degree.
I don’t support the vandalism and looting. Violence and theft are not the answer. But I understand that these people have to pour their outrage and despair into something. They are terrified and broken. And if I were in St. Louis today I would be out on that street with them. They deserve more than what our society has ever offered them.
But instead I am here. In Africa. Feeling the heavy weight of my whiteness in a different way. I am gawked at and treated differently. Things are more expensive for me, and people steal my things. I am looked at as more important, more valued. More intelligent and worldly. People are in awe of me, children want to touch me. “Muzungu” is not an insult, but a word of reverence and wonder. A breath of your majesty.
It is challenging and strange. But it is nothing. It doesn’t undermine my ability to succeed. It doesn’t place me in a category of inferiority. It doesn’t cause my blood to spill in the streets.
God gave me white skin. He placed me delicately inside an American woman’s womb. And much like the grace and mercy He gives that I don’t deserve…He gave me a body I don’t deserve, with privilege I don’t deserve.
So I just have to keep asking myself: what am I going to do with it?