Over the last 48 hours, I’ve thought deeply about the events taking place in Charlottesville, VA. It’s mostly left me speechless, as I’ve tried to imagine this city (only 60 miles from my home) filled with rioters that come in the name of white supremacy.
When the story first began to fill my timeline, I felt a mix of outrage and sadness at the actions and racial slurs that came out of these rioters. That outrage was significantly increased when I saw fearful and frustrated African Americans share similar feelings, just to be harassed. Ignorant people made comments like:
“This probably has nothing to do with race. They’re simply trying to explain that All Lives Matter.“
“Black people need to get over it. It’s not like they’re treated any different in this country. If they’d stop feeling sorry for themselves maybe they could get out of their crappy situations.”
But after a few hours of media attention (and with some input from the terrorist who ran his car through a crowd of innocent people), the narrative began to change. Pastors and leaders from all over America began to sympathize with the black community and understand their frustration. People began to stand against racism regardless of the color of their skin. In just a few hours, it seemed as though the cry of the black community was heard by the rest of America – by white America. All of a sudden it felt as though the eyes of our nation were opened to see that racism still exists, and that the only way we can defeat it is together.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not naive enough to believe that Charlottesville has ended racism once and for all, and that people will no longer “…be judged by the color of skin, but by the content of their character” (MLK Jr.). But I do believe this awful event has sparked some hope in the hearts of people who feel their cries of injustice were previously ignored.
I am one of those people. You see, I’m a mixed woman (half black/half white) living in the South. I’ve experienced racist remarks and events my entire life, but I’ve learned not to talk about them. It tends to either make the white people around me feel uncomfortable, or I get upset because people attempt to explain away my encounters with racism as if their menial misunderstandings. For the record, I’m not one of those people who believe everything is racially driven. But certain experiences in my life have proven that racism is very much alive. These experiences have caused me to feel angry, afraid, and anxious walking around in my own skin because I know I’m judged prematurely by some because of my skin color.
For instance, I was recently in the self-checkout line at Wal-Mart and all of the registers (about 12) were full. One opened up and I went to scan my items. The store clerk came and stood over my shoulder pretending to stock items while really trying to make sure I wasn’t stealing. I looked around and realized every register was filled with a white person except mine. Several times I looked back at this clerk who kept forgetting she was supposed to be stocking because she was “breaking her neck” so hard to check my scanner.
Oh, and there was the time that campaigners decided to picket in my town for a new Congressman. My son and I had to avoid that part of Cleveland, concerned that the huge “Make America White Again” sign could cause violence to erupt. Instead, we watched Facebook live video from home as the wanna-be Congressman explained that we needed to be a nation that’s at least 80% white so we can eliminate the crime that has been brought here by people of color. He blamed intermarriage of whites and blacks – essentially saying that people like me were the cause of all things wrong with our nation.
Or how about the time I was pulled over for my headlight being out. I had the new one in the car and was grabbing some dinner on my way home to replace it. I was pulled over by four cop cars, as several officers approached my car and shown multiple flashlights inside. I was then called a “suspect” over the radio and began to cry in fear of what could happen to me that night. To make it worse, I spoke with a white police officer about the incident days later, as he tried to explain to me it was protocol and they had the right to do it. Bewildered by this, I talked to a black officer about the same incident and he asked, “Do you know why that happened?” I said I had no idea, to which he responded, “You were driving while black.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to make this about bad cops nor do I want to reinforce stereotypes of any group of people. I LOVE the police officers in my area and am close friends with many of them. And being half white, I think it’s fair to say I don’t believe white people are bad or the “problem.” Generalizations like these divide and do nothing to bring people closer together.
What I’m saying is that many black Americans have felt racism in some way throughout their lifetimes. We know that our skin color brings with it certain obstacles to overcome. We’re proud of our heritage and our different cultures, and we wish the world could see how beautiful that diversity truly is.
But today, the world’s eyes seemed to be opened a bit. For the first time in years, I felt the white community and the church body both take a stand against racism. People weren’t afraid to have empathy for injustice and to join with blacks in standing against what’s happening.
So thank you, white people. Thank you for showing that you care. For speaking up against injustice and not being afraid to feel the raw emotion that black Americans have felt for a while. It breaks my heart to know that a beautiful, 32-year old woman was killed yesterday for taking a stand against racism. I pray her name will never be forgotten, and that God would comfort all those left mourning this terrible tragedy. But I also have so much gratitude in my heart for her and every other white person who realized that although they’ll likely never have to experience what black Americans feel, they’re still willing to take a stand when they see injustice. The realization that people are still willing to fight for others, even when the issues don’t directly affect them, is a beautiful one.
I believe the only way to overcome racism is for all of us to unite irregardless of skin color and love one another with the true love of Christ. After all, what does God require of us but, “…to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). Today we took one step forward in meeting that goal. Continue to speak out when others are hurting. Continue to be a voice when others feel silenced. And continue to stand for justice even when the media attention fades, and we are left needing to make a lasting change.
Always remember – We are stronger united.