I can’t breathe.
It’s a cry that has been uttered for centuries in America.
But we haven’t had ears to hear.
Now as George Floyd says them over and over in our newsfeeds, will we listen? Or will we focus instead on the riots flaming across our country?
May 2020 highlighted what many of us don’t want to see: much room remains for racial reconciliation in our country.
First came the video from Georgia showing that Ahmad Arbery had not died in the midst of a home burglary like his mother had been told in February. Then last Friday, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden ended a radio interview with, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” A few days later on Memorial Day, George Floyd, a man suspected of using a counterfeit 20 dollar bill, died after a policeman pressed his knee into his neck for over eight minutes.
As we begin June, let’s glean some 20/20 clarity from these pivotal moments.
- Racism is not just a Southern problem. Minnesota is about as far north as you can get.
- Racism is not just a Republican problem. Biden’s remark affirms the assertion by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) that Biden did not support African Americans’ right to the same quality of education as whites in the 1970s.
Scrolling Facebook, I see many Southern white folks beginning to speak out against the problem of racism in our country. I’m so thankful to see the suffocating silence being shattered.
What about you? Are you comfortable speaking out? If you are like me, it’s hard to know what to say. And I don’t want to be hasty with my words. Afterall, I realize I will never fully understand what it means to be a person of color in America. I might say something that’s wrong. I am learning that I don’t have to know what to say to get started. And I don’t have to always get it right as long as I’m willing to press in to understand.
The best first step is to listen. Until we have a desire to understand why Floyd’s murder would ignite riots among some in the black community, we will continue to understate the problem of racism in our country. What are your African American friends saying in your newsfeed about Arberry and Floyd? Stop and ponder their words. For many, it takes more courage than we realize for our African American friends to speak on these issues. If you don’t have friends who are people of color, then consider starting by listening to the folks below. These are people who love the Lord and are grieved by racism in America.
- Trillia Newbell on The World and Everything in It
- Pastor Jason Delgado’s interview with Jimmy Rollins
- Jim Dennison’s interview with Tyrone Johnson, “What does it mean to be black in America today?”
- Benjamin Watson’s Under our Skin
- Latasha Morrison’s Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation
- Bryan Stephenson’s Just Mercy.
- When we listen with openness, the next step becomes clearer: there is much to grieve. The Biblical word ‘lament’ is very fitting. In his book Dark Clouds, Deep Mercies, Mark Vroegop explores how we are deprived when lament is absent in our communities. He writes this about lamenting racial injustice: “Lament has the potential to provide a first step toward uniting people when hurt and misunderstanding are in the air. The sacred song of sorrow does not resolve all racial tension or injustice. But it does give the church a prayer language of compassion and a starting point toward understanding.”
Lament may be uncomfortable, but it’s a language we can learn.
While I’m encouraged by the number of white Christians who are speaking up, I’m deeply concerned about those who apply the beauty of our justice system only to the white side of the equation. For example, when the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death went viral, some folks were quick to point out that we didn’t know all the details. They said the McMichaels could have had a very legitimate reason to pursue Arbery with guns and warned we needed to wait for their case to be tried in court. Yet they were silent when it came to Arbery’s rights. In the end, when the McMichaels decided to use a gun, a young man’s life ended before he could stand before a jury of his peers. How sad that the people who were insisting on the McMichael’s right to a fair trial didn’t mention Arbery’s right to the same. When more evidence came out pointing to a lynch-style murder, these folks were silent still.
As the mom of a policeman who works very hard to protect his community, the incident with George Floyd hit closer to home. I know cops have to make quick decisions in very tough situations. My husband and I regularly pray for our son to have wisdom in those moments, but it still scares me. One of my proudest mom moments was when Josh first began his career. He had covered an accident involving injuries. Little did my son know that one of the drivers in that accident was the son of the local NAACP president. A few days later Josh received a letter from him. The NAACP president thanked my son for the caring and courteous way he handled all involved. First, I was very proud of my son for being recognized for showing care regardless of skin color. Second, I was thankful that this black man would take the time to thank my son and build a positive relationship with a white cop.
After listening and lamenting, I think the next best step is to do what this NAACP president did for my son: build up the relationships in our corners of the world that are weak.
Hebrews 12:12-16 encourages us, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled…”
Racism isn’t a partisan problem or a regional problem.
Whether we like it or not, racism is every American’s problem.
In the midst of all this brokenness, Christians have an incredible opportunity. We can join together—both black and white—to bring healing. We are especially equipped to shoulder this weight. We have the truth of God’s word, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the love of Christ.
Let’s make 2020 live up to its name. Let’s make this a year of clarity. We can do this. We can step out of our echo chambers and explore the hurting world beyond. And the more we understand, the more compelled we will be to break the suffocating silence.
PS If you live in Mississippi, consider joining the conversation in our group, Mississippi Reconciliation Project on Facebook.