All of us who are white in America were born into a country steeped in racism. Even for those of us who were taught that racism is wrong, that we are all equal, all God’s beloved children, regardless of the color of our skin, racism was something dark and deeply troubling we had to contend with, something that colored our whiteness.
It shaped our sense of self, our sense of justice, fair play, and compassion for others. It fostered a sense of collective guilt and shame for white ancestors who enslaved others or looked askance at those who did. For those today who persist in holding racist views. Even for beloved grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins who ought to know better, and yet through the occasional disparaging remark and negative attitude revealed a meanness of spirit toward a whole race of people simply because of the color of their skin.
I learned at an early age that good-hearted people, people I loved and admired and thought I could trust, held racists views. That they could be, God-forbid, racists themselves. Who held views that filled me with shame and sadness.
I was fortunate to be raised by a mother who was not prejudiced, who spoke out against those who were, and who taught me through her words and actions to understand how wrong racism is.
I have been fortunate in that all of my brushes with “blackness,” black people and black culture, have been positive, enriching experiences, and have colored my view of blackness with a deep admiration and respect. My one negative experience was no exception.
Today, when the whole world is rising up to reject racism, to protest against its continued brutality, is a time for all of us to reflect upon our own “Brushes with Blackness,” as I call it here, the experiences that have colored our view of what black lives and black culture mean to us, to examine if we in any way contribute to those negative connotations implicit in racists views.
Do we merely look askance at the racist views and systems embedded in our society? Or do we do what we can in our small corner of the world to not only oppose those views, but to celebrate the beauty and braveness and wisdom found in black communities and black culture?
That’s what I’m hoping to do on these pages in a short series examining my “Brushes with Blackness.” This is the first. Three more follow.
I am so angry at the outcome in Ferguson, that there was no indictment to allow a court of law to settle the matter of guilt or innocence in the killing of an unarmed young Black man. It seems this tragedy was bungled from day one in every way imaginable. At the very least a special prosecutor should have been brought in rather than allowing a district attorney that the community did not trust lead the investigation.
I do not know, now does anyone, whether Officer Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown. If he was truly so in fear of his life that he shot an unarmed man who in self-defense–a man who some witnesses say was surrendering and that others say was charging him. No one will know now, because the case will not go to trial to determine that guilt. It was a small thing for a grieving family to ask for–a trial. How could such a simple thing be denied?
I feel for the family of Michael Brown, for a community that lives in fear of the police, who seek justice for their dead sons. I can’t imagine what that would be like–to raise a black son knowing that any kind of brush with police could end in his arrest or shooting or death. And that it was far more likely for my son than for the son of my white neighbor, or the son of a police officer, or the son of a mayor.
When I look at how angry this injustice makes me–when I am so removed from the situation–I can fully understand how the anger of those who are intimately affected could turn into a rage that would upturn police cars and set them on fire. I can understand, without condoning, because anger, unchanneled, is wild and destructive.
My prayers now are that this justified anger is channeled into action, into changing an unjust system of law that allows community oversight of police departments, that requires body cameras for police officers, that ensures members of law enforcement represent demographically the community they serve. And that channels that anger into political action that unseats mayors and governors who are as tone-deaf as these in Ferguson, Missouri, were.
Today I am trying to channel my anger into action by writing this blog post. I know that not all my readers may feel the same as I do about the outcome of that Grand Jury, but I hope that all can sympathize with the mothers of Black sons the way that I do. And pray for the day when all our sons and daughters, whatever their skin color or economic status, will be treated equally in the eyes of the law, with justice and restraint and compassion.