I sit here like I think a lot of white people do, horrified, but still afraid to say much of anything. My words are awkward, my knowledge limited, my worldview tainted, well, white.
What happened in Charleston was horrible. Terror. Racism. Evil. Committed by a person who had some sinister and horrible beliefs that were unfounded and were wrong. There aren’t enough words to describe how wrong it was, to walk into a black church and tell the congregants they were needed to be killed because they were black? How could this young man, in this day and age, believe the lie that black is subservient to white?
It was wrong. I hate that it happened.
Yet I am blown away by the responses of the victims family members when they faced the killer in court.
“We forgive you.”
“We have no room for hate so we must forgive.”
“Take this opportunity to repent.”
“We pray for your soul.”
It pains me to know that people who exemplified Christ in life and in death were murdered. What kind of faith do these families have that their response is one of love? I, too, am a follower of Jesus, but I do not think I would have had my wits about me to forgive my kin’s killer publicly so soon. Eventually that would be my goal- to forgive- but I know me, and I know to would take me a while to get there.
I read the Beatitudes this morning… and I paused at verse 3- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”
Are not the poor in spirit those who were humbled, marginalized, oppressed? They turned to the Lord for their strength. Could the families in Charleston’s immediate response of obedience- to forgive and to pray for their enemy, the one who took the life of their family member- could that response be possible if they were not a part of the black community? A community who’s history of being oppressed, or being marginalized, but of having great hope in the Lord gave them opportunity to practice forgiveness and grace over and over and over in everyday life. Is this learned behavior passed down from generation to generation to let go and let God? Do white people, as a whole, even white Christians, practice forgiveness and grace a fraction as much as these humble and heartbroken families in Charleston?
I don’t like to talk about race or racism because I am painfully aware of how ignorant I am in how racism plays out in everyday life across our country, or even my own town. I confess that I just assume since I am not racist and that I teach my children that we are all of equal value regardless of skin color, nationality, ethnicity, etc., that the whole situation is not my problem. I guess I was wrong. This is a problem we all have to own.
I don’t have a lot of friends, yes I have a couple hundred on Facebook, but seriously, there are only a couple who are really my close friends that I actually see in real life or communicate with beyond “likes” and “shares.” They are white. I have a long distance friend who moved away who’s husband is black and they have two children, and I have a dear old friend from my nannying days who is black who also lives hundreds of miles away. My kids go to school in a suburb where there are many nationalities, and there are one or two kids in their classes that are black. I had a few friends from my track team in high school that are black too, but in my high school life seemed rather segregated. It was weird, I would approach a friend on the “black wall” in the quad, and I felt like I was getting the evil eye from everyone else there, I thought they were thinking “Whats this white girl doing over here?” Maybe I was wrong, maybe they weren’t thinking that at all.
I’m sheltered. I get it. I know very little about what it means to be black, or African American, heck I don’t even know what these friends’ preferences are in discussing their race. I don’t discuss their race. They are just friends to me, I don’t think about their race or their children’s race or if they get pulled over more often, thus my inaccurate belief that this isn’t my problem. I try to contact them when crazy stuff like this happens, like Freddie Gray, like Michael Brown, because I don’t WANT to be ignorant, I want to hear from someone who knows.
Despite my awkwardness in asking about the elephant in the room, I always think that it’s better to say something with a heart of love than to remain silent. I don’t want to read the news and the pundits and the bloggers, I want to hear from real flesh and blood people that I know and love. Firsthand accounts are always so much more powerful and an actual conversation so much more productive in creating understanding.
I hope we all have the courage and grace to have these kinds of conversations with other races in our communities. We can’t keep pretending this isn’t our problem.