Over these last few weeks, I find myself going into process mode. I ask myself and God: What in the world is going on? We have a global pandemic and a global social movement, #BlackLivesMatter. All on top of each other, intertwined and mixed up. All steeped in deep emotion and pain, steeped in division and opinion.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure how to enter this long and overdue dialogue we’re now having on systemic racism. The death of George Floyd is forcing states to review police protocols and procedures when it comes to racial profiling. It’s raising voices of black and white communities demanding change. The depths of racism are coming under a bright yet ugly light. From shopping in retail stores to applying for jobs. From driving a car down the road to applying for a loan. I’m hearing examples on a daily basis. Sadly, I’ve heard these same narratives from my black friends and colleagues over the years.
As I continue to process, I know one thing. Right now, (for me), I must listen, read, study and learn from this moment in time.
Listen for stories and social cues
I’m reading posts on social media about #BlackLivesMatter. Recently, Stephanie Caudle was interviewed by the Today Show on how to best support black colleagues and friends. Caudle is a publicist and Founder of Black Girl Group.
She cautions whites to avoid adding their own emotional response to the historical racism now coming to our nation’s attention. She asks and states, “Do you want to know how you can talk to your black colleagues? You don’t. Do not force a conversation with your black colleagues. It is not their responsibility to share with you.”
Why should whites avoid adding their emotional response? Because it’s just now coming to light for us and becoming a reality. However, the black community has survived in this darkness across generations. Why not actively pursue conversations? Because history is coming to a head and it’s painful. Because eight minutes and forty-six seconds has left an indelible mark on our eyes, minds and souls. Space is needed; give it respectfully.
Read the truths of others
In another post,Travis Mitchell shares examples of his own lived experiences. Mitchell is the Senior VP and Chief Content Officer at Maryland Public Television. In one case, he was stopped “when test driving a luxury vehicle with a gun pointed at me and given a ticket for no reason simply because I was driving while black.” In another, “four police cars surrounded me and a friend during an early morning prayer walk and asked us what we were doing in a public park in a community we live and work in.”
This is a lived life very different from my own. So I asked myself – what can I learn from Mitchell’s truth in the context of #BlackLivesMatter?
First, acknowledge my life of inherent privilege. I can test drive a car without fear of being pulled over and having a gun pointed at me. I can walk in a park in any city, at any time of day, and never be stopped by police. And it’s because I’m a white female. I’m not profiled; I blend in.
Second, I should seek out black stories and listen. Seek to understand lives very different from my own. Actually, I urge every white person in America to care enough to know.
Third, notice how many, how often, how long. We’re in the 21st century. Enough is enough. These narratives must change. And change begins when I/we humble myself/ourselves to actively read and listen.
Study historical events
As part of the education around #BlackLivesMatter, we have the opportunity to learn from history not often chronicled or shared. One example is Black Wall Street. At one time, this was a prosperous and thriving black neighborhood in the Greenwood District of Tulsa during the early 20th century.
In its heyday, the community was filled with successful black doctors, lawyers and dentists. On May 31 and June 1 in 1921, a lynch mob formed to seek justice for a white woman allegedly attacked by a black man in an elevator. Black WWI vets came out to protect the man as crowds gathered outside of the courthouse. Shots rang out. Blacks ran to Greenwood to escape threat. Whites followed, burning businesses along the way.
For the first time in American history, planes from above assaulted our own. Turpentine balls were dropped. According to a recent 60 Minutes segment, the goal of the siege and massacre was “to run the Negro out of Tulsa.” Not one hospital took in the 150-300 found dead. Out of the 10,000 survivors, 6,000 were put in an internment camp. No one was arrested.
GT Bynam, mayor of Tulsa, wants to be on the right side of history and #BlackLivesMatter. He supports the excavation of the Oaklawn cemetery due to radar feedback suggesting it might actually be a mass grave. If this is indeed the case, Bynam wants to give Black Wallstreet family members answers and a time to honor.
Make things anew
Reflecting on #BlackLivesMatter, a reading struck me from my daily devotional book by Alli Worthington. The title, It’s Not Supposed To Be This Way, captured my heart, as well as the referenced scripture. Romans 8:22-23: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”
Worthington states when we long for things to be different, we groan together for God to make things new. She implores readers to ask the Lord:
- How do you want me to respond?
- What do you want me to learn?
No matter your belief or faith, I know this to be true. The black community is groaning in a painful harmony. I implore the white community to take the initiative to self-educate. Study historic oppression. Read black stories. Listen to black voices. Learn and advocate for the required change needed to ensure equity.
We must come together and change the future. I believe in the process of understanding lived experiences outside of our own. I believe in love conquering fear. This is our shared call to action.
Note: Blog feature photo credit: Gabriella LaPlante, a wildly talented, deeply observant, intentionally mindful artist. Location courtesy of 1618 restaurant in downtown Greensboro, NC.