I am tired of our nation’s social problems. I am tired to talking about race, ethnicity, poverty, gender, and the socio-cultural problems of the U.S. Mike Brown’s killing and the responding marches in Ferguson remind me that every morning since August 9th my reflection looks like Mike Brown. And as a human, I am tired of our civilization being less than what I believe God intended. We are a nation and generation of “awareness” we hashtag, we post videos, we gather to take pictures with others who are like-minded, we blog, we do a lot of talking, texting, and communicating about our passions, thoughts, and beliefs. Awareness has become our badge of honor . . . we are a “caused-based” society that seems to galvanize whenever a cause arises. Mike Brown’s killing is a tragedy. It will be a tragedy forever. The marches in Ferguson are the expression of mourning, feeling overwhelmed, being mis-understood, and living forsaken. The response by law enforcement is the expression of dominance, frustration, mindless submission, but mostly . . . fear. But let’s be real . . . none of this is new. Black men have been unjustly killed by the U.S. “law” and the “system” since before
cargo Black bodies were tossed off of slave ships to lighten the load and White men could kill “un-submissive” slaves.* The law is not inherently evil, but in the U.S., balancing the history of the law does not fall on the side of Black people having a hopeful future of human flourishing. But for all of the frustration Americans are having over the killing of Michael Brown and police aggression in Ferguson, what are we doing about it or what is it doing to us? What about Ferguson is going to make us change our selves, our societies, our neighborhoods? What tangible difference is that hashtag, Facebook post, or picture going to make? How many of us will take the time to explore their own prejudice and complicitness in injustice? . . . this advocacy stuff already happened in the late-’60s and ’70s. Afros came out in full force; interracial marriage increased; immigrants started coming from varying countries; women burned bras; people marched against war, against racial violence, against gender inequality, against injustice of all forms. And some of that hard work lives on . . . but eventually most everyone got tired of marching, yelling, talking . . . the lure of a house, car, kids, steady-job, big paycheck, and status-quo gently lulled them into compliance. Then the ’80s happened and many of the 20 and 30 somethings from the ’60s and ’70s became the corporate 30 and 40 somethings in the ’80s and ’90s. In the end, what mattered was the bottom-line, the American Dream, rugged individualism. The impassioned era of the late-’60s and ’70s and those impassioned people are not that different than our generation, but we can allow our desire for change to go deeper than words and demonstrations and change the trajectory of our lives and the “how” we go about living. ** Michael Brown’s family is glad people care, they are glad to have support. But I think, in the end, they will be glad for the lawyer who took their case, glad for the groups like Alpha Phi who is paying all their bills for them, glad for Dr. Michael Baden who independently examined the body of their fallen child. The Brown family values those whose words are spoken in a way and in arena’s that make a difference because tangible hope that “a change gonna come” is what will help them sustain. It is easy to get up-in-arms about grandiose tragic events and it is right to do so (my soul is with those Marching in Ferguson). What is more difficult is to go back to our normal lives and reexamine the way in which we all live;
- walking down the street (how segregated generationally, economically and racially is your neighborhood? have you been to the “other” communities in your city? have you met people from across the “tracks” or whatever your socio-cultural dividing marker might be?)
- going to church (is your faith community diverse? is it trying to be? do you care? is it all professionals? White? Black? Asian? young?)
- working in our occupations (does your work seek the betterment of society, equity, wholeness . . . are their ways to love the “other” better than the way you do it right now? is your organization diverse in its perspectives? if not, is it trying to not just say it values diversity, but pursue it?)
- considering how we internally characterize race (does your media usage reinforce stereotype, do you feel the “fear” of “big black guys?”? do certain clothes on certain people elicit fearful response? what do you think of the Asian family that runs your favorite Chinese-food join? are you looking to challenge your perceptions? )
- examining our proclivity to violence (what video games do we play to desensitize ourselves? what violent movies do we watch (and thus fund) for the sake of action and adrenaline? why are so many heroes violent and often undisturbed about the means of their justice?)
- interacting with people we choose as friends (are the just like you? do you just stay with who is comfortable? are you even willing to befriend those who have different blackgrounds, ideas, and beliefs as you?)
- buying things (who benefits from the clothes you buy and who suffers? how willing are we to shop at the local store to give the local mom, son, daughter, grandmother, etc. means on which to live? are we willing to put our money, our investments in things that build communities?)
We are getting more and more economically stratified with the middle-class being squeezed out and the wealth ago is increasing. Equally, if not better, prepared Black candidates are still denied jobs in favor of White candidates. Our organizations still favor homogeny, which puts those “less represented” even further on the margins. The mass incarceration of Black and Brown folks is still staggering . . . I am tired of talking, I am tired of blog posts, Facebook, and hashtags. Let’s allow ourselves to be moved with passion (com-passion) and not just moved by impassioned moments or eras. The latter is about what we “do” in the moment about what we “think” about the tragedies around us. The latter fades after things stop being exciting. The former causes change in the way we live . . . in what we are committed to in the day to day . . . in how we are faithfully present . . . in who we are. Change happens not when we flare-up with passion, but when we burn with a deep abiding compassion. Humanity doesn’t get tired from having compassion and living more justly, we just get tired to talking about it.
*There is much more to discuss about the nature of race and inequality in the U.S. than solely issues of Black and White. However, (1) given recent events, it seems the Black and White conversation is important and (2) the enslavement of millions and generational disenfranchisement of Blacks (with the attempted extermination of the Indigenous “American”) is still one of America’s original “sins” from which we are still unhealed and thus impacts all other happenings.
**We do have to talk to find solutions; we cannot and should not avoid these difficult topics. But so often our talk becomes “cheap” and little change actually happens in our lives, neighborhoods, cities, and society at large. We do owe a lot to the changes that happened in the ’60s and ’70s, many laws addressing equity were initiated in this time period. But something happen that made those changes just laws on the books and not change in our values.