imagine being black (part 3)

Thank you, friends, for being willing to listen and to dialogue about these issues. (Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2 here.) I know, for some of you, it’s a squirmy, uncomfortable thing.

For some of you, it’s new and confusing, and you don’t know what to think. And it’s easier to just click away, back to somewhere light and safe.

For some of you, who have lived these stories (and more), it might be painful to read. Bringing up memories and raw emotions and things I can’t even express in words because I haven’t lived your story.

Thank you, all of you, for your willingness to open your eyes and ears and hearts to the pain and reality of another.

I got together with some friends from church last night, and we did our best to have an honest discussion about racial reconciliation. I was proud of my sisters, black and white, for sharing things that weren’t easy. I know we have a long way to go as far as vulnerability goes, but it’s such a good start.

My “plan” (and I use this word quite loosely) with this blog series is just to share, bit by bit, experiences and ideas that might be new to you. My hope and prayer is to bring awareness and understanding and, yes, discomfort as we try, however inadequately, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Because that’s the only way bridges are built and reconciliation happens and unity is possible. Entering into another person’s story, their suffering. Being willing to listen without judgment, without tossing in our two cents (those two cents that are tainted by the lens with which we see the world).

It’s going to take time, and we’re going to mess up. And, like my friend Holly says, we can’t do any of this without grace. Extending grace to others, and offering it to ourselves.

One of the things that has resonated with me most deeply lately is the pain and fear my black mama friends feel when they think about their sons. They raise them up to love Jesus and make good decisions and work hard in school and stand up for what’s right (for themselves and others).

But what do they tell them to do when they’re pulled over by the police?

Fight for their rights? Give in so they don’t risk their lives? I read about one African-American mom who told her son to just do whatever the cop said, even if his rights were being violated. She said it was better for him to give up a little of his spirit than for the alternative (being shot).

Give up a little of his spirit. How is this okay that young black men have to give up a little (or a lot) of their spirit, the very essence of who they are, just to try to make sure they stay alive?

(We’ll keep talking about this. Maybe a few of my mama-friends will be willing to share about their fears & concerns.)

Here’s a good post about our privilege as white mamas. And have you heard of Mary Englebreit? Artist of whimsical drawings? I love her newest. What a statement.

Today’s stories are from my friend, Harlan. We met Harlan and Wendy a few years ago when they moved from Chicago to Columbus and lived with our friends Jamiya and Amanda for a year in this really cool communal living experiment.

Harlan is husband to beautiful Wendy, dad to Josh & Noah, a newbie firefighter, a pastoral intern at our church, and an all-around huggy and hilarious guy.  He preached an amazing sermon Sunday, super convicting and comforting all at once.

Here are some of his stories:

In 4th grade (the early 1990’s), I transferred to a Catholic school because my family had recently moved. My first week of school, I was talked about and repeatedly called “nigger” by one male white student. I was told by the lay teachers and nuns to “just ignore it”. The boy was never disciplined so after a couple of days of that, I disciplined him myself. On our way to the playground, I grabbed him by his backpack and punched him in his eye. Then and only then was any type of action taken by the school staff. My mother was called and informed that I punched a boy. When my mom asked me why, I told her he had repeatedly called me “nigger” and no one did anything about it. She questioned the administration and staff and finally some inadequate discipline was imposed upon the boy, but the damage was already done. From that point on, I was always treated as an outsider by my white counterparts. I was the only black kid in that school.

~~~

When I was 15 walking home from basketball practice, I was handcuffed, put in a squad car by police, and taken to the local grocery story without being told why I was detained.  They pulled up right to the front of the store and took me out, asking one of the store employees “Is this him?” (referring to me). The employee said “No this is not him!”. The officers then proceeded to put me back in the squad car and drop me off at a different location than where they had picked me up from. No apology. No explanation. No nothing.

~~~

Once, I was coming out of a late night basketball open gym with my two young nephews, at the church we attended in Chicago. I locked the church up, we walked to my car, which was parked right in front of church. I saw the police across the street and knew I was going to get pulled over. I just didn’t know for what. This is my reality. It had happened before so I already knew the drill. I pulled off, they followed (of course). The squad lights went on. I pulled over (mind you, at the time, we lived literally 4.5 minutes from our church).

They asked me- “What are you doing?”

I told them- “Coming from church basketball.”

“Who are they?” The police asked, referring to my nephews.

“They are my nephews. I’m their legal guardian.”

“How old are you?”

“27.”

“It’s past curfew. I’m going to have to write you up.”

“But they’re with an adult and I’m taking them home. I live 2 minutes away.”

“Sorry.  It’s a rule in this neighborhood. We’re trying to keep the youth off the streets at night.” I had never heard of this special rule that existed.

“But they’re not on the streets. They’re in my car and I’m taking them home.”

“Sorry. That’s the way it is.”

I was written up for curfew violation. I didn’t violate anything.

~~~

My fellow recruits in the fire academy marveled at my 1998 Honda Accord. They were amazed! I asked why one day, and to my surprise, they said that black guys usually drove Escalades. They proceeded to “compliment” me by saying I was “well-spoken” and “intelligent” and that I couldn’t be black. I had to be Hispanic (I am an African American, and a Cuban black-skinned man if that makes sense) because I drove a Honda and not an Escalade. Because of all of these complimentary attributes I possessed they deemed to perceive me as Hispanic and totally denied me the opportunity to be a well-spoken intelligent black man. They were totally ignorant to how ignorant they were.

Thank you so, so much, Harlan. And thank you again to everyone else who has shared. I know it’s not easy to re-live these events, and I know it’s impossible to share everything that has happened in your life in just a few words. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

I so appreciate each and every person who is making an effort to either understand or help others understand. This is all part of the gospel, friends. Reconciling people with people and people with God. Amen.

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