“Why do black people have to make everything about race?”
“We’re never going to move forward in this country if people don’t stop playing the race card.”
“Maybe if Michael Brown would’ve had more respect for authority, this whole mess wouldn’t have happened.”
“Why doesn’t anyone complain when black people kill each other?”
I’ve heard all of these and more this past week-and-a-half, and it makes my insides churn. With every day that passes, I feel a burden to do something. More than just a quick blog post. More than just linking to these beautiful words by my friend, Becca. More than meeting with a dozen or so friends from Sanctuary Columbus Church to pray and lament for Michael Brown’s family, Ferguson, leaders/law enforcement, and our own city.
But what’s a white girl to do?
I think the hardest thing for me to stomach is to hear other white folks speak from a place of ignorance. Not ignorance as in stupidity. Ignorance as in NOT KNOWING, having no knowledge of, having no black friends who have shared their personal experiences with them. White people who have NO IDEA that just about every single black person in this country can share a time (if not 2, 3, 10 times) when they have been profiled or treated unfairly (particularly by law enforcement) because of the color of their skin.
No other reason. None. Just their skin color.
After our prayer time Monday night, God just kept nudging me and nudging me. Use this space to tell their stories. Not everyone is as blessed as you to have so many friends of different shades. Not all white people have black friends. Not all black people have white friends.
Share their stories.
So I spent some time on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning sending messages to some of my black friends and asking them if they’d be willing to share their stories. Their emphatic yeses overwhelmed my heart with gratitude.
And they are all my real-life friends. They all live in my city. They all follow Jesus, and they all either go to the same church I do, or we attended church together in the past.
Please take a moment to listen to my friends. Put yourself in their shoes for just a moment. Try to imagine what your life might be like if your skin was a different color.
Gloria (White. Married to a black man. Carlos and Gloria and their two beautiful kiddos are friends who go to church with us.): When Carlos and I were dating during high school, he used to talk to me about how he strongly believed he would not make it past the age of 21. As a black teenager, he regularly was stopped by police officers as he walked the 1 mile to my house to visit me, thrown down to the ground, and searched. This all happened in our suburb of Colorado Springs.
Carlos (Gloria’s main squeeze): Frank (my first white friend) and I were walking home from a church softball game – in which Frank had knocked home a winning run. As you can imagine we were re-enacting the game until we made a critical mistake: we swung the bat as a police car was passing. The lights turned on, and the officer flew out of his car, face contorted in rage, accusing us of having swung at the car….
We pleaded our case, even pointing at our VERY OBVIOUS church softball shirts to no avail. I saw Frank’s face go from absolute shock to understanding and then to anger. He knew – had it been two white boys walking on the sidewalk the officer would have never pulled over.
Frank was white, he knew his rights and began to speak louder about his intentions to continue to walk home, however, I stood stark still as I watched the officer’s hand slide next to the cuffs on his belt. Thank GOD we were walking near Webster Elementary a few miles from the southern gate of Ft Carson. Frank senior rounded the corner – saw us, and intervened. Who knows what would have happened had he not been coming home at that exact moment.
I have not had a traffic violation since moving to Ohio in 1996 – but I get pulled over twice a year and let go with a warning. A few months ago I was pulled over in Gahanna. The officer followed me out of the hospital parking lot and pulled me over before I accelerated. He wanted to warn me not to speed in the 200 yards from the light at CarePoint Ohio to my turn at the corner of Hamilton and Johnstown road. Apparently there’s a preschool there. I wonder what impression the kids got of the black man talking to the police officer trying not to make eye contact with the cars streaming by. It’s the little things that add up to distrust and tension, for us and for the next generation.
Rich (Black male. Dad of 4 beautiful kids. Our pastor): Not long ago, I was on my way to a friend’s house in Gahanna to borrow a tent. On the way there, I passed a police car. 100% of the time, I hope and pray I don’t get pulled over. And I’m not just talking about the times I’m speeding. This time I was not speeding. I did not make an illegal turn. He asked for my license and registration and asked where I was coming from. Detroit. Shoot, I thought to myself. “Mr. Johnson, may we search your vehicle?” I knew it was my legal right to refuse, but I also knew my resistance would give him enough suspicion to search the car anyway or handcuff me and take me to jail for resisting. He didn’t find anything. He said he pulled me over for not having a front license plate. Please forgive me if I’m not completely rosy when I see a police officer. I’m middle class, educated, knowledgeable enough to know all police officers don’t have ill intent. I teach my kids to respect police officers. Unfortunately, the outcome for so many other African-American males is not as favorable.
(Note: I have white friends who have been pulled over in Gahanna for the same thing–no front license plate. Not once has their car been searched.)
Jamiya (Black man. Married to a white woman–my dear friend, Amanda. Dad to 3 gorgeous kiddos.) Two weeks ago I was helping a white friend… I was restraining him from hurting others. The police were called, and when they arrived, they automatically assumed I was the one doing the attacking. That’s one of many racial profile examples.
When I was in college at Miami University, a girl couldn’t find her Tommy Hilfiger coat. I had one just like it. Blue, puffy. Someone saw me wearing my own coat and assumed I stole hers. They came to my dorm and workplace looking for me. They didn’t believe me when I told them it was mine, and I had to go into the police station to defend myself.
I was once pulled over three times in one day in Chicago. After the 3rd time I asked why, and they said I fit the description they had of someone who had committed a crime (black man in a Honda Civic).
Amanda (Jamiya’s wife): I remember them taunting you and saying you were on drugs/a dealer. You kept insisting you were NOT, just doing honest maintenance work. When they pulled up your record, they had to let you go because you DIDN’T fit their description. Oh man, I totally remember my righteous indignation flaring up that day. I wanted to march directly to the police station.
Friends, please notice that these aren’t dramatic, embellished stories. It’s just the facts. Friends sharing some (not even all) of their experiences. Something that has become a way of life for them. Something white people don’t ever have to worry about.
I’ll be back soon with more stories just like these. Please take a minute to listen. I don’t want us to argue or debate or try to discredit.
I just want us to listen.
And if you have your own story to share, the comments are open for you.