Another day, another unarmed black man dead. Terence Crutcher’s SUV stalled as he was coming back from community college classes. He was studying music appreciation and was very active in his church choir. Seeing his picture reminds me of any number of big dudes I know who can sing their lungs out. From his view in a helicopter, a Tulsa police officer thought he looked like a bad dude. Instead of trying to help the man with the stalled car, two officers made him put his hands up as he approached them for help. As he reached into his SUV, probably to grab some form of identification, which again, should not have been necessary because he was the one in distress, he was tased and then shot. He was unarmed. He was the father of four.
I feel like ranting and raving about how angry and scared this makes me feel is redundant. We have a major policing issue in this country. That the fraternal order of police and several major police unions have endorsed Donald Trump highlights that issue. I could certainly go on and on about that here. Instead, what I want to do is highlight what I need, and what I think many black people need from our white friends and colleagues in light of yet another tragedy. This isn’t an exhaustive list and it is coming from my limited perspective, so I’ll make it personal: this is what I need:
- Don’t Silence Us: During the opening week of the NFL, former mediocre quarterback who has handed a super bowl ring by an elite defense Trent Dilfer said that San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick should stick to playing football instead of making political statements. Essentially he was saying, sit down and shut up. There are so many ways to silence people. You can tell them that their experience isn’t relevant. You can make light of someone else’s experience of oppression by telling them “that’s not so bad”. You can ask to see their credentials. You can insist that people stay in their lane. White friends, don’t be former mediocre quarterback Trent Dilfer. Silencing black voices is the height of privilege.
- Confession: The fact that I have used the general term “white people” will turn off some from the door. “I’m not like them!” “Why do you lump us all in the group?!” “I’m trying to help!” It’s true that no one likes generalizations. My generalizations may hurt your feelings. The generalization of white cops leave dead black bodies on the ground. You need to decide if your hurt feelings are more important than black lives. The confession I need to see is the understanding that you are a part of a system of whiteness that devalues black bodies. Confess that you are privileged in this way without qualification. I don’t want to hear “yeah, but I didn’t come from money”. Poor white people get stunned with bean bags and talked down. Poor black people get killed. Middle class black people get killed. You have to confess this shit. You have to or I can’t take you seriously.
- Use your privilege for good: most of my white friends have a pulpit. Like… a literal pulpit. I have too many pastor friends. The ones that don’t have pulpits have blogs. They have social media. They have platforms in which they can speak out about what is happening in the world. Yesterday, I listened to two friends’ sermons. Both give me credit, more than I deserve methinks, for helping them to think through issues of race. My friend Peter’s sermon is here. My friend Todd’s sermon is here. Both literally used their pulpits to own their privilege, confess their sins, and wrestle with what it means for them to move forward in a way that honors the value of all. I am humbled and honored to know such men and I know that I have more friends like this. As a white person, you have access to places that I don’t have and your voice will likely be heard in a way that mine will not. Please, use that for good.
- Amplify black voices: Okay, this might seem contradictory to what I just said, but it’s not. When you have the space afforded to you by a pulpit or even your own social media, use that space to lift up the voices of the oppressed community. Yes, it is self serving for me as a black blogger to ask you to amplify the voices of black people. I own that. Still, I’m not wrong. Again, the issue here is access. There are some places that my words will not penetrate because I don’t have access to them. White people have the ability to carry black voices into spaces where they may not usually be heard. Please do that!
- Transfer resources: Look, words matter. I wouldn’t write if I thought that words were impotent. But ultimately what black communities need are your time, talent, and treasure. (yes, I just dropped a stewardship cliche in here. Sorry!) Jason Chesnut and Ben Jancewicz are two white friends that I love and respect. You can (and should) follow them on twitter (@crazypastor and @benjancewicz) respectively. They don’t just give voice to their support of black lives. They use their considerable talent and limited time to invest in the communities that they care about. They show up for rallies and protests. They make art about the lives of people they know. They are invested. Last week I was a discussion where the topic of reparations came up. I don’t think reparations would solve everything nor do I think that black people are served by seeking the same soul corrupting materialism that is on display by the dominant culture. But I do believe that material investment in communities of color is an important part of seeing justice done. Your heart is where your treasure is. Someone famous said that.
This is not an exhaustive list, but I am exhausted. I’m tired of having to write things like this. I have so many other things on my heart and mind these days, but every time something like this happens, I feel the need to say something, anything that might make a difference in a world where black people are being slaughtered. These are the things I need from you, white friends. I don’t think I’m alone and maybe your other black friends don’t have the energy to say these things to you. I hope that you can hear me…
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