There has been a problem swimming around in my mind for years now regarding the outrage when black people are unquestionably, illegally murdered at the hands of our policemen and white men in general (*ahem* Ahmaud Arbery). Of course this anger is warranted. I’m not going to for a second even act like I could fathom the black experience in America. I’m not going to act like I bear that burden, like I feel that pain, that fear. Simply put, I just don’t. I understand that white privilege shields me day in and day out from the harsh and terrifying realities of our brothers and sisters. It sickens me, and I wish I could do more.
I don’t want to say that I have a problem with the media outrage per se; it’s, like I said, absolutely warranted and those responsible should be held accountable by as many of us as possible…especially if the state won’t step up and do it for us. My problem with the outrage is that it comes and goes. When one of these events occurs, people rush to their social media platforms to weigh in, to call people out, to demand justice and cry out in solidarity, but then…what? Then it’s onto the next crisis, the next debate, the next injustice. If you are serious about standing by black people, about fighting for them and doing what you can to change the system, then come on down to somewhere like Mississippi. Experience a place where every interracial exchange bears the implicit but palpable weight of generations past, of violence and war. A place where we, white and black people, live side by side more so than any other place in the country while remaining distinctly and firmly separate. Where does that separation come from? How do we fix it?
I touched on this in the podcast I was lucky enough to guest host last week with Lee Carl Smith (linked here), but if you are tweeting from Santa Rosa California, Phoenix, Seattle, etc., and you are serious about your fury and your passion to fight this battle alongside our black neighbors…you’re missing a necessary piece of the puzzle. Come down to a slave state. See the foundation of institutionalized racism, the place where white racial bias is so inborn in people that they can live their lives without ever recognizing it, while calling themselves followers of Jesus (a brown immigrant, by the way). If you really care, educate yourself about places like Mississippi, places that are still largely segregated and where Confederate flags are still flown proudly. Where the n word is commonplace among white people. Where racism not only survives but also thrives. This is the starting point.
The truth is, the societal evolution that has led to innocent black peoples’ murders at the hands of law enforcement officers in 2020 — over 55 years after Selma — is quite able to be broken down and understood if you come to live it every day. As much as I wish this weren’t the case, when I hear of another black man dying because of a white man’s fear or feeling of superiority, I’m not surprised. Mississippi has hardened me to the atrocities that arise when people operate from a racist place without being educated or aware enough to even understand that race has anything to do with the way they think or act.
If progress is to be made, it starts with education. Ultimately, the entire criminal justice and public education systems would have to be completely dismantled and reconstructed in order to offer equal opportunity for every member of our communities. My fellow Mississippians may scoff at that notion because it seems like a pipe dream in a place where our capital city’s public schools don’t have enough desks for their children or money to pay their teachers, where our prisons gain national attention for having some of the worst conditions and the fewest resources in the country. But how are we ever going to climb out of this hellfire, of this way of life where citizens can get away with murdering innocents because of the color of their skin? I don’t care what your political leanings are, but no one thinks that is right. No one. Especially not a Christian.
I know this is a bit of a ramble, but I feel like people aren’t willing to step up and do what actually needs to be done. We need young, smart people to reach the corners of our country where people don’t have access to education, where alternate and productive paths for their lives are nearly impossible to reach. If you want to understand, educate yourself. If you want to help, come help.