One of my most favorite scenes in any movie ever is the scene where Forrest Gump runs across America. In a moving cinematography montage, Forrest runs through cities, communities and along desert roads. At times, Forrest ran with crowds and at other times alone.
At no time in the two years that Forrest ran was he ever chased down by people with shot guns. He wasn’t killed because someone thought that he was a burglar running their neighborhood – just because of the color of his skin.
On February 23, 2020, a 25-year old black man named Ahmaud Arbery went running. Two men, a father and son, allegedly got in their truck and chased him down believing that he was a burglar in their neighborhood. A viral video showed the men shooting Ahmaud, killing him.
Those men were not arrested until just yesterday.
Today should have been Ahmaud’s birthday. Across America, people of all races ran 2.23 miles to reflect the date of his murder. Depending on how you curate your newsfeed, you’ve seen #irunwithmaud a lot or a little.
As #irunwithmaud today, I had some time to think about what I wanted to say – or more importantly, why I wanted to say something.
After my #irunwithmaud – I ran. I cried. Then, I wrote this post.
When it comes to dealing with racial incidents, it seems like many of my white friends identify with one of the two responses: “deer in the headlights” or the “staring game.”
The “deer in the headlights” is the feeling that sounds like, “Yikes, I’m stuck because I don’t want to say something to tick white or black people off.” Or, they feel like the staring game hoping that someone else will blink first and say something or do something so that they don’t have to.
Maybe I can help. I don’t know. I’m going to try. However, what I’m going to talk about AND ask you to think about will be uncomfortable. But, since people are STILL getting murdered in the year 2020 for the color of their skin, I think that you can handle being a little uncomfortable if you’re willing to be a part of making life better for us all. (UPDATE 5.27.20 – Since I wrote this post, George Floyd was suffocated to death by police officers in Minneapolis.)
Here are common questions that I see majority culture asking over and over again whenever a black person is killed because they were black. I don’t know what questions you might ask or hear others ask, but here they are:
- Why did he/she do to cause the cops/another person to shoot or kill them?
Perhaps, you could ask a different question like: “Why did the person who killed him/her believe that they had the right to take their life?”
Another question you could ask is, “Why are people still being killed because of their skin color?”
Here’s one more: “Why is the knee-jerk reaction to rationalize or look for a fault with the dead black person and not the white person that killed them?”
I’ve often heard people say, “Well, if some of those people weren’t committing a crime in the first place, then they wouldn’t have put themselves in danger.”
Perhaps you want to consider this question – since people of all colors and cultures commit crimes, not just black people: Why does arrest seem to come with a higher risk of death for black men than the rest of the population?
- Why do black people insist on “Black Lives Matter”? Don’t all lives matter?
Yes, all lives matter. Black Lives Matter doesn’t diminish the perspective that all lives matter or propose that black lives are more important. It’s a crowd cry for people to recognize black people die more for being black than white people die for being white – and black people want to call attention to that.
Imagine if you’re at a backyard party of 100 people (spaced 6’ apart these days) and twelve of the people in the crowd are black – which is about the percentage of African-Americans in America.
Suddenly, an Confederate flag-wearing intruder with a gun busts into your party. You see him looking for people to shoot. Trust me, you’re not going to be as concerned as the black people in the crowd. The black people will dive for cover behind you because know that they’re way more at risk of death.
There’s a community where I live and to this day, I know that I cannot drive through that community without making sure that I know exactly where my drivers license is at AND my hands are for sure at 10 o’clock and 12 o’clock on my steering wheel. Why? The reputation in that community is that my black life is a threat to the other lives. My life matters less there.
Black lives matter isn’t excluding other lives, it’s simply advocating for our lives because our lives are too often in danger.
- “Why do “they” try to make white people like me feel guilty? I haven’t done anything.”
If you get the feeling that black people in America are angry, you maybe right. But, I’m going to ask that you not take it personally and ask, “Have I really taken the time to talk to people to find out why they feel this way?”
While it’s true that this whole thing isn’t about you, the fact is that you are definitely a part of it.
There’s no simple way to explain such a complex problem as racism, but here’s a short video that may shed some light things.
Just watch. You don’t have to agree, but listen and ask yourself, “Even if this video is only 25% or 50% right, what does this mean?”
4. “Barb, I have black friends so why are black people calling people like me racist?”
The following questions will be uncomfortable. But, important for you to do a temperature check on your own life. These questions aren’t a test of racism, but whether or not you may have some blind spots when it comes to the topic of racism and prejudice that you may need to intentionally address:
- How many black families live in your neighborhood? If there are none, are you comfortable with that? If a black family moved into your neighborhood, what would really happen?
- Have you ever recommended one of your friends for a job? Now, have you ever recommended a person of color for a job?
- If you are senior level management or above, how many your colleagues are African-American? If there are only one or two people, why is that?
- How many days in a week will you go without having a real conversation about life with a person of color?
- Have you ever sat down and really listened to a black person tell his or her story of facing racism?
- “Okay, Barb, what do I do now?”
This morning, I received texts about the Ahmaud Arbery murder from three precious friends text:
“That young man is the face of people that we love.”
“It’s unbelievable. It’s devastating. It shouldn’t be this way.”
“I don’t even have words…but I am with you guys.”
These texts meant so much to me. I treasure that my white friends took the time and cared enough to acknowledge what was happening.
They didn’t minimize, try to explain the event away or justify the shooters. They were just present in a pain that black people across America feel all too often.
So, what can you do?
Two things: SHOW UP AND SPEAK UP
- If you’re married, perhaps you should have hard conversations with your spouse about where you live – and if you’re okay with why your neighborhood looks like it does.
- When you see people undermine the dignity of people of color, speak up. Actually say the words: “We are not treating _____________ with the same respect/kindness/dignity like we would treat each other and we need to change that now.”
- At your job, be intentional about recruiting people of color isn’t favoritism. At a certain level of your organization, chances are that people of color are being overlooked way more than they are being recommended. You can level the playing field.
- Plant intentional seeds in your children’s hearts by bring people of different races into your home and sitting around a socially distanced dinner table with them.
- Finally, SPEAK UP. People of color can scream all day long about injustice, but we do not have the level power nor the authority to influence at the level where both hearts and the justice system needs to be changed. That ball is in your court.
COMMENTS: How do you feel after reading this? Are there are questions or struggles that you have when it comes to talking about race?
If you want to gather up some friends for a book club or a summer small group, I have a resource for you. Last year, I had the privilege of endorsing Black & White: Disrupting Racism One Friendship at A Time.
It was written by two former staffers at Andy Stanley’s NorthPointe Church: Teesha Hadra, an African America and John Hambrick, a Caucasian. They formed an enduring friendship while they worked on staff and decided to write the book.
The book was a win for me because at the end of every section, there are AMAZING discussion questions that would provide from some great group discussion. P.S. This book is also likely the only time in my life when my name will be above Andy Stanley’s – ha!