“Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett told The Seattle Times on Thursday he believes at least one white player needs to join in the pregame displays for the protests to reach the next level in public discourse.” (read full article here) It had not even registered with me until I read this article that white players were not playing a more active role. I think Bennett is right.
I tend to not post on politically charged topics on social media or my blog. My rationale has long been that it’s too easy to misunderstand or blow things out of proportion in a purely digital communication forum – I prefer the face to face conversations. But it also protects me from risking my social capital in circles of relationships that have wildly different views. The other day I stumbled across a statistic, though, that has really shaken me; 67% of white people will not post about race. Two thirds of the majority ethnic group in our country avoids the conversation. And we have a list of justifications, but racism still happens. And what is so convicting to me is the lack of empathy so many of us white Christians have to the fear and struggles of not just our fellow Americans, but our fellow worshippers.
When I was fifteen my family moved to South America. The third day we were there, I was on a bus where a woman tried to pickpocket someone. The bus drove to the police station and we all sat there and watched while four or five police officers spent the next five to ten minutes beating her with their clubs while her children screamed for someone to help. I was stunned. I spent the next three years living in fear of the police; I knew as a perceived wealthy American, I was a target for bribery. Many of my friends had stories of being physically, sexually, or verbally intimidated by the police. It wasn’t sporadic, it was routine. And then I returned to the US and forgot my fear.
Two months ago I was pulled over for a traffic violation. My kids thought it was hilarious. My youngest two sons filmed the whole thing while giggling – which I made them delete when I found out! Whatever the time of day, wherever the location, it does not even occur to us to be nervous. My only fear was how big the ticket was going to be.
Am I labeling police officers as dangerous or wrong? No. It frustrates me that I have to clarify that. There are incredibly brave men and women who do incredibly brave and uncredited work to provide that feeling of security to so many of us.
But there is another reality that is easy to pretend does not exist if it doesn’t affect us directly; too many of my friends of color live constantly with the fear that I experienced for just a few years of my life. Mothers in our church that are afraid of what could happen to their sons or daughters because of the color of their skin – from other people, from teachers, from neighbors, from authority figures. And with the advent of social media, we are seeing these tragedies on greater and greater scales.
And there is no empathy from the majority. There is a long stream of arguments and defenses on why they are not valid in their fear, their anger, their hurt. Our friends wonder if it was their son, their daughter, their spouse, their parent, would we be so cavalier about it? All the evidence points to yes. If we do not push back, we just become part of the 67% who stay silent. Silence is dangerous.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” Proverbs 31:8-9
When we lack empathy, when we are not known for love and compassion for those who suffer, for those who are afraid, for those who cannot change things for the better on their own, we become the religious elite of the New Testament who opposed Christ. They were so caught up in their own rationalizations and interpretations of scripture that they closed their minds off to the opportunity of Christ working in and through them.