I went to a protest this week.
“Why? Why am I out here,” I asked myself.
It was a silent protest. I stood on the street corner with dozens of others, all standing silently holding signs. From the white single mother and her 15-year-old daughter to the “fifty-something” black mother of grown up kids we made a wonderful mosaic of colors, gender, beliefs and creeds. All of us asking passersby to not forget the painful message of our cultural moment.
“Let justice roll down like waters,” said my sign, a quote from the Bible in Amos 5:24.
It was humbling to stand there as the cars drove by. Many honked in support. Some waved and shouted. Two cars stopped and gave us pallets of bottled water. One nice man brought doughnuts which were tasty, though difficult to eat, as we held our signs and wore our Covid-protection masks. Nonetheless, it felt good to have this affirmation and support.
On the other hand, there was the older man who smirked and yelled “all lives matter” from his big motorcycle while the woman sitting behind him, holding onto his waist, gave us a disapproving glare. There was the woman in the white pickup who rolled down her window and yelled “get the f**k out of Fresno” and informed us our “kind” and our “riots” were not welcome in this town.
I went to a protest this week. Not because I’m anti-cop or anti-anything, but because I want to follow the Bible’s edict to “mourn with those who mourn.”
The man in the Japanese-made car laughed loudly at us and yelled “God bless America” and the guy in the Jeep gave us a simple middle-fingered gesture. We forget there are still people willing to publicly share these thoughts; perhaps that’s the point of this season – to have the sin of our cultural heart laid bare so we can no longer lie to ourselves that we’ve conquered racism.
It was all spiritually humbling. Those taunts gave me just a tiny taste of what civil rights protestors must have felt back in the day. The pain that grew in my feet and hips (which seem to be aching more and more these days) gave me the smallest hint of what negro slaves endured in the fields, although not really because I was not bound forever to this land nor to the whims of any master. Mostly, I received the smallest dose of being disliked by your own people – something my friends in our communities of color have experienced over and over for centuries.
I missed my family and wished they were there to experience this with me. I thought about all the dads who’ve needed to force their sons to go to school, even as the kid’s crying in fear of what may happen if the boys in a gang catch them alone on the wrong street corner on the wrong block in the wrong moment. I think about the dads who see their kids only on visiting day as our cultural desire to put black men in prison has captured one more. The pain in my joints, the heat of the sun beating down on me, a couple of mocking drivers are nothing compared to those who’ve lived under the oppression of systemic racism for generations.
I feel ashamed as I stand there. Not ashamed because I’m white – I had no choice in that matter and I proudly wear my family name and heritage. No, my shame is that I’ve been captured in my “whiteness” for so long. I’ve been part of the problem for most of my life, not part of the solution and, sadly I’ve been completely blind to that truth and for so long defended and justified that blindness.
My family never owned slaves. My family had to earn our way. Yet, we were never disallowed access to homes in the better areas of town because of the color of our skin. We never worried that our race would cause the people who held power at the banks to deny our loan. We never knew a time when law enforcement officials might be a bit more suspicious about us because of the way we looked – not white enough, not culturally blending in enough, not “American” enough.
If my dad had been incarcerated my life would be very different. Had I not been able to buy a home in a good neighborhood, with a better tax base for schools, my kids might not be thriving as they are and wouldn’t have a life expectancy twenty years longer than “those kids” growing up in “those neighborhoods.” Maybe, if I was born with a different skin tone, to a different family, I wouldn’t be standing out on the street corner to support my friends, but I’d be out there demanding my right – and the rights of my kids and grandkids – to survive.
Being born white, I’ll never need to fight that same battle of survival. I’ve always wondered, though, were I alive in the sixties, would I have braved the discomfort of walking with Dr. King across the bridge in Selma, Alabama? Would I have risked my health and reputation for people who looked different than me? Or would I have been one of those white people forever frozen in time, screaming wildly at poor black kids who had the audacity to want to get an education in the better resourced, white schools. Or, perhaps, I would’ve been one who sat at home and wished “those people” would stop making things uncomfortable for the rest of us.
I went to a protest this week. Not because I’m anti-cop or anti-anything, but because I want to follow the Bible’s edict to “mourn with those who mourn.” I want to follow the life modeled by Jesus to willingly give up reputation to sit with the marginalized and share in their pain. I went to the protest because I want to be on the right side of history. I went because I believe today is an opportunity to truly change things so we won’t have to rally again after another man’s death.
I went to a protest because I want shalom in our cities and “justice for all” nationwide. I’ve realized fighting for my comfort or defending my mindset will take away my ability to have a soft-hearted sense of God’s purpose for this time.
I went this week because it was uncomfortable and uncomfortable is what I want to be right now. Uncomfortable is what all of us should be willing to be right now.
I went to a protest this week and I’ll never be the same.