For the past week, those of us who stay connected to all-things newsworthy, have seen the downward, hopeful upward and sad, repeated downward spiral of what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri. We have been shown the faces of serious politicians, a peaceful State Trooper and the intimidation of the National Guard. Like a book with too many characters, this tragic event seems to only gain the conclusion of err and confusion.
Lest we forget, it was Michael Brown who was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson. It has remained a cloud of mystery since that event took place.
Here is what I have witnessed and what I have learned as this tragedy continues to play itself out…
THERE ARE THREE DIFFERENT RESPONSES
The Rioters: These protesters are the ones who seem to believe that another act of violence or vandalism can grab the attention and keep it. This includes those who are also doing this out of the sense of belonging to something bigger than they are. Both see it as a chance to grab the limelight by its head and say, “Here we are! Hear us now!” – But is this effective in getting the real message across? No.
The Quiet Ones: I see these separate from The Peacekeepers, because they choose silence over saying anything at all. There is a real harm that is done when someone refuses to engage with such an issue. Claiming that you don’t “see” color is not a real argument, because it is uninformed and lazy. Embrace every skin color and understand cultural differences – it’s important and wise to do.
The Peacekeepers: These protestors have come armed with hearts drenched in honesty, empathy, and want their cry to be heard. It is this form that effectively says this ongoing war between black and white can no longer exist. It is a unified voice crying every time another black man is killed by a white man (and vice versa), it feels the line that Martin Luther King, Jr. strove to erase, re-draw itself; every church that makes steps forward, feels that step backward.
BLAMING SKIN COLOR WILL NOT CURE
Some semesters ago, I took a Sociology class on Race and Ethnicity. I ate up nearly everything I gained about the history of our country when it comes to discrimination and prejudice of skin color. I did not know or understand the depth and chasm that has been created because of skin color alone (just like I did not know Christopher Columbus was a terrible, dirty man), because it’s these things your high school teachers don’t teach you about.
And, on some level, it’s not solely the instructors fault. We all come from this factory-like learning, expected to arrive at the very same conclusions on how and why the world works. Which is why when I hear people, specifically white people, around me complaining about the news coverage – “When will they stop talking about this?” “It’s so overrated.” “Ugh. Get over it!” – the blame is hard to pin. There is a lifetime of ethnocentric ideals bred within the fabric of who they are. It is a judgement based off of what their culture and upbringing say is acceptable.
Does it still make it OK to be completely indifferent or apathetic to an entire group of people? Absolutely not.
A few months ago, I got on the bus and sat next to a group of three kids who were playing around. It got to the point where I had to gently intervene, because one of them started to cry out of pain. I asked the ringleader of the childish playing if he knew he was hurting the other little boy, but he just gave me a wide-eyed stare. This continued for a couple of minutes until another woman came over and yelled that she would call the cops. That statement stopped every single one of them, and the little one I spoke with earlier looked at me.
All I could do was furiously stare at the woman who just terrorized these children. It was a woman, who wasn’t black, who did not (perhaps never will) understand that their perception of the police meant anything but keeping the peace or making sure little children don’t play on the bus like children do. As this little guy, at the bare age of (maybe) 7, began crying, all I could do was whisper to him that he’s not in trouble, that I knew he was just having fun, and have him let me know that he understood that.
Because those who have grown up to see their mom’s, dad’s, and/or relatives whisked away by cars that shine red and blue, can barely dare to associate those colors, that uniform, those laws with something that is just. There is a lifetime of ethnocentric ideals bred into the fabric of who they are, too.
FAMILY OF ORIGIN MATTERS
I can guarantee that majority of those who read this grew up in a home where both their mother and/or their father was present. Homes where you were given choices of what to take to school for lunch or given money and safely dropped off at a mall to buy new things. I get it completely – that was my life growing up.
What I have come to learn over the years are the differences in society. That very broken homes exist in the most figurative and literal terms, and that decisions can and will be made purely out of the way someone is raised.
That’s why, when the news breaks of Michael Brown’s past, it’s not wise to respond with, “Figures. He’s black and a criminal.” But it’s to ask,”What happened along the way?” This is why the focus of who Michael Brown was – his aspirations, who he wanted to be – matter. If the media is going to play Michael’s life like a game, it should be a puzzle; it should include every single piece of his story, not just his mistakes.
And this also applies to Officer Wilson. Which brings me to my next point.
THE STORY MAY NEVER BE SOLVED
With conflicting stories, evidence that will be at the hands of more flawed humans, this sad tragedy may remain a mystery forever. While seeking truth and justice are important, so are the relations between those who are black and those who are white.
It matters deeply that there be a unified, empathetic, compassionate front during this time. Michael Brown lost his life at a very young age and Officer Wilson’s life has changed for forever – both unable to undo any decisions already made. If only we took the time to understand both of these things, and to understand what is being said rather than barricading it with ethnocentric judgment.
At the end of the day, if we continue to persecute the other, we only hurt ourselves. Embracing someone different than you opens the doors to deeper questions to tragedies such as this. It teaches us how to respond rather than react, and it awakens each of our humanity to connect with each other the way we were originally designed to do so.
“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”-Martin Luther King, Jr.