Full disclosure: I’m a white male.
I lived in, and attended school in Ferguson, Missouri, and as a result have a deep love for that beautiful city.
One blogger recently wrote, “I keep hearing that “violence erupted” in Ferguson, Missouri after a police officer shot an unarmed black man. This headline is a bit misleading, seeing as how Ferguson is one of the most dangerous, crime-ridden towns in America, so violence is already in a perpetual state of “eruption.”
This is not the Ferguson I know.
The Ferguson I know is beautiful brick houses, delicious food, ethnic diversity, a local farmers market and a unique cultural ability to shop and rub elbows with those who look different than you, speak differently than you, and were raised differently than you.
This has created a community stew that is unique and beautiful.
Experiences may vary.
While I grew up in Ferguson, I also realize that I didn’t experience the same Ferguson that others experienced.
Never did I experience racial profiling.
Never did I experience harassment.
Understanding this, when I watch these riots, and hear the story of Mike Brown and how he was fatally shot by a police officer, from an experiential standpoint I simply cannot relate with the pain and experiential hardships of those who live in Ferguson and the country at large.
White like me
These days, I am the pastor of a church in Northern California which has taken me far from the neighborhoods of my youth. These brick-built neighborhoods, however, still own significant real estate in my heart. This hold has kept me glued to my computer watching live feeds, reading twitter trends and reading Facebook posts in search of news.
It is what I’ve read that breaks my heart.
I watch as fellow white people dismissively cite “black-on-black” violence to downplay the issue of police brutality and profiling.
I watch as Dr. King quotes are passed, from white person to white person, as a protest to the rage those in Ferguson feel.
I watched as white people cite twitter posts which talk of “looting” white neighborhoods as if they’re the cultural expectation and norm.
I watch, and am brutally reminded that the senseless death of a 18 year old young man has re-opened the wounds of racial division in our country, and we Caucasians have no idea how to handle the discussion of race in America.
As a result, I want to share a few [incomplete] thoughts and words with my Caucasian brothers and sisters:
1. The riots and burning buildings do not represent the African American community in Ferguson:
Yesterday, I watched press conferences led by African-American leaders (local pastors and councilmen, as well as national NAACP leaders) calling out their own community; asking them to protest, but to do so respectfully and non-violently.
These leaders called for community care and respect. They called for a renewed dedication from mothers and fathers to instill family values in their children. They called for the police department to create more accountability.
These passionate speeches resonated with the depth and brilliance of Dr. King. These were speeches that went unreported, and discussed.
2. If you’re having conversation about the Ferguson protests with only white people, you need to expand your cultural circles or stay silent.
As much as we might try to disagree, the reality is that we cannot learn the struggles and pain of others when we are unwilling to enter into their world and listen. We’ve been afforded a cultural leg-up, and as a result, must accept that not all reality is our reality.
So, to share our reflections on another culture, we’ll only be spreading misinformation…and that will only serve to further divide. It will never help. Only harm.
3. If you are a church leader
I plead with you to find a way to use these moments of pain and suffering to begin the process of reconciliation and unification between African-Americans and Caucasians in Ferguson and St. Louis as a whole.
Pastor of an all-white church? Find a neighboring all-black church, give them a call, and ask how you might love and support them during these moments.
Serve. Love. Support. No conditions.
Fight the temptation to stay inside your church walls.
While the city of Ferguson bleeds, the church has a beautifully unique opportunity to model reconciliation and love and to do so inter-racially and inter-culturally.
The church must lead on the issue of cultural reconciliation. Pastors, it’s on us…so embrace this opportunity! It may not be given again.
4. Refuse to racially stereotype
They are a beautiful people, many deeply committed to Christ. They love their family. They love their children. They are passionate about life, art, and their culture.
They are no different than you and I.
Our brothers and sisters have however experienced generational pain and cultural/systemic exclusion which is completely, and altogether foreign to us in the white/middle class majority.
Understanding this, we must unapologetically refuse to discount them as “those angry black people.” Even if they are angry, we must remember that anger is a natural response to the experience that something is not right, or that some injustice has been committed. When we come across someone who is angry, instead of discounting their emotions, we must question along-side of them and seek understanding.
We must ask permission to enter into their world, learn about their lives, and seek out ways in which we might find unity and support for one another.
Ours cities will never heal if we’re not first willing to listen, mourn and empathize together.
*Edits made to correct Mike Browns age, and a statement dealing with the rioters.